Interview with Jessica Phillips
Jessica has been a member of The Scarlet Pimpernel company since last July. In October, she became an understudy to Marie and Marguerite, and has played them opposite quite a few Percys and Chauvelins.
NR: Can you tell me where you grew up?
JP: Yes. I was born in Nashville and I lived there till I was eight. My dad was studying at Vanderbilt and he finished his degree when I was eight. Then he got a job in New England so we moved up there.
NR: Where in New England?
JP: A little town just south of Worcester. My dad taught at Holy Cross. I spent from year eight on through college there. At seventeen I left and moved to Boston. I went to college in Boston at Emerson. I spent four years there and then I moved to New York.
NR: Who or what inspired you to become a performer?
JP: Actually I can't even remember a time when it wasn't something I wanted to do. In one vein or another, I've always been interested. I think it was sort of a domino effect because my mom was instrumental in getting me involved in the arts when I was a child. I was pretty much in every class you could think of. I went from piano to swimming to diving to gymnastics. I started to concentrate on certain things like gymnastics, which then led me into dance. Once I was heavily into dance, that sort of opened me up to theater. All along I had been singing and had been in the choir. I had been in chorus in school. It was somewhere in the middle of high school that I realized I could combine all of these interests into one direction which was specifically musical theater. Since then it's really been a passion.
NR: So that was your major in college?
JP: Yeah, but I went in and out. I definitely had phases of feeling like I wanted to become a therapist or something completely unrelated to show business.
NR: Really? So, what finally pushed you into it?
JP: I guess I got to a place where I felt like I didn't want to let an opportunity pass. If I was going to pursue this, (which was the riskiest choice), then I would need to do it now. So, I decided to give it a shot and that's when I decided to move forward with my degree in that area and then move to New York. I thought if it was something that's not right for me, I think I'll know it.
NR: What was the best advice that you were given?
JP: I really can't think of any one particular piece of advice that had an impact on me but I can say that my family always believed in me and that was a huge factor in my feeling the confidence to go through with making the choices that I did. My parents are both educators and they're very academic people and I know I always felt that I should excel at whatever it was that I chose to do. There was a part of me that knew that this was the thing that I could excel at.
NR: I believe you joined the cast last summer?
JP: Yeah, last July.
NR: But, you weren't an understudy then, were you?
JP: No. I came in to replace Kay Story and I came in in an ensemble track. I wasn't an understudy until we started the new show.
NR: How does it feel to understudy a lead in your Broadway debut?
JP: Indescribable. Absolutely. As with everything, it was a process that I worked toward and when you're making small steps to work toward something, when you finally reach your goal, I think it comes upon you as this huge shock, which is really where I found myself pretty much the first night I went on.
NR: I was going to ask you about that. Did you have any notice the first night? Did you feel you were ready?
JP: Ironically, we had just had understudy rehearsal. I went home for dinner and I was thinking on the train ride home, "I feel really good about this material. I feel really prepared. If there were ever a day to go on, today would be the day." And, I walked in the door of my house and my husband said, "Guess what? Turn around. You're on." I literally was frozen with fear. I couldn't move. My jaw was on the ground. I thought, "Oh, my God, I can't do this!" But of course, I knew I could.
NR: When was that?
JP: Oh, gosh. I think it was December, but it might have been January.
NR: So, it wasn't right in the beginning. Now, you understudy Marie in addition to Marguerite. Do you feel that Marie gets enough rehearsal time also?
JP: Yeah. Bonnie (Becker), our Stage Manager, is great about scheduling understudy rehearsals that cover all of the material we need to know. There are weeks that I'm called to do the Marie track and there are weeks that I'm called to do the Marguerite track. It's definitely covered. Because Marie doesn't have music, it was a much easier track to learn. I focused on the Marguerite material first so that I could feel confident with that because it was a much larger responsibility, but once all the material was down, then it was fine. I was confident.
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