Australian native Jemma Jane is criss-crossing the United States as Olive Neal in the Broadway adaptation of Woody Allen’s movie Bullets Over Broadway, opening tonight at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul. Prior to tonight’s show, Jemma sat down with me to discuss the show, her character and traveling the country on tour.
How did you first become interested in theatre?
Growing up, my sister and I were always performing in some way, shape or form. We took dance when we were little and acting and voice when we were a little older, but even outside of studios it was always a part of our life. My dad would set up the video camera in the living room and face the screen toward us so we could watch ourselves and we would just spend hours creating worlds and characters and, though we didn’t know it at the time, even working dialects!
Every performer has that moment where it just “clicks” and they know performing is what they want to do for a living. What was that moment for you?
I really don’t remember a moment in which I made that decision; it was more something that I knew would one day be my life. My dad is a singer and my sister is also a performer. I don’t remember it ever being something that wasn’t an eventuality, it has always been a part of me and I couldn’t possibly enjoy doing anything else more. I did have a period growing up when my two passions of performance and animal conservation were competing, if you will, and though I did attain my Cert. 2 in Animal Studies, which included internships at Taronga Conservation Society and a Veterinary clinic, I was all the while continuing my performance training and it was always in my plans to go to college for Music Theatre. There is simply nothing that could make me happier to do every day.
You’re originally from Australia; are you enjoying being able to see and experience the different areas of the United States on tour? What have been a few of your favorite cities?
It has been incredible to have this opportunity to explore The States! I feel like, if not for this tour, I may never get the opportunity to visit many of the places that we play! America is such a vast country and I find that both the landscape and the culture vary so immensely from city to city. It has been such an interesting experience and continues to be so!
It truly is hard to pick favorites. There are things that I have enjoyed about most of our stops. A few standout places for me, off the top of my head, have been Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Charleston. There are so many reasons why a city may stand out in my mind. Charleston stands out for me because I just loved the architecture and the city itself! Not to mention the food. LA really stands out in my mind because we had the most incredible audiences, which made every performance an absolute joy , and The Academy of Music in Philadelphia was simply stunning.
You play Olive Neal, how would you describe your character?
Olive is a determined, fiery, driven young woman. She knows exactly what she wants from life and knows how to get it. People judge Olive immediately upon meeting her due to her nasal, Jersey accent, her larger than life personality and her love of all things pink and fripperous. They tend to mark her as dumb, simple and irritating. While Olive may not be ‘book smart’ or know lots of big words, I find her to be incredibly intelligent; you only have to look at how she has managed to manipulate the world and those in it into getting her where she wants to be to know that. She went from having very little to being cast in a Broadway show, living in a paid-for pent house and dripping in feathers, tassels and diamonds. This lady is far from dumb.
Olive’s tragic flaw comes from the fact that she is so determined and driven to achieve her goals, to become a star, that she almost has blinders on to the rest of the world. She is almost child-like in the way that she is oblivious to the fact that her actions have pretty extreme consequences when she fails to think of other people’s agendas and desires.
What do you hope the audience takes away from Bullets Over Broadway?
Bullets explores the concept of compromise—What are you willing to compromise for your art and your life? Are you willing to compromise at all? Should you? Each of the characters in the show have a different view on this concept, whether they consciously know it or not, and their fates, to an extent, represent the consequences that could come from these views.
Overall, Bullets poses some interesting and important questions surrounding life and art and how the two blend, but the audience will be affected by these concepts whether they are aware of it or not. All that they need to do at Bullets is be taken on a journey and come ready and willing to laugh, listen and take anything that we throw at them! And we throw quite a lot! This show is one wild ride full of everything from tap-dancing gangsters and giant singing hot dogs to leggy showgirls and neurotic playwrights! If the audience comes away from Bullets having been engaged and affected, having laughed and journeyed with us, then we have done our job. With each principal representing such strong characters, it is impossible not to relate to at least one of them in some way and so there really is something for everybody in this show.