Struts & Frets: Interviews with the Cast and Crew of Henry VI - Jessica Cermak

If you don't know Jessica Cermak, you are going to feel so lucky in a moment. A hard-working member of both WOW Café Theatre and Hamlet Isn't Dead, Jessica is the glue that brought this show together like a magnet. In the Henry VI trilogy, she not only plays an inspiring Joan la Pucelle in Part One, but also Salisbury and Oxford in Parts Two and Three. No easy task, we can assure you. But if anyone's up to the challenge it's this dagger-weilding, Sunday School teaching, magnet-glue lady of ours!

Not that she does those things at the same time.
...we think.

D: You’ve been a member of WOW Café Theatre for sometime now. What initially drew you to the group, and then what kept you coming back?

JC: I heard about WOW in my college theatre history text book.  I really wanted to join the collective when I got to NYC, but I was afraid they wouldn't accept me because I'm a straight, white, Christian woman from the Midwest.  In other words, I thought I would be too boring for queer anarchists.  But, then I started dating a straight man who was co-directing a piece at WOW and I thought " if HE can be involved, I can get involved".  I went to one meeting and was asked to be in a burlesque production of Hansel and Gretel.  I was suddenly a part of things at WOW.  After producing, performing, and viewing lots of work at WOW I realize that it is an empowering and nurturing creative space in a town that's art scene is increasingly commercial.  I am proud to be a part of a space that honors women and trans-people's creativity in the way that WOW does.

D: Okay, same question, but with Hamlet Isn’t Dead instead of WOW. What brought you in, what kept you with us?

JC: I actually almost didn't show up to HIDs audition for Taming of the Shrew. I had a lot going on, and the show was going up right before Christmas.  But, I never bail on auditions and I thought that they would never cast me anyway.  So, of course, like jerks, they did!! It was a stressful time for me, I was juggling several jobs and another show.  But, David and Robin were always so kind and professional.  I remember at one point I was struggling with my part and Robin actually took me out to pizza and tried to figure out how he could help me.  I remember thinking back to a the other young directors I've worked with and none of them have cared as much for the people they work with, or bought me dinner.  I decided right then and there that I would do whatever I could to help Hamlet Isn't Dead succeed.  

D: Aw...stop it. We're literally blushing. Okay, so you’re playing Joan of Arc in the first part of this trilogy, a classic “strong, female role model”. Who are some of your role models, male, female, or otherwise?

JC: I, of course, draw strength from women who laid the foundation for women's equality like Gloria Steinum.  I also admire my contemporaries that tackle gender issues like Rachel Held Evans.  But, I think I find more inspiration from the people in my everyday life.  My sisters (a senior account executive for advertising firm Major Doctor in the Air Force), the people involved at WOW who are constantly bold enough to share their true selves onstage, and community leaders like Brad and Joy Canning who started Church! Of Park Slope, which has provided a New York family for so many people I know are all people I strive to be like.

D: What are some of the challenges you have in portraying Joan? And what are the most exciting parts?

JC: I have loved getting a chance to work on fights!  When I started the rehearsal process I came in trying to be some sort of loud GI Jane bad ass.  I then realized that I am pretty powerful just being myself, and the more of myself that I bring to the role the more human and interesting Joan is.

So there you have it, ladies, gentlemen, and otherwise. Jessica Cermak is a fierce, committed, and passionate lady who brings all of those qualities to an equally engaging Joan of Arc. It would be a crime to miss her performances. And you know what happened to Joan for her crimes, don't you? If you do, you know you should be there. If you don't...well, we guess you'll just have to come and see.

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