Jason Anfinsen: An improvising empire builde

Jason Anfinsen is grinning his Cheshire Cat grin.

"I see myself as a professional noise maker," he said. "While I might not make a ton of money, I can certainly make a lot of noise."

He's soft-spoken, though he can fill a room - or a stage - when he wants. But Anfinsen, a Capitol Hill resident since moving to Seattle nearly two years ago, makes noise in a variety of ways. He's an arts impresario of sorts, and he wears many hats. Theater actor. Improv artist. Stage director. Show producer. And, lately, even author.

"Actually, I'm just a bald guy with a beard," he said, grinning.

Anfinsen, 30, took a roundabout way to get to Seattle. Born and raised in Florida, like many he graduated from high school with virtually no clue as to what he wanted to do. On a whim, he took a three-month radio broadcasting course. Almost immediately upon completion, Anfinsen found himself working as a morning DJ at a start-up alternative radio station.

"I was their Alternative Punk Kid. It was exciting. I met Radiohead, tons of musicians. I interviewed Chris Farley a few weeks before he died. It was on- the-spot training for a future improviser," he said.

The radio gig found him creating comedy sketches and impromptu radio spots. Those early dabbles in comedy pointed him in a new direction. Specifically, New York City.

At 21, Anfinsen moved to the Big Apple with $4,000 in his pocket, half of which he used to get a tolerable apartment. But within weeks he found a dream job working as a production assistant on Conan O'Brien's show. At times it was mostly a glorified gopher position. But exposure to the entertainment world prompted him to take improvisation classes.

"I knew I wanted to write, and tons of writers came from the improvisation trenches," he said. Classes, writing, performing - he was bitten. And he had to move on.

"The best thing about early improv for me was that I learned I could do it. I'd heard the word of the Improv Gods. They said go to Mecca. For improv, that means Chicago," Anfinsen said.

Thus the next chapter. In Chicago, he took classes with Second City and The Annoyance. He performed. He did conventional theater.

"I graduated from the University of HaHa, After a year of classes you're out on the street. But bells had gone off in my head. I knew THIS WAS IT!" he said.

Anfinsen next founded Jerk Alert Productions, essentially an official moniker for the wide variety of Anfinsen's creative energy, projects he often undertakes with a wide variety of collaborators. In Chicago, he staged an improve variety review, two solo shows and an improve duo which also had runs in Toronto and London.

And he created "Hogwash," a kid-friendly audience participation improvisational show, where artists create scenes, actors create their characters and musicians create music, all prompted by youthful audience participation.

"The kids toss out suggestions and we run with it," Anfinsen said.

"Hogwash" still has regular runs in Chicago, which Anfinsen oversees. And it proved successful enough for him to heed the call and come west. Following an improv tour in Malaysia, Anfinsen wanted to move on. He'd performed at the Seattle Improv Festival, liked the city and decided to give it a try.

He's been busier than ever, with occasional DJ stints at 107.7 FM - The End - as well as directing shows at Freehold and the Northwest Actors Studio. "Hogwash" had a run in Seattle as well, and a second production began last week. But the larger transition for Anfinsen, one he considers his most serious calling these days, has been from performer and show creator to writer.

To wit, Anfinsen is the proud author of two self-published collections of prose, poetry and barely controlled tangents: "Stab at Sleep" and the recently unveiled "Juke All Over Your Face." The books, which he freely admits haven't yet sold in the hundreds, are paving the way for his first novel, one already in progress. To be called "Bellevue Mental Hospital" - Anfinsen lives on Bellevue Avenue East - he plans to finish it next year.

Anfinsen expects Seattle to remain his home base. As far as future projects, there are many ideas.

"I simply can't imagine doing anything else," he said. Then grinning: "I'm pretty sure I'll come up with something."

"Hogwash" runs on Saturdays through May 19 at the Historic University Theater, 5510 University Way. For tickets, call 297-1767, www. ticketwindow.com or go to www. hogwashtime.com for more information.

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