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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 04
Jessica Skerritt: A lady about town
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Jessica Skerritt: A lady about town

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS
WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
January 28-February 21


There's a good chance you have seen Jessica Skerritt about town. She's performed on stage extensively at The Village Theatre as well as becoming a fixture in the stable of the 5th Avenue's repertoire. From Grey Gardens, Little Shop of Horrors, A Christmas Story, or The Producers, Ms. Skerritt has been in it and captured notice. Coming off the 5th Avenue's record-breaking run of The Sound of Music, the Seattle Gay News caught up with her as she prepares for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Jessica Skerritt: Goodness gracious! I loved Bernadette Peters growing up. For my 13th birthday I asked for tickets to the Bernadette Peters concert at the Paramount Theatre. My parents were awesome, so they took me and it was a great night. I've always been a fan of the funny people; Steve Martin, and I'm infatuated with Diane Keaton. Lucille Ball was amazing, goofy and silly all at once.

Andrews-Katz: What was the show that gave you the theater bug?

Skerritt: My first musical outside of school was a production called Searching for Father Christmas, written by Mark Nichols - a prominent composer around Seattle. It was performed at the King Cat Theater when I was 10 - downtown Seattle during the holiday season. I grew up with The Village Theatre's 'Kid Stage' program and performed in the summer stock productions either that summer or the following one. My folks are incredible and started introducing me to live theater when I was young. We were ticket holders to The 5th Avenue Theatre as far as I can remember. They have stuck with me and it's really special to be here now, on the other side of the curtain. I pinch myself on a daily basis.

Andrews-Katz: Does having other actors in your family help or hinder your career, or does it have no influence at all?

Skerritt: I don't think it has a lot of influence on my career. Tom is a wonderful actor and has had an incredible career. He's been a wonderful influence on the community. I primarily pursued theater and there have been times when I've gone out for commercial or film work that the last name is a trigger. Maybe it has helped by association, but I don't believe it has gotten me any special treatment. He's a lovely one to watch and learn from, with a lot of integrity. That's something that can lack in this business.

Andrews-Katz: Originally, you wanted to train in opera; what changed your mind?

Skerritt: Growing up I studied classical voice. My voice teacher in Maple Valley was Nancy Gregory and she primary focused on opera. For vocal competitions in high school, it was centralized on classic Italian art songs and various similar pieces. It's how I initially learned to sing. I've done musical theater most of my life, but I had it in my head that if I was going to sing, opera was where I needed to live. I auditioned for opera programs across the country and decided to go to Boston Conservatory. Two weeks before leaving, I got doubtful and my folks were amazingly supportive. They convinced me to take a year off to figure it out. Anne Evans in Seattle (another vocal coach) taught me other aspects of my voice, how to tap into it and a whole, new world of singing. That opened my eyes to other musical venues. It turns out I didn't go to school at all when I started to audition for shows.

Andrews-Katz: You played Little Eddie in Grey Gardens, the musical. What is it about the Beales' decline that fascinates us?

Skerritt: I think they are incredible people. Personally, I feel there is bravery there, a fierceness that makes me in awe of them. When I worked rehearsals, I had the documentary playing in the house nonstop. My husband finally had to leave. They (the Beales) are really so intriguing. I think the fact that they stayed in that chaos and mess, and still were somehow themselves. There was nothing apologetic in the documentary. Fierce. Fierce. Fierce women, and I think we could all learned lessons from both of them - for better or for worse. There is a survival about them, which I think is intriguing and beautiful in their own weird and kooky way.

Andrews-Katz: You've played roles such as Ulla (The Producers), Audrey (Little Shop of Horrors), Kira (Xanadu). Is it easier or more difficult to play a presumed vapid character?

Skerritt: I love that 'dumb blonde' role. I think there is so much more to them than on paper. There is a unique challenge to make them three-dimensional, and find the different layers underneath. I loved these characters my whole life, and I get so delighted when I play these silly goofy wide-eyed characters. It's a lot of fun. The challenge is that the style of comedy has to come from an honest, grounded place. The biggest mistake is made when they give in to the stupidity of it, and the goofiness without a solid foundation for who they are. They are grounded, that's what makes them real and honest, and delightful. My character in How to Succeed&, Heady LaRue, is one of those 'Bucket List' roles I've always wanted to play. She's a little bit of a villain, but enters and changes the dynamic of the office. She's a female 'Finch,' using what she has and what she can. She craves money and power as much as anyone else. I like that she is a bit more contriving and manipulative. It's a fun color to play.

Andrews-Katz: Do you prefer to perform in classical or more modern musicals?

Skerritt: I love it all! There is something to be found in both. It's always special to get to originate a role. It's also satisfying to revisit these classic musicals that have stood the test of time, and there's a reason why people keep coming back to them. You get to put your own stamp on these characters.

Andrews-Katz: How to Succeed& was first produced in 1961. How is it still relevant today?

Skerritt: Our corporate world is just as corrupt and terrifying as this one is. This office is where there is one of these things that no one knows what anyone else is doing, in any department. The way people play games and work their way up in the system is the same. There are a lot of similarities. Ours is all done 'tongue-in-cheek'; it's Mad Men meets musical comedy. There's a lot of fun being poked at it. The hook is fast paced and it's a great score. I'll leave rehearsal and find myself singing the songs.

Andrews-Katz: How are you alike and dislike the character you play?

Skerritt: I think she has a very bubbly personality. She's very liked in her demeanor and dealings with people. I think that may be where our similarities stop. She is much more & outgoing than I could ever be; she knows what she has and knows how to work it. 'Ulla' was similar, and it's fun to get to play these women. There's an attitude of 'Here I am, and what are you going to do about it?' I wish I had more of that spunk. She's great. She's ridiculous and not the brightest of people, but she still gets the job done - whatever that is, and however she needs to do it.

Andrews-Katz: Do you like playing the seductress roles?

Skerritt: I do. Again, it feels so different from who I am on a day-to-day basis. Putting on these incredible late 1950s/ '60s wiggle dresses & It's a transformation when you slip into her skin and wardrobe, and everything is a little larger than life. It's a little gaudy and tasteless at times, but it's OK because it is who she is. It's fun. In this show, my husband plays 'Dash' and he gets fired because of my character.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be, and why?

Skerritt: I'm the worst one ever to ask; I can't answer without giving several answers. Off the top of my head, again more of a 'Bucket List' type, I regret that I never got to do a Sondheim show, yet. I'd love to do any of the female roles in Into the Woods or A Little Night Music. Marion, the Librarian, is one of my favorite characters in The Music Man. Aldonza in Man of La Mancha, but I'm not the right type potentially. She's amazing and that score is incredible. Man of La Mancha and A Chorus Line, my dad had the records when I was growing up. I would listen to those. I'd love to do A Chorus Line, but I'm not a strong enough dancer. It would be an incredible show. CHICAGO, I'd love to do, but again, my dancing chops are limited.

Jessica Skerritt has performed in many Seattle productions, along with being in the full-length, featured film, Driver's Education. As beautiful as she is talented, Ms. Skerritt will be currently playing Heady LaRue in the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which runs January 28 to February 21. www.5thavenue.org or 206-625-1900.

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Seattle Opera presents Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
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Lively, lovely Marriage of Figaro
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Jessica Skerritt: A lady about town
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Disgraced is a powerful and provocative production - the effects of racism, within and without
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Loverly My Fair Lady at Village Theatre in Everett
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Find out who The Motherfucker with the Hat is at Washington Ensemble Theatre
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Luis Bravo's Forever Tango an exciting evening of tango music and dance
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Remembering Dr. Walter Herron
Letter to State Rep. Laurie Jinkins to rectify past anti-Gay injustice in Tacoma

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Troye Sivan to interview with SGN on January 29
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Stop-motion Anomalisa a visually imaginative melodrama
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NO LIMITS: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson battle convention with stop-motion Anomalisa
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