South Park's Eliza Jane Schneider Presents Play In San Diego
July 17, 2013 1:08 p.m.
Eliza Jane Schneider, actress
Related Story: South Park's Eliza Jane Schneider Presents Play In San Diego
ST. JOHN: Radio is all about voices and ideas. Our next guest will fit right in! Eliza Jane Schneider rose to fame as one of the voices on the television show, South Park, but she quit Hollywood, went on a cross-country odyssey, and is now living in San Diego. She has a new show called "freedom of speech" and it's based on the voices of the people she met on her travels. Thank you for coming in.
SCHNEIDER: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.
ST. JOHN: South Park is something that is very much a part of your past, I guess, but I can't help asking you, can you get on one of your South Park voices?
SCHNEIDER: My favorite one was Shelly.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: Okay! Yeah, but you did that for several years; is that right?
ST. JOHN: Then you decided that it was time to leave Hollywood. Why did you decide to leave?
SCHNEIDER: Well, with South Park, I asked for a union contract. I have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood. I leave every week. But now I live here permanently. So it's sort of like being on a permanent vacation and going for two days a week to Hollywood to work.
ST. JOHN: Why do you like San Diego better than L.A.?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, let me count the ways! It's beautiful. The people are genuine, it's a better place to raise a kid, in my opinion.
ST. JOHN: And the culture?
SCHNEIDER: You meet people, you run into people you know at the grocery store. People are genuinely interested in each other here. There's a reason why it's reputed as a place to develop theatre. It's one of those cities that people have who developing works in New York want to take their work to to get it to where it needs to be before they try to commercialize it. Commercialization tends to bleed the soul from these things, so --
ST. JOHN: Okay. Well, speaking of bleeding the soul --
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: You went on an odyssey probably to refurbish your soul somewhat.
ST. JOHN: That is the basis of the show that you're putting on at the Moxie.
SCHNEIDER: I like that phrase! I might use that. I'm out to refurbish my soul. What started it was I was an actress, came up by that naturally. My father and mother met at northern school of speech. My mother was directing my dad in a play. And I'm very interested in dialects, so I wanted to go around and collect dialects around the United States. And what I learned through that process is you can't really separate the sound of the voice from the voice of a person. And I became very touched and moved by all these people, and developed this sort of Messianic complex about getting all their voices heard and fixing all the problems in America. And then stayed on the road. For the last couple decades I've been out and recording people in the English-speaking world where English is the first language. And just recently I branched out to where English is not the first language, in some of the tonal language areas like Hong Kong. I just love where music and sound and language all sort of merge.
ST. JOHN: Okay. A woman after my own heart. I love radio, love voices. We have the clips of some of the voices that you collected. We might play a couple of them. You talked to such a wide variety of people. It's amazing. This is from a 93-year-old man from Arkansas.
NEW SPEAKER: Listen, honey, yer travelin' too fast to learn much. We'll taking in the folks that you see. Hear what's going on. And it's a little thing that I got so interested in, are the music of our ancestors, that I persuaded the Congress of the United States to put out $3.5million to build a facility where it's always going on.
ST. JOHN: Did he ever build that facility?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yeah! The Ozark Folk Center was his brainchild. He was amazing. He had 50 of the same red western shirt in his closet with black trim. He was like the western Albert Einstein. He started writing when he was 16 because he was a schoolhouse teacher. One of the things he said is well, my parents put these horses TO WAGON and we went to California. Like, he's from that generation.
ST. JOHN: And "you're traveling too fast to learn?"
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, you're traveling too fast to learn much! He said, how much time can you spend? I said a couple hours. Ah! You're traveling too fast!
ST. JOHN: So let's explain why these voices fit into this production that your doing.
SCHNEIDER: Well, Jimmy -- I mean, floor so many hundreds of people, and so many hours of things that they said that I want include in this play and have included in various incarnations of this play. But it's only 90 minutes, so I had to only include -- so he is not included, but a woman he introduced me to at the Ozark, ginger, who plays the fiddle and and a Turkey huntedress and is fantastic.
ST. JOHN: Do you want to give us a glimpse of ginger?
SCHNEIDER: I'm an outdoors person, a Turkey, I killed two big gobblers last year. It was very rare for two big males to come in together but they did. Another person from Texas in the show actually wears cowboy boots and talks about beating up Mexicans, and sings a very heart felt song he wrote about some friends he lost.
ST. JOHN: So is your show all you, or do you play the clips of the people you recorded?
SCHNEIDER: I play a few clips to transfer from one character to another, so the audience is reminded these are real people and these are things they really said.
ST. JOHN: And what is the message you hope to get across? What is the theme of your show?
SCHNEIDER: Well, I'm a hippie. It's basically that we are all one. And in this country where freedom of speech, freedom of religion, all these diverse things are supposed to be our first amendment and what we value, it's odd how little people value the ability to believe differently but live peacefully together.
ST. JOHN: That is a wonderful theme! It sounds like something that you have poured your heart and soul into.
ST. JOHN: And it must be in some ways a kind of healing. Do you feel like it changed you?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. That's part of what the show is about. Of it's got a sort of spalling Gray narrative, or an eat, pray, love point of view. It's sort of the opposite story rather than starting out with the family and the house and the whole thing, I started out wanting to save the world and learn the truth about everything! And go exploring! And then I ended up wanting a family of the
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: It's a whole big circle anyway. So that is perfect. You spoke to one 11-year-old girl from Georgia. And I'd like to bring her in here.
(Audio Recording Played)
NEW SPEAKER: When I was in kindergarten I had this little boyfriend, and he always liked me, and he'd blow kisses at me during class while the teacher was teachin'. And it embarrassed he. And she'd look at me and say Sam, what are you doing! And he'd say I'm just, I'm just looking around. And she knew what he was doing because she'd sit there, making sure we weren't doing nothing. And we had centers -- and he kissed this little girl, and I started crying. And so I didn't speak to him for like a week. We broke up. And I really didn't have much of a love life in kindergarten.
SCHNEIDER: She is definitely in the play. Her name is Salina. Although when she recorded she said do you want me to use my name or make up upon a name? Okay, I'm going to be Marilyn Monroe. Can I do that? Will I get in trouble?
ST. JOHN: Oh, great. What is it like to be able to speak in other people's voices like that?
[ LAUGHTER ]
SCHNEIDER: For the longest time in the development of this piece, I was much more comfortable in character than I was as myself. And I still am. On stage, it's just so much easier for me to throw myself into the mask of the other, you know?
ST. JOHN: But it must be that somehow although of these people have been absorbed into yourself.
SCHNEIDER: I'm certain they're much more important to me than I am to them at this point! I interacted with them however many years ago for a total of five minutes to an hour or maybe two.
ST. JOHN: And I understand in some ways it kind of restore yard faith in America.
SCHNEIDER: Well, yeah. I started out as this very opinionated, liberal vegetarian feminist. I'm right, they're wrong kind of thing. And I just came into a deep sort of acceptance, tolerance, and love of the other. And a recognition of myself in the other, whether that person be a polygamist or a fundamentalist Christian to my inner Jew, or a white supremacist. I kissed a white supremacist just to watch his reaction what I told him I was a Jew.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: And this started as a college thesis project?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, I talked to ply professor. He was not enthusiastic about it, but I talked him into letting me do American dialects. I was much more interested in the phonemes of New Zealand and Scotland, but I wanted to not my own culture and moved on. So I thought I'd get through it in a month, but it took me several years to get through America.
ST. JOHN: Wow. And do you feel like it's -- how do you feel about the contrast between Hollywood where you spent some years and the kind of culture that you encountered when you were just out on the road? Do you feel like we've lost touch with that? To some degree, that's threatened.
SCHNEIDER: Which is threatened?
ST. JOHN: The one out there in middle America.
SCHNEIDER: Sure. There's a lot of people out there who will tell you, oh, well, we hate how Hollywood represents us. And one of these women said it's always infuriating to me that people think that southerners use incorrect gramma! We got a bunch of trailer trash that does, but if you're educated, you used proper gramma. You just say it in a different way! And that's another thing! People think we say you all when we're talking to one person, and that would just be idiotic!
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: And the woman you were just speaking in the voice of reminds me of another clip we have here.
(Audio Recording Played)
NEW SPEAKER: I have lots of family stories that I was writing for Norman, for him to have, you know, to know something about his heritage. And I worded if I could get one of those things public. And we were fixin' to go on holiday out in Switzerland. He said, now, babe, you know they're not going to be publish it! And you know you're going to be disappointed! So I thought, well, I'll just go and see about it. I got back from the trip. In the mailbox was an envelope from Southern Magazine where I had sent it. And I thought, oh, my first rejection slip! Opened it up and they said we love your story. Send us more, send us more! So that was really a good thing for me. But southern people love old stories.
ST. JOHN: That was so great. Was that the same woman?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, and that's one of the clips that's in the show. Southern people love old stories. And then I'll go in and do the character overlapping with sound cue. But the thing about her is her dialect is a very unique dialect. There are very few people who speak with this non-rhotic southern plantation sound that was really -- because they kept contact with the English merchants throughout the 1700s and 1800s when they started dropping their Rs, like the northern be English dialects they still pronounce their Rs, and that's why Americans still pronounce their Rs because it was settled when English people were still pronouncing their Rs. So she still have she's phrases like "on holiday."
ST. JOHN: That's right. That's the way I would say it. And you did some linguistic studies as well?
SCHNEIDER: I did some renegade linguistic studies. But I'm still studying.
ST. JOHN: And it's Moxie Theatre presenting this show. How does their show fit with yours?
SCHNEIDER: Well, their mission is to get women'S voices heard in more authentic ways, and ways they're not generally portrayed in the media. And I certainly that I am a woman, and I've got a lot of voices here, and you're not going to hear them on mainstream media. I'm so lucky to have run into these brilliantly talented professionals here.
ST. JOHN: Okay. And it's at the Moxie Theatre -- actually the Divisionary Theatre in university heights Thursday through Sunday through August 11. Thank you so much for coming in.
SCHNEIDER: Thank you!