INTERVIEW: Irene Marquette

Have fun in your life and have fun on stage.

Irene Marquette

It took quite a while to coordinate a time with Irene where we were both available to sit down and chat. We ended up meeting at Cozy Noodles, around the corner from iO where she actually introduced me to their baby eggrolls and now I order them on a regular basis. (Thanks Irene.) While she quickly ate between her Assistant Manager shift at iO and teaching class at the Annoyance, we discussed life dreams, career goals and how this journey began when she was just a “munchkin.”

Is there anything from your childhood you would say foreshadowed an acting and comedy career?
Yes, a few things. My family does dinner theater…

So fun!
Yes. They started their own dinner theater company.

My dad has always been star-struck. We always watched the Oscars together. When I was in second grade, we lived in Connecticut, and he took me into New York to audition to be a munchkin in a production of the Wizard of Oz. It was at Radio City Music Hall, this cattle call of little kids auditioning to be munchkins. And I got it. So a couple weeks later, I made the trip again and had a really special night with just my mom and dad; they took me out for cake and got me flowers. It was nothing crazy, we were just given our costumes and marched around on stage. In high school, I also got into tech theatre and video production. So I’ve always been involved in some capacity.

So, what changed and where did your acting and comedy career begin?
In high school and college I didn’t want to perform at all anymore. I thought I was past it, it was time for me to get “serious.” I went to UNLV, Las Vegas. But then one day I was studying in this coffee shop and the Second City Las Vegas performers got up and did an improv set and it ended up being the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It was the first time I’d ever seen improv. So I started coming back week after week. It rocked my world and it changed my life. I didn’t think I could ever do what they did, but I wanted to be around it more. That was a major turning point for me.

And then what, what came next?
Then I started taking classes with them. I started getting back into performing with my parents dinner theater. I was in a group called Super Yum Yum 2 with Griffen Eckstein, the man I ended up marrying. It was a very gradual process. It took a long time for me to say, “This is the path my life is going to take now.” It just sort of snuck in and here we are.

And now you do this full time?
Yea, this is my entire world.

Life is funny like that.
It really is.

So now that this is your whole world, what would you say are some of your greatest accomplishments thus far in acting and comedy?
40 Whacks is definitely one of my greatest points of pride. That was a play I did at the Annoyance a few years ago. It was a musical about Lizzie Borden created by me and my great friend Aggie Hewett, she and I went into it kind of arrogantly in terms of not putting limitations on ourselves and writing down a dream cast and then asking those people to be in it. We aimed high and didn’t compromise. It was a really great lesson that you set goals and you follow through and amazing things happen. From that came a lot of wonderful experiences.

All this stuff, especially acting and auditioning is really an endurance sport. Sticking around at all is an accomplishment. It’s hard to remember that sometimes. Also moving here, making the plan with Griffen to get out of Las Vegas and do what we love, that is massive.

Being Assistant Manager at iO is something I never expected to do and it’s a job that I’m happy to have. I’m teaching at the Annoyance. I’m doing a lot that I’m really proud of that I never thought I’d be able to do. I thought I’d be a teacher somewhere.

Is that what you went to school for?
I started off as an Anthropology major. I was fishing, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I ended up an English major.

You mentioned being the Assistant Manager at iO. Are there any specific experiences you’ve had in that role that you would not have had otherwise?
Yes. I got to see my first dog boner recently. That was a really special experience…[Charna brings her dogs into the office quite a bit.]

That’s exactly what I was looking for!
Haha, yea. No, I mean, it’s surreal. It’s surreal and very mundane and I think that’s what makes it extraordinary. You’re solving the everyday logistical problems you have in an office but you’re dealing with TJ and Dave or getting ready for Lorne Michaels coming to the theater. You know, that kind of fun stuff. The SNL showcase was a fun night. You were there, how was that for you?

That was awesome. I mean, I geek out at celebrities myself. I’m the worst. I always try to think if I met someone a celebrity, I’d just hold a casual conversation with them, but in real life, I’d probably just gawk at them awkwardly. It would be terrible. So when Lorne Michaels walked in, I just tried to make sure my mouth wasn’t hanging open. I just tried to play it cool.
I think you played it very cool.

Haha, inside I was not cool. Ok, so stemming off of these iO experiences, are there any lessons or words of advice that you’ve either gathered from people or developed yourself that you would like to share?
I think you need to “do you.” I think that’s the most important thing. Learn from your mistakes. Take criticism. Stay true to who you are. Have something to say and not be afraid to say it. Set goals and follow through.

What would you say is the hardest lesson you’ve learned?
Oh girl, I’ve learned lots of hard lessons. I think realizing that everyone evolves at their own pace. And learning how to deal with your own immaturity and turn into a productive and reliable person is fucking hard. A big part of directing and managing means recognizing those traits in others and being understanding while still laying the hammer down. That really sucks. Especially when you’re dealing with friends or people that you like. Every time I have to hold someone accountable I treat it as a reminder for myself to be better. I’ve worked hard to live the way I want to live but it’s hard not to compare yourself to others. We’ve all got friends who did everything the “right” or appropriate way and now have masters degrees or own property or have kids already and I’m in my 30s searching high and low for laundry quarters. When I feel bad about that kind of traditional success I remember that I’m the one taking the bus home at 1:30am on a weeknight covered in glitter and warpaint and that rules. Perspective!

Tell me a bit about some of the projects you’re working on or where you’re currently performing?
There are a lot of fun things going on for me at the moment. I was just in a film that recently wrapped called “Searching for Venice.” Doing that I met an actress/artist named Eve Rydberg who, along with her friend Jessica Marks, are The Goodnight Ladies and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them in the upcoming year. They do a twice yearly performance called Vagina that I’m participating in on December 7th. I’m starting to work with Shad Kunkle as a director for his one man show that will go up in 2013.

And then there’s Super Human which was a very surprising and exciting development in my life. We just finished up a run at iO, hosted a benefit for Chicago Women’s Health Center at Studio Be and will be rocking Friday nights at 8pm at Annoyance starting in January. Jo Scott got the group together and I feel like I gained 9 best friends, all completely different and all totally nuts and hilarious. I also perform with Rhythm Method, a musical improv group, every other month. Kate Duffy, Katie Rich and I are continuing to develop “15 Minutes to Obscurity,” which we shot a spec pilot for over the summer. I am also Lt. Lady Cola of the USS Sisyphus on the Improvised Star Trek podcast. Griffen and I get to perform together. Although I wish our characters got to kiss more. Or at all.

Tell me a bit more about “Searching for Venice.”
It’s an ensemble film about a family meeting up Big Chill style. I play Ted Tremper’s love interest. A stripper. A very chaste stripper with a heart of gold and a love of nerdy men. It was written and directed a local filmmaker, Jason Knade who has made a couple short films that have won awards at festivals all over the world. The cinematographer, Wonjung Bae was amazing. She made me feel very glamourous and cinematic.

I’ve watched the trailers for it and it looks great, so I look forward to seeing the whole thing.
Thanks, yea it’s been really fun. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a movie! We spent a week in Indiana on the beach and another near Buchanan, MI. I mean, what a dream. It was like summer camp. Acting summer camp. A great group of people and a great experience and a very different way to approach performing. We’re filming scenes that take place of days or weeks but they’re filming them all in one fell swoop, so figuring out how to perform with that in mind has been a challenge and a lot of fun.

Who haven’t you performed with yet that you would love to share a stage with?
I would love to perform with Amanda Blake Davis, Noah, TJ and man, if I ever got to be on stage with Dave Pasquesi I would freeze up and immediately die. Happy. Michael Shannon has been in the theater a couple of times, once I got to give him his tickets when he was seeing TJ and Dave and I was so thrilled I think I was sufficiently creepy about it. If I’m daydreaming I’d love to be on stage with him. I would love to perform with Kay Cannon, she is somebody that came through Second City in Las Vegas and was very inspiring to me in my life.

How did she inspire you?
She was one of my first improv teachers and I can remember having conversations with her about how to deal with things that make me uncomfortable? How do I present myself on stage as a woman? How do you act sexy on stage? And she said, “Here’s a tip, if you ever want to be sexy on stage, just be confident.” That is one of the truest things of all time. She encouraged me to move here [Chicago]. That’s the biggest thing. She kicked me in the butt and convinced me to move here.

If you weren’t on this career path, what would you be doing?
Oh, I don’t know. I think my hope for myself would have been that I’d be making a positive impact on the world in some way. My great grandmother, who I was named after, was one of these real 20th century women. She was a single mom in the 40s, put herself through college, traveled the world by herself and was a fascinating, curious person. She got me excited about other cultures and history and folklore. I think that’s why I was studying Anthropology in college, and maybe if my life had not taken this detour, I would have stuck with that and found a way to make things exciting. I just always want to make things exciting and have a show. No matter what I would have found some way to put on a show.

If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
I don’t think so. Even the things that don’t turn out so well still serve a purpose and I learned something. I believe you shouldn’t look back on your life with regret, you learn from all of those things. It makes you a more interesting performer. It makes you more empathetic. And if what we’re doing is approximating life in some way, then it behooves us to have as many experiences that are uncomfortable or awkward because it gives us something to push against. I do wish I had more of a college experience. I put myself through school and that is one of those things and I wish I had gotten more financial aid or used resources available to me, but I didn’t. But who cares? I’m here.

What are your future aspirations?
At least for now I feel like Chicago is the place for me. A lot of people are moving to Los Angeles, but I feel like this city has so much to offer and I don’t feel like I’ve exhausted all the opportunities here yet. I just want to suck everything dry. I want to see how good I can get as a director. I don’t know how much I can do and I want to see how much I can push myself to do.

Any one specific thing you’d like to accomplish?
I wrote a movie last year and I’d like to see something happen with that. I don’t know. I feel like that’s one of those questions that proves how serious you are. Sure, I would love to have a big, serious job writing for TV show or something, but that would probably mean that I couldn’t get together with my friends and write a play and that’s what I want to be doing. And that’s what I am doing. At this moment, I feel very satisfied and very happy and I want more. That’s what keeps me going forward.

Is there any one piece of literature that you love?
I have a few favorites. The first one that came to mind is Carson McCullers, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” Martha Graham’s autobiography, “Blood Memory.” I’ve been really into Megan Abbott lately, who my father actually introduced me to. She writes neo-noir from a feminist perspective, really humanizing the femme fatale or the ingenue. I’ve been going through them all seeing how her interpretation has changed as she’s grown and switched things up exploring themes, taking things away from the hard boiled classic noir settings. There’s a lot going on in there but it’s not obnoxious – at the end of the day she just writes great books.

What’s something people may not know about you?
When it comes to pizza, I can match my 6’4’’ husband slice for slice.

Alright, what is the greatest insight you have discovered about life and comedy?
Do what you say you’re going to do. Agree to an idea, contribute to it and follow through. I guess you can boil that down to a “yes and.”

Any final comments?
It’s all fun. Have fun in your life and have fun on stage. Work hard and be yourself. That’s my final thought.


Irene Marquette is a Chicago based writer, director and actress. Directing projects include a longstanding partnership with The Mary Kay Letourneau Players who debuted material at Chicago Sketchfest 2011 and 2012, had a celebrated run at iO in 2012 (Chicago Reader 2012 runners up for best sketch group) and created the spec pilot 15 Minutes to Obscurity. She also directed and created collaboratively 40 Whacks, a musical about Lizzie Borden (2010 Orgie award winner “Production Joie de Vivre”) and Brunch Punkx for the Annoyance Theater where she is on their teaching staff. As a performer she appeared with a pantsless Martin Short in the TBS special “Let Freedom Hum”, can be seen in Superhuman at iO and other venues, making up songs with The Rhythm Method at the Playground and in the HBOgo series Single Long. In 2013 she will be seen in the feature film Searching for Venice and directing Shad Kunkle’s one man show for Second City’s UP Theater. During the day she is assistant manager of the iO Theater.

Interview conducted on October 3, 2012.

Did you like this? Share it:

posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Interviews

Comments are closed.