I was recently introduced to a woman who kinda does it all – Jessica Redish. A director, writer, choreographer , Jessica doesn’t stop at life, and it totally shows. You want her spirit and her tenacity to envelop your entire being. While I did “meet” her virtually, one day, I can only hope to meet her in real life. COVID can go away now. Thank you.
And now without further introduction. the one. The only.
Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
I grew up in Chicago and it was very cold. Fortunately there was a lot of theatre, and I was very involved in it. I always loved to dance around my room to Whitney Houston and Madonna and now I get paid to do that. So that’s cool. Chicago’s theatre world is very influenced by Second City’s style of working which is very collaborative, where the best idea wins, and it’s all about being a team player and putting the story before yourself. I fell in love with musicals and musical theatre very young, specifically the movie musical of “Little Shop of Horrors.” I loved “The Golden Girls” and I still watch them nightly. I’d like to make the next Dirty Dancing.
What made you decide to break into the entertainment world of directing, writing and choreography?
It wasn’t a decision so much as a calling–I know that sounds cheesy but I always have felt the need to express myself in this fashion, it always just made sense. I always feel like my best self when I’m creating. Fortunately I get hired to do that, and for that I’m very grateful. I process things creatively, so when weird things happen to me, I write about them. Or I’ll filter a bizarre or intense experience into a dance. It’s how I synthesize everything. The choice to go into the field was a natural progression.
What’s it been like being recognized for your work by the likes of Billy Corgan, Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die and Elizabeth Banks’ Whohaha? How did those all come about?
I met Billy Corgan at his tea shop in Highland Park, IL where I was running a theatre company I had founded. We chatted about musical theatre and I was choreographing one at a theatre nearby, which opened on the day we met. He asked if he could check it out and I said “right on, for sure.” And then we just hit it off. He’s brilliant and has really inspired me to step into using my own voice. I commissioned his first short musical which I choreographed. It was a trip.
I met the CEO of Funny or Die at an event, where I told him I loved FOD’s work and that I watch “Between Two Ferns” religiously. I had written a “South Park” spec called “HPV and Me” and a friend suggested I share it with him, so I got his email. But I waited. And then I did “The Last Croissant,” and that same friend said: send that to him. So I did. I was over the moon when they shared it as best of the web. I cried when they said it was like a Scorcese film. Of course, my eyes had just been dilated but the story still stands.
WhoHAHA is a great company and when they launched, I signed up to go to their open house. The idea of a platform for women creators seemed really cool, and I applied to some opportunities they posted last year for comedy creators. I got in, and that was really exciting and galvanizing. They also shared “The Last Croissant” and I’m super grateful. The opportunities they provide to women are very inspiring and I think it’s super cool that Elizabeth Banks started it!
Walk us through the process of your craft from start to finish. You have an idea for a skit, you have a song you want to choreograph a dance to, you have an idea to write. What sparks something from going on paper to becoming a production?
Deadlines! We are nothing without deadlines! As mentioned, when a weird event happens in my world or a strange idea comes to me, I clock it and then when the time is right, it gets expressed. For example, I had “The Last Croissant” in my head for years, and when there was an opportunity for female directors coming up, a friend inspired me to finally make it. I met Jeff Fitzgerald, a great DC-based DP and Gaffer, *literally* on an airplane last fall when I was working in LA and DC. He had just done a gig in LA and was heading home, and he said he wanted to delve into more creative work, and I said well I have this idea, and he said well there’s this perfect location…and we started pre-pro 35,000 feet in the air. Forty-eight hours later we were shooting with brilliant DC actors. I owe him a great deal!
For dance, it’s usually on assignment and so I make sure I show up with the best team and dancers I can bring to a project. I find my way into the story, hear what the director or producer wants and execute it. I’m very collaborative in that way and I pride myself on delivering. I haven’t made a dance for dance sake in some time…maybe one day. At this point I see myself as more of a conduit there, and I dig it. It’s a different muscle, and I’m transitioning now into more writing/directing. I find myself switching hats between the two. It’s a fun life!
You’ve been awarded multiple times for all of your achievements and you’ve worked with some big names. What advice would you give someone trying to break into the entertainment industry?
Go for it. Be ready for anything. If you have to express yourself, you will, be it through a piece of art or a poem you scribble down at work. I believe we are all creative beings in some fashion and some need to do it more than others. Be in it for the reason alone that you need to tell stories (or create) and nothing else, and people will hear you. Tell your stories. Stay true to your gut, follow your intuition. And “no” is an okay word.
Are there any charities that are near and dear to your heart that you work with?
Yes, I work with Fractured Atlas, they are an umbrella not-for-profit that enables artists like myself to raise funds independently for our own projects. I am so grateful for them as their organization gives me the freedom to help build my own voice.
I am also extremely grateful for Women in Media, whose mission is to promote gender balance in the film and entertainment industry. They have been crucial in helping me meet strong female and female-identifying collaborators and gain opportunities out in LA. I am thrilled to be one of their CAMERAderie Initiative’s semi-finalists for my short film “Love Solutions,” about a woman who signs up for a dating coaching service in search of her soulmate, and ends up marrying a cat.
With 2020 being the year most of us hope to never speak of again, what are you looking forward to in 2021?
Not sure if it will be in 2021, but I’m looking forward to dancing with people again. It sounds so banal but hitting the gym (I need it to dance!) and gathering with people. I would love to see a good night of theatre.
I’m planning to release my short film, “AIRWAY,” which is a sequel to “The Last Croissant,” and I’m hoping it makes the festival rounds, even if they are online!
Also want to give a big shout out to Mikel Fair of the Portland Comedy Film Festival – so thrilled “The Last Croissant” got to play Portland this October on the big screen! I’m also excited it will be playing the Atlanta Comedy Film Festival this December. I look forward to the day we as filmmakers can safely gather and have that collective big screen experience again.