Our March 26 featured author is Ellen Michaelson, with an excerpt from her award-winning novel, The Care of Strangers, performed by our very own Jessica Laskey, who recently answered a few of our questions about being an actor, singer, dancer, and longtime journalist, not to mention casting director for Stories on Stage Sacramento.
March 26, 5 pm, FREE, and live via Zoom
Meet March SOSS performer Jessica Laskey
SOSS: You have cast amazing performers for Stories on Stage Sacramento. What do you look for when casting?
JESSICA: Sacramento has such a huge pool of talent to draw from, which makes my job much easier. Because reading in front of an audience versus presenting memorized material is such a different performance experience, I look for actors who can not only read fluently and emotionally but who can also still connect with the audience off the page. Reading text that was meant to only be read—as opposed to scripts, which are meant to be performed—is a challenging task that requires a good degree of flexibility and emotional intelligence from a performer.
It's quite a different beast. But regardless of the medium, actors need to be able to embody a character with their voices, faces and physicality all at the same time, albeit in varying degrees depending on the intimacy of the performance format. In a reading, the space you're occupying may be constrained (especially now with Zoom performances), but you need to bring the same energy regardless of the playing space.
SOSS: You will be performing an excerpt from Ellen Michaelson's THE CARE OF STRANGERS. I understand you were particularly drawn to the novel's protagonist. Tell us about that.
JESSICA: Though I'm not from a first-generation immigrant family like Sima (the protagonist in The Care of Strangers), both sides of my family share similarities with hers that drew me to the character. One side of my family is Russian Jewish, and has many harrowing tales to tell about religious persecution, from small, everyday grievances like being tormented for being the only Jewish kid in school (I myself have been bullied about my curly "Jew fro" hair), to larger, societal issues like living through the pogroms.
The other side of my family is Slovenian and Polish, and though I never got the chance to speak Polish with my maternal grandfather and his twelve siblings, the language has always fascinated me. I also worked in the medical field for ten years as a simulated/standardized patient for the UC Davis Medical Center, which required me to not only portray patients for medical students to practice on, but also to do a modicum of teaching when giving feedback and teaching proper patient interaction techniques. Teaching is another thing I love. That's what's so special about reading and performing: you can embody different people and their lived experiences that inevitably connect with and enrich your own in myriad ways.
SOSS: What would be your dream role?
JESSICA: There are many, many roles I have yet to sing and/or act, but truth be told, most of the characters I'd most love to play are male! So many female roles boil down to the innocent ingenue or the cynical vamp, and though I love a good vampy number, the male roles are so often much more nuanced, or funnier, or more challenging, that those are the roles I covet.
My husband, p joshua laskey, and I have focused on giving female performers the opportunity to play some of Shakespeare's best male roles with our theater company, Theater Galatea, where we've produced productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar with all-female casts, as well as Hamlet with a cast of only four actors, two men and two women. I've gotten to play Laertes, Macbeth and Marc Antony—not many female performers can say that!
We also produced a cabaret show called "Songs I'll Never Get to Sing" that featured six women (including yours truly) singing numbers from all of the male musical theater roles we'd always wanted to be able to perform (my dream role is Leo Bloom in The Producers). It was immensely freeing. I'm sure there will be more of that on the horizon...
SOSS: You write, act, sing and help make Stories on Stage Sacramento a success month after month. Which role do you enjoy the most and why?
JESSICA: All of them! One of the things I love most about being a creative person is having lots of outlets for that creativity. Writing is by far my most established outlet (I've been a professional journalist for nearly twenty years), but acting is not far behind. Telling stories is the foundation of everything I do, whether that's through articles about other people, essays about my own life, or singing, dancing and acting.
Helping put together Stories on Stage events takes yet another kind of creativity—the organizational kind, which my little, OCD soul absolutely loves.