Jessie Peltier, Professional Actress.
[Interview Date: November 4, 2020]
Swing/Assistant Dance Captain on the First National Tour of Frozen, Music Theatre Wichita, the MUNY and more.
What were your feelings when you found out your tour was going on an unexpected, open-ended layoff? Can you describe your worries and emotions leading up to March 12, 2020?
When we first heard the news of the shutdown, my initial reaction was sadness.
There had been murmurings of something coming or that we might experience something like this, but I think the uncertainty made me feel super worried. I just remember getting super emotional in the dressing room after we found out that we were definitely going to go home. I had it in my head that we would be coming back in five weeks, as we had been told at that point. Because we didn’t know anything definitive at that point, I felt so confused and scared. There was a part of me that was in denial about the situation, and I wanted to believe that we would go back soon. Because it was such an unheard-of thing that we were experiencing, I think my overriding emotion was grief. In hindsight, I wish I cherished those last moments in the dressing room even more. I wish I had hugged every single person in the building. I even left behind some things that, in hindsight, I was going to need for the year! In my head, I’ve been thinking, “Why did I really think we would be back in five weeks?” One of my biggest regrets is being too casual about my goodbyes. Maybe that was coming from a place of not fully understanding what was going on. I remember I went to the boys’ dressing room and said, “Bye, I’ll see you soon!” There are many people in the cast that I wish I had had a moment with, to look at and just say, “I’m going to miss you; being around your energy.” It’s been really hard being so isolated now.
What was the week immediately following March 12, 2020 like for you?
I immediately flew home to my parents’ house in Virginia. I’ve been here ever since. Pre-tour, I had given up my apartment in New York, so it just made sense for me to come home here. My initial thoughts were, “Ok, how am I going to get through the next couple of months until the tour comes back?” I didn’t really spring into action or get motivated to do something more concrete things until a little bit later. The first few weeks, I allowed myself to just breathe and stay calm. I read eight books in the span of four months, which is crazy for me. I was watching a lot of TV shows and doing puzzles; all of those quarantine-type activities, just to stay sane. So, I was happy to be home, somewhere I could feel safe and get settled into.
As a Swing and Assistant Dance Captain, what are your concerns about being away from a show for so long? What are your thoughts on what it will be like to come back after the company has been away?
I’m feeling a major sense of responsibility in having to retain the show as much as possible for when we come back after such a long time away from it. For one, we’re going to be entering a new era in theatre, and I think, as a swing, we’re going to have to be even more prepared to jump in the show unexpectedly. Possibly for more extended periods, if cast members need to quarantine and such. I just don’t know what it’s all going to look like. I’ve tried hard to stay on top of things while also giving myself permission to take a break away from it as well. I’ll review notes here and there, or I’ll sing harmonies in the shower or something. I know my brain, and I know I’ll only need a few weeks to refresh to do some serious studying. Right now, I’m not allowing myself to feel super panicked. Every now and then, I‘ll do a dance sequence or a Hygge Kick-line or something, and I’ll be like, “Oh yeah baby, I still got that!”
As for being the Assistant Dance Captain, I do feel a responsibility to come back as prepared as possible on day-one of rehearsal. I think our Dance Captain, Dustin, and I want to make sure everyone feels safe and supported as they start to relearn the show. I know it’s going to be a little bit of an emotional process. There will be a lot of excitement, maybe some frustration, so it’s just important to me everyone feels looked out for. I expect people will have retained more of the show than they think they will. I think it will be a really exciting rehearsal process, relearning the show.
How do you think your job and live theatre may be different when you return to the show? What concerns do you have about this, if any?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Honestly, I don’t really know. The answer causes me quite a bit of anxiety because I do like to know, and (I) want to be able to acclimate myself to the new picture of what it will all look like. I do think the backstage environment will be very different; dressing room set ups will be different; hair and make-up protocols will be very different… I’m very hopeful that the onstage protocol will be able to remain as close to what we are used to. But we just can’t know. That uncertainty and confusion is what has caused me a lot of grief, because I’m scared that we’re going to have closed a chapter of theatre as we know it. I think it will take a little bit to reacclimate ourselves.
Have you been able to continue dancing during this time? If so, what adjustments have you had to make with regards to lack of space/class etc.? What has this been like for you?
I have been able to continue dancing quite a bit. At the beginning of the shut down, I
was doing a little bit of virtual dance classes from home, but I didn’t love dancing in my room. I get nauseous really easily, so looking at my small screen was just ‘bad news bears’ for me. But the studio I grew up dancing in was able to reopen in July with strict Covid protocol; and masks and social distancing and such. So, I’ve been able to borrow studio space from them a lot, to take virtual classes during the day. It was easier when I was able to have a studio. I’ve been able to substitute some dance classes there as well. That’s kind of been another source of comfort for me as well; being surrounded by young dancers. I’ve dance captained, but I’ve never taught dance classes, so it’s been fun for me; to watch these young people who still have this liveliness for the arts filling their lives. That inspires me to also remember that the arts are a part of me too, even if that looks really different during this time.
Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions, including your tour, would be closed for this long?
Not at all. I thought maybe six months-tops. When we found out it would be at least a full year, I wasn’t necessarily shocked at that point, but I remember crying and being like, "I can’t believe it will have been a whole year of our lives." Or at least that’s what it feels like.
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
My parents have really been my silver lining. After I graduated college, I moved straight to New York, and I never spent summers home in college, so this is the longest, most extended period of time I’ve ever spent with my parents since I was 18. In such a time when you can truly see how unpredictable life is, it’s honestly been a major blessing to just be with them. They make me feel loved and supported. Spending time with them has really been what’s kept me sane.
What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?
I think it’s the uncertainty; not knowing when we’re going back. And being told awkward increments of time. I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to school or getting a full-time job. It’s just been weird, and I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around doing something super concrete. I feel like since I didn’t jump right at the beginning of all of this to go back to school, I missed my chance. And I know when we go back to work, I’m going to be busy, so having school to do on top of the show and rehearsals also stressed me out. But that uncertainty, caused a lack of motivation and that’s been tough for me.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
I think the main positive I have taken away from this time is while theatre is such a huge part of who I am, it is not all I am. Yes, it is my passion in life and it fuels my fire more than anything else. But it’s just one part of me. I think this time has taught me to value my family and close friends even more. It’s allowed me to just breathe for a second, and realize how caught up in the hustle I was, and how much anxiety that caused me. I’m hoping when I return to it, I’ll be able to appreciate it all a little bit more, because I do get anxious easily. I also have perfectionist tendencies so while on tour, I was really worked up in all of my self-worth coming from me doing a good job and being hard on myself in that process. I feel like now that I’ve been given the chance to reflect on everything, I’ll be able to go in with a little more perspective. It’s just theatre; it’s not supposed to be perfect all the time. I don’t have to be perfect all the time. But I do get to show up every day, and do the thing I love the most every day. It’s a job I’m so thankful to have. Gaining the perspective during this time has been a major positive for me.
What do you miss the most about performing in Frozen and live theatre, in general?
Where do I begin? There are so many things I miss about doing this show. Of course, I miss the people; the cast, the crew everyone that travels with us. I miss being a part of the community. Being here in Virginia, I’m really missing “theatre people.” I have a few friends in this area, but they’re not affiliated with the arts, in any way. I just miss having that connection with the people around me. I miss the feeling of the curtain rising when we start to sing at the top of the show and looking out at a new audience every night. That’s my favorite part of any show; the curtain rises, and you get that initial adrenaline rush. You just look out, and you feel so much joy. You think, “Yep, this is why I do what I do.” I miss the little mundane moments backstage, like working on a crossword while waiting to hear if I was going to have to jump into the show, or hanging out in the dressing room with all of the girls and watching the hustle and bustle of everyone getting ready for the show around me. I miss the feeling of watching the show from the wings or the audience when I was taking notes as a Swing or Dance Captain. I feel such a sense of pride towards this cast and watching them and seeing the effect they were having on audiences on a regular basis was such a special feeling. The list of things I miss could go on forever.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
One of my favorite shows I’ve ever done was Nice Work If You Can Get It at Music Theatre Wichita in 2016. The show was just good, old-fashioned fun. The cast was brilliant; everyone was so great to be around. Wonderful choreography. Gorgeous costumes rented from the Broadway company. It was a 10/10 experience. I remember on Opening Night our lead had a costume malfunction onstage (which was also caught by archival footage being taped), that involved a dance belt (male undergarments) being flashed to the audience. In a moment of panic, we helped him redress on stage, but that moment lives in my memories as being one of the most hilarious accidents that I’ve witnessed live, onstage. I’m sure he looks back on that and laughs as well.
What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?
I think I’m most excited for the return of some of those little normalcies in my life. Grabbing a coffee on Tuesday afternoon and heading to the theatre to teach understudies. Rushing to put on make-up, last minute, to do the show. Seeing everyone backstage at the show getting warmed up or giving each other hugs. Stopping by the company management office to say hi and get some chocolate. I just can’t wait to be a part of that energy again. I’ve spent a lot of time this year not really feeling like “me.” All those things that make me feel like who I am and I can’t wait to go back to it.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
Don’t lose hope. Theatre will return and when it does, people will be craving it. They’ll be starving for it. I think this country needs the arts right now. It brings so much joy and healing and comfort, and we just have to wait it out and stay positive. If this is your life’s passion, if this what you need to do, you just have to keep finding ways to keep that passion alive. Don’t lose faith or get discouraged by what we’re experiencing, because it will come back. It will. At this point, waiting it out is what we have to do.
Favorite Broadway Musical: A Chorus Line and Once
Favorite Dance Step: I love a right leg, whack your face moment. Maybe a layout at the end. I just love a leg.
Dream role: Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie
Favorite Movie Musical: West Side Story
Movie that you think should be a musical: Rocket Man
Favorite Dance Icon: Gene Kelly
Tap or Jazz: Jazz
Jazz or Ballet: Jazz
Put-in or Spacing Rehearsal: Put-In
Favorite city on tour: Seattle
Favorite Dressing Room item: Bluetooth speaker for pre-show dance parties or chill vibes
Favorite Theatre Tradition: Specific to Frozen, our cast would “Huldra” around the maypole, when someone was debuting a track or an understudy role. Basically, just a pre-show hype dance for that person. I just loved that.