Houstonian Tales: Traci Lavois Thiebaud
Traci Lavois Thiebaud, Photo: Julia Robinson
After two years covering the Houston comedy scene, I met a ton of talented people who were in and around the comedy, music, and art worlds. One of the more fascinating scenes is the DIY show world where art forms like improv, poetry, and freeform expressionism run rampant. One of the most interesting people I’ve met is Traci Lavois Thiebaud. Thiebaud has published and bound her own books alongside the works of others, she teaches and acts in improv at Beta Theater, and she produces shows that are nothing short of engaging. Away from these endeavors you can find her offering poems for trade or barter at varying pop up shops and events around town while always saying yes to pretty much every chance she has to do something creative. FPH was lucky enough to get some time with her, and find out more about the mind of one of our city’s most creative people.
FPH: Where are you from?
TRACI: I was born in Nacogdoches, but only because it was the closest hospital; I’m actually from Center, Tx. I moved to Houston when I was 17 and went to University of Houston before moving to Los Angeles for two years. I’ve been back here for three years.
FPH: What’s your back story?
TRACI: I got a BA in theater performance from University of Houston and I did Comedysportz. Because of that I made a decent amount of money from short form improv, doing side gigs at churches, small theaters around town, and Houston Children’s Festival. When I got out to LA I did the UCB program and I wrote for a late night show they made called “Evening Hour.” While I was out there I met a street poet while I was writing stuff on the side. Mostly things from trying stand-up that became poems. I liked stand-up because it felt like a mix of improv and poetry which eventually lead me to the idea for my book. Because I was sick of pursuing acting out there, the book idea came to me and I knew what I wanted to do. So I came back home to spend a year on it and I subsequently met Matt Fries who was living at the (now defunct) Doctor’s Office venue. Watching how bands toured taught me a lot, and by watching them I made book merch and toured like bands do but for my book, just going where I knew people where I could sleep on their floors and what not.
FPH: You recently went on a book tour, can you explain what that’s like and how it in many ways mirrors a tour for a band?
TRACI: “Nine Lives of Catfire,” by Sally Harvey Anderson, yeah. So at Jenner House I brought in local acts to perform music, stand-up, and readings. We set up a bar, and I did that model again in Dallas. I had some friends in noise bands and I used their fan base there, and then I just replicated that model from city to city for the book tour. Everything about it was as DIY as possible.
FPH: You’ve released books, that you bound it yourself with your own bookbinding machine..where do you buy a book binding machine?
TRACI: I ordered it online and it came from Singapore. The way the book binding works is that you have to use glue pellets, but the good ones. I learned that the hard way on my third book, “Sleeper Hits.” I used these really cheap pellets that turned out to be really crappy and all of the books fell apart. I met Sally through doing improv together and one of her professors told me all about self-publishing. For me, going the counterculture route and doing it differently and in a cool way was more appealing than selling to a publisher and going that route. I like the world of self publication where people make very specific and beautiful things from a dying art form.
FPH: You come off as a the ultimate DIY artist who lives a very bohemian lifestyle while flipping your middle finger at the corporate side of the publishing industry. Do you ever think you’d sign a deal with a traditional publishing house?
TRACI: I think yeah, it would be cool to have my stuff published by a big house after I published it myself, or maybe the two coexisting in an interesting way. But I’m not pursuing that. There’s something about doing it yourself that seems to attract people to it more.
FPH: You sell poems, you’re known to write them on the spot live and sell or trade them, how’d you get into that and doing it that way?
TRACI: Well, after I met that street poet in LA, I was already writing things and I already had a typewriter, so it just seemed like a good fit. I lived across the street from a Ralph’s grocery store so I just started selling or trading poems. The weirdest thing I ever got for a trade was either a tattoo or a construction hat that a kid stole, that I ultimately returned. I always tell people that I met my current boyfriend and I got him in trade for a poem.
FPH: Are you always as creative and full of ideas as you come across as, or do you take anything to enhance those ideas?
TRACI: I smoke pot, but lately I’ve realized how important it is for me to be mindful of who I surround myself with. I need to be around creative people so I can create better. I value all of the creative people I get to be around while feeding off of their creative energy.
FPH: Explain for people who don’t know about Beta Theater what you do for them and how you got to be in that position?
TRACI: I am the head of curriculum so I decide what classes we do, what the classes look like, and what shows we produce. Hopefully what we do is on par with what other groups around the country are doing. We just want to create improv professionals while I book shows and produce them as well. I met Jeromy (Barber) because when I moved back to Houston I was working at Lowbrow and Mills McCoin and Amy Birkhead would come in a lot and talk about him. After they and he bugged me for a year, Jeromy invited me to audition for Max last January. That basically opened the door for all of this by getting on the house improv team and just developing everything from there.
FPH: Where do you want to see the Houston improv and comedy scene in five years and where do you see yourself in it?
TRACI: It’s hard for me to think about the future. It’s hard to see the future outside of where you’re at. It feels like the scene is growing, but Houston has so much high art that it would be nice to see it trickle down. I hope that in the future there are more theaters than Beta and Station. It’d be cool to be on a weekly improv team that had a buzz surrounding it where there was a line of people waiting to see it at every show.
In a very short time frame, Thiebaud has published a slew of works on her own as whatever, mom and through her publishing partner, Kalen Rowe also known as Anklebiters Publishing. All of these works are available here, and you can catch Thiebaud every Thursday at Beta Theater with their in house improv team Max, at 9:00 as part of their weekly comedy block running from 7:00 to 10:00. You can also catch her alongside a bunch of talented performers at Under The Sea, The Beta Theater Prom & Fundraiser on January 30th at 9:00. The 18 & up show has tickets for a pay what you can price, but they ask that you donate what you can as well. Or if you’d rather get up close and personal with her, you can sketch her at Sketchbook Saloon on February 7th.