by Vanessa Cate
Jacqueline Wright is a powerhouse performer, eclectic, kind, and versatile. She has been nominated for her performance in Blueberry Toast at Echo Theatre Company – a groups she has worked closely with,, both as performer and actress, for a long time. Last year she won a Stage Raw Award for her role in Blueberry Toast (she shared the award with Rebecca Gray for One of the Nice Ones, also at Echo Theatre Company).
As a part of @THISSTAGE’s 28th Annual Ovations Series, Wright talks about her process, Blueberry Toast, and L.A. Theatre.
“That was GREAT. Do it again.”
I come from a family of storytellers on both sides. My grandfather would stand up during dinner and act out stories. I had an uncle and aunt with a chest filled with costumes they would casually use when recounting stories. You had to compete to be heard in my family. My mom caught me practicing my sad crying face in the mirror when I was three. We moved all the time. When I was 5 on my first day of Sunday-school in a new town, I stood in a group of strangers and loudly announced: “I bet no one can guess what I have in my pocket purse.” As I slowly opened it, adults and kids were craning there necks to see what I had in there. [My mom] said she knew in that moment I would a politician or an actor, and she hoped it would be the latter.
I tried out for the talent show in 2nd 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, writing my own acts. I would arrive at school hours before it opened to see if I made the talent show (they posted the list of names on the entrance door). My name was never on the list, I never got to be in the talent show. I was first cast as Neighbor One and got to sing two lines in the Christmas Musical in 4th grade. I froze and just stared at the star until she finally sang my two lines for me. The director Mrs. Fay told me I had ruined the musical in front of my whole class. I refused to go to school for two days.
I auditioned for a musical six years later in 9th grade at the last minute and without preparing because I was afraid and wanted to at the same time, and I got cast in a role with a big solo act and song. A week before opening night, the director pulled me aside and told me I was so horrible (which I was) that if I didn’t improve by the next rehearsal, my solo act would be cut from the show. I was in the theatre at like 1am by myself practicing. Mr. Carmichael (the school maintenance person and builder of the set — a kind of mysterious man) came in to hang lights. He put the music on for me to sing, and he helped me. I remember feeling at ease with him there. I remember his encouraging tone — saying something similar to a teacher I had years later. “That was GREAT. Do it again.” Something clicked as I went from trying to doing — fear and self consciousness fell away as I stepped into the confident, proud character I was playing and opened my mouth, said my lines, and belted out my song. The next rehearsal the director was floored by the insane leap I had made and I remained in the show. I was hooked to the opportunity, to the permission acting offers, to be a person bigger and better than you are, to express parts of yourself that are banging to be released. Acting is liberating.
I went to five different high schools and ended up at a boarding school for “problem kids” with no theatre department. From there I went to Missouri University majoring in journalism and I was miserable, so I made a list of the things that made me happy. Acting and writing fiction was on my list of four things. So I auditioned for two schools I had heard about NYU and Cal Arts. I wrote my own monologue and memorized a Juliet monologue, thinking I would not get in, but what did I have to lose? I got into both and chose Cal Arts. I loved Cal Arts. I started writing plays there and found guardian angel spirits in my teachers Lou Florimonte and Fran Bennett. I love sitting with friends and family and sharing stories, our experiences… the triumphs and failures the losses and joys… its intimate, valuable, communal — that’s the essence of theatre. I figure I was destined to be a storyteller — I had rejections from the very start but kept on keeping on anyway. And I continue to get rejections. And for every person who has told me I can’t — is a person who said, “That’s GREAT. Do it again.”
Two Crafts Connected: The Actress Talks Playwriting
Writing and acting fuel each other and help balance me. I would be a hermit if I was solely a writer. I am afraid of almost everything. People will often describe me as brave or courageous as an artist. When you are afraid of tiny things the big things don’t seem any scarier. I just do everything I am afraid of — otherwise I wouldn’t do anything. Acting forces me to get out of my house and interact with other humans. Which I love, once I am there doing it.
I receive more energy from the world when acting. It fills me. There is a symbiotic energy passed between actors and audience that is unique to live theatre. I think that relationship is sacred. That energy feeds my soul and my writing. I don’t receive energy back or closure from my writing until it is realized as a play. That can be a long time and some plays are never realized at all.Also, writing is independent of others, acting is dependent. It’s nice to have something I can do on my own and something I rely on others for.
There are similarities in the way I approach writing and acting. I don’t usually have a set thing or plan or rigid idea of how I am going to play a role, or what I am going to write. I allow stories and character and choices to emerge in the doing of it.It feels like when you are a kid playing with another kid and together you create the thing you want to experience together. If something engages me I chase it and follow it to the end. I like the unknown space – that’s where your fellow actors surprise you and alter you – or when writing, a character reveals something to me and that leads me to the next moment. I trust my fellow actors, my lines, and I trust the creative spirit which I believe is more worthy and intelligent than me. That relieves me and frees me of my ego. I think showing up and being available is enough.
On Being Nominated for Best Actress for the 28th Annual Ovation Awards
I am excited to be nominated! I love getting dressed up and walking down a red carpet – it fulfills that star thing we as a culture attach to acting. I know it’s silly, and I am not sure how this “idea” happened? Maybe actors have a universal need to be celebrated? Maybe it’s from being lit by stage lights in a dark theatre? I think we know it’s silly, that’s what makes it so fun. Mostly, it is wonderful to get to spend the evening with the L.A. theatre and audience community. And closing a show is always sad for me — this event lets you revisit it. I am excited and grateful to be included. Also, L.A. Theatre is under appreciated. There is a voice here that is unique and special. I deeply appreciate that L.A. theatre is celebrated and promoted through the Ovation Awards.
The Nomination: Blueberry Toast
I hadn’t been in a comedy for a while — and I forgot how good it is for the soul to laugh! I spent a lot of rehearsal laughing and trying not to laugh at [my costar] Albert Dayan. He had to have a mustache (not a cool one – but like a math teacher mustache) and he had to walk around in his life with it — that still makes me laugh! Michael Sturgis and Alexandra Freeman who played our kids were awesome! It was a kind, respectful, wonderfully playful cast of us oddballs. Ahmed Best (fight choreographer) – whom I have now worked with many times – makes all the physical moments exhilarating. Playwright Mary Laws created a female role that any actor would LOVE to play. The journey from suburban, eager to please homemaker to a primitive grunting animal was such a satisfying trip to go on. Director Dustin Wills drove me mad in a good way. He set up an architecture for me to work in that kept me constrained, which made shedding the ‘role of house wife’ into ‘primitive self’ powerful and liberating. I had guidance, and tremendous support from everyone. Albert was generous – sacrificing some exciting actor choices in order to give me space to shine. He literally shone a light on my performance with his. And I ended up with beautiful new friendships.
Artist to Artist: Advice
Have fun. Focus on the joy of creating. When auditioning – just do the work. It’s okay to be afraid – most of us are afraid. Get out there anyway. Show up at open calls. Choose audition pieces you fricken love! Don’t sweat the outcome. Don’t look back – ever. It’s a waste of time. Express your unique badass self. Celebrate that you found something you love doing. Put a show up in your living room if you have to. Do a solo show if you can’t find a “band.” This profession has a lot of obstacles and the odds of making a living are not good. You have nothing to lose. And any “No” you receive is in company with a zillion “No”s we also receive. And any “Yes “you receive means others received “No”s. So don’t get caught up with outcome or what success looks like. Showing up and being available is enough. You are enough. Right now. It is a gift to have something you enjoy doing. Embrace that. AND If you get nervous or need help – just ask the spirit of your favorite actor to show up. An actor will rarely turn down a gig, especially a dead one. I do this ALL. THE. TIME. And I admit to stealing the souls for an hour or two from actors who are alive and well. We are all in this together.
On the Horizon
I have a feature film, Eat Me based on a play I wrote premiering this year. It was a long journey and dream of mine to complete this story. I am nervous and mostly excited to share it with an audience. The L.A. theatre community, my family, every friend I have, all helped this dream of mine be realized. Aside from this — I don’t know. Please call me.
Jacqueline Wright’s feature film Eat Me is now available to watch on video-on-demand.