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STARTING OUT
How did you get started in theater?
It's kind of funny actually.  I was in band for a few years playing the clarinet.  I disliked the band teacher so much and really wasn't that good that I decided to join chorus.  I didn't have an prior singing experience or vocal training, unless you count when my mother and I sang "Like A Virgin" at one of those karaoke booths at Hershey Park when I was little.  I auditioned for a solo and to my surprise got it.  I then auditioned for my first play in '92 (Shenandoah) and got in.

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show?  What inspired you to be where you are today?
Even before I started chorus and acting I remember hearing the soundtrack for Phantom of the Opera for the first time and was so captivated by it.  I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got older, but I wanted to be in that show.  I didn't know anything about the theatre world at that time and thought that the show would be closed by the time I had gotten older, and thought, oh well, I wish I could be in it, but I guess that won't ever happen.  Well, it's still going strong, so who knows! 

What was the first play you ever saw?  Ever performed in?
The first Broadway show I ever saw was "Black and Blue".  I wasn't involved in theatre at the time and I have to admit, do not remember much about the show.  I know if I were to see it today, I would have a much different appreciation for it.

The first show I ever performed in was Shenandoah at Take-One Theatre Arts in the summer of '92.  It was an amazing experience and once I did that show, I didn't stop auditioning for more!

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it? 
In high school I was very involved in the music and drama departments.  I was in the Tri-M Music Honor Society and co-directed the female version of "The Odd Couple" my senior year. My teachers all helped prepare me for my college auditions, and I was accepted into the Drama program at Ithaca College where I graduated from in 1999.

GETTING IN
What was your first audition?
Well, technically my first audition was in chorus in 8th grade for solos in the concert which I got.  My first audition for a show was "Shenandoah".

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
First I make sure there is a role for which I would be appropriate.  There are so many different reasons, but when I go on auditions in the city, even if I know my chances are slim, it is great experience, and keeps me in the habit of auditioning.  I'm always learning different things like new song ideas or even what I should wear to my next audition. 

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
I don't have too much problem with it as long as the director is up front about it.  Why waste his time and the actor's time auditioning when the part they want is already taken.  Some directors may say they want to see the talent out there anyway, but most actors will go to an audition with a specific role in mind and if they are offered something else, they may not take it anyway, so it's a waste of time and may turn off the actor.  I like it when directors are up front.  And as for not having anyone show up for an audition and wishing you had precast, just call the person you were thinking of if they didn't show up! 

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
I haven't felt typecast.  I went from playing a sexy 30's showgirl at the world's fair (Mitzi Prescott "The Big Broadcast of 1939") to a 6 year old girl (Jill "Babes in Toyland") on my tour.  I would like the opportunity to play some character roles, I think it would be fun.  But I'm happy to tackle any role I get cast in.   I get cast in cutsy roles, I've never been cast as the evil character.  And I usually don't get cast older than I am. I like to play sexy and cute.

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly?  When directors look at a certain role, what do you think
they see as a "Jessica Cohen type?
I have a young appearance, I'm 24, but I've been mistaken for 16, so I guess I get cast in the younger roles more often.  But what you can do with hair and makeup!


CHARACTERIZATION
What is your approach to developing your character?
I enjoy research, so I do as much as I can about the show, time period and character.  I think that is the biggest thing I do.  I love movies and I'm always watching all the different characters, sometimes I will forget to pay attention to what is going on cause I'm intrigued by a character and studying them.  Looking in the mirror helps when I'm practicing something, making sure my gestures are appropriate etc...In school they always had us create a character history that's not given to us in the play, that always helped.  Gives it more layers. 

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
Eva Peron, hands down.  The feeling I had when I was on top of the scaffold seeing everyone is unlike any other I have had in theatre.  Would love to do it again. 

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
Well, I'm not sure what my best is, but I know my worst had to be when I played Kim in "Bye Bye Birdie" in high school.  I hadn't quite come into my own as a person or as an actor, and watching the video was quite embarrassing! 

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
When I played Eva, it was very challenging because I literally had 2 rehearsals, and only one of them was with music.  I learned the show on my own at home, listening to the CD constantly.  When the show reopened, I went to just about every show that weekend before I was to perform that Monday.  I think I did a fairly good job keeping it together considering the 2 rehearsals.  It was definitely stressful, but good stress, I think I strive on a certain amount of stress.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
Same role.  I would love to have the whole rehearsal process to really get into it and develop. 

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
I really don't have a preference.  I like variety.

MOTIVATION
How do you feel when you perform?
Pretty damn good!  I like the attention, I think we all do.  I love feeling like I'm in another time and place.  I enjoy history and when you place yourself in a different time period, it's so interesting.  I feel kind of unstoppable when I perform, indestructible.

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
I think something that keeps me going is my family and friends and other audience members who compliment me after shows.  There's a lot of encouragement.  When someone tells you how well you did, it really helps you believe yourself that you really are good and hey, I can do this!  I had a rough time about a year ago, I was ready to give it all up.  I didn't know how I could afford to continue and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life auditioning and not knowing if it would ever get me anywhere.  Well, I still don't want that, but I had an experience that got me back into it.  Someone I went to college with just finished "Rocky" and is now in "Mama Mia" and I saw him in "Rocky" and was so inspired by not only him but the show in general.  There was like an energy that coursed through my body when I watched the show and knowing he was in it and doing it, and successful, I felt, hey I can do this too and I remembered what I felt like when watching a show or performing and I kicked myself in the butt and got back out there auditioning where upon I got two jobs in the next couple of weeks.  One was the tour I just completed and the other was with St. George Productions, Thanks Sal!

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
Probably for that reason, ha!  The nerves can be great and exhilarating, like riding a roller coaster!  It gets me going!  I never get nervous that I haven't prepared enough, cause I always make sure I'm more than comfortable with my role and the show, but there is an anxious excitement that I love.  The audience waiting for you, you waiting to be in front of the audience.  It's an event!  The anticipation is wonderful! 

SHARING
What is your favorite theater story?
Well, even though I told him I wouldn't write it...a good friend of mine and I have a little backstage 'war' going on.  It's kind of been on hiatus, but I'm sure that if we eventually do another show together, it will be back in full swing.   I like to see if I can get, cough, Mike Palumbo, cough cough, on stage while doing little flashing pranks backstage.  And of course there is retaliation, but Mike, you owe me!!!!  

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
Of course I've dropped lines.  Doesn't everybody?  I've seen actors do this on stage who you would never think it would happen to.  Hey, we're human, it happens!  It makes it interesting sometimes. And it sometimes makes theatre what it is.  I don't think I've ever dropped anything too bad that it was really too noticeable.  And I am happy to report I have never missed an entrance. 

What was your worst theater experience?
It's not the worst thing that can happen I guess, but it's recent and fresh in my mind.   When I was on tour, I lost my voice.  I don't know if I had a bug or my voice was just tired, but I flat out lost it.  My SM let me lip sync to the vocal track one day and said the next day I had to sing.  Well, I knew I still had no voice, but what was I going to do?  So I started out my song, and about 2 lines into it, my voice went.  And I had to sing the whole rest of the song without a voice, every once in a while there was a sound that emerged.  It was rough, and my counterpart was just looking at me wishing I would stop singing and that he would have taken over.  But there was nothing I could do!   

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
Well, I think I played it off fine and I don't know that anyone in the audience would have noticed, but I had to go out for in the middle of a song to sing my part and I just couldn't think of my lines.  At all.  I was blank.  There was nothing I could do, but go out there and listen to the music play and pick it up where I could.  It wasn't the end of the world or anything, but it did give me a heart palpitating feeling for a few minutes! 


OTHERS
Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
If I am treated well and the production is handled professionally.  It's nice when you get things on time like costumes and props etc...and when it is enforced to be at all required rehearsals and people show up on time.  I've worked at places where people just skip out on rehearsals last minute or drop in when they feel like, OR even skip out on shows and that really gets me.  I do not like to deal with that, and when that is not a priority in the company, it turns me off. 

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
I sure hope so.  It seems to be fairly strong right now and this web site has brought many people together as well. 

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with? Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
I really couldn't pick any one person.  I have worked with so many different people and I like to work with different people, you learn so much from watching others and just getting to know new people as well. 

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
Lots: Actors: Kevin Spacey, Mel Gibson, Ian McKellan, Gene Hackman, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Susan Sarandon, Joan Cusack. 
Performers in general: Madonna, even if you don't like her, there is no denying she is an amazing performer.   Celine Dion has an great presence, and I may never hear from some of my friends after saying this, but even though she really isn't a 'singer' per se, Britney Spears gives one hell of a performance!  (and if I still have some friends left after that...'Nsync is pretty good too....)
I don't have a favorite LI performer, I enjoy working with all of my friends, it is always rewarding, I can't pick just one!


LIFE ISSUES
How do you maintain your career and do theater?
By living at home and temping!  It's been really rough and the tour I just finished kind of set me back a bit, but I am going to keep plugging away at auditions while doing temp assignments.  I will probably try to get another job bartending as well in the near future.  It does get frustrating, like I would love to be able to move out and have my own place, but I know if this is what I want to do, I just have to deal with my situation for the time being and hope it pays off.

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
I really have not been involved in too much regional theatre lately, I'm focusing more on auditioning in the city.   But if I know I'm going to be temping, I like to see what my options might be in LI theatre in order to stay involved in performing.  I've met most of my friends in LI theatre, so, it's always fun to work with them and meet new people too. 

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
My family also loves and supports theatre, however it took a long time to convince them to support MY love of theatre and being in it.  Throughout high school they were really hesitant about my choice to go to college for theatre.  I knew since my first show I wanted to do this and go to school for it.   My teachers supported me and helped me prepare for my college auditions and I think that helped my parents a little, they saw that other's saw potential and that it may not be a waste after all.  And especially getting through college and plugging away, my parents support my decision now and can't wait to see what project I'm doing next!

How has performing enriched your life?
I have made most of my friends though theatre.  Theatre has helped me become more confident and comfortable with myself.  I've learned a lot by the research I do, I never stop learning.  You meet so many interesting and different people with different stories to share.  Without performing, something would be missing.   There would be a boring void that I wouldn't be able to replace with anything else. 


FUN
What brings you the greatest joy?
Family and friends who let me be myself and let me cry when I need to.  And just support me in whatever I do.    And most recently, my little baby cousin, Jeremy. 

What really irks you?
Dishonesty.  Ignorance.  (see favorite words)
Also people who don't realize that, yes, their car too comes complete with directionals...
Or people who listen to their headsets so loud that you can actually sing along. 

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
Pay off my student loan!!!   Pay for my sister's college ed.  Pay off my parent's mortgage.  Have a houses in London and Bridgehampton.  A Penthouse in Manhattan.  Of course a private jet to get me from one house to another.  Oh, and a Viper.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Oh, this old question...well theoretically, if you are rich, you could always pay to become good looking, right? 

What's your favorite word?
Freedom


Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Mel Gibson is waiting for you in the next room...

FUTURE PLANS
Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
Nothing at the moment, but hopefully real soon!  I'm auditioning for theme parks, cruise lines, tours, anything that looks interesting!

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
I always wanted to play Tommy in 'Tommy', but I don't know if that would ever happen!  and I guess if I did get to play Christine in "Phantom" that would be like a childhood dream come true.  Wow there are so many!  Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha",  Mimi and Maureen in "Rent", ooooh, I would love to play Belle in "Beauty and the Beast".  That is a big one.  I love the music of "Chess" but don't really know the book too well.   Back to playing male roles, I always wanted to play Hamlet...it's one of my favorites.  I've always thought "Fiddler" was an amazing show, I would love to play Hodol in that one.  Sally Bowles would be a blast,  "Chicago" would be great if I could dance!  "Les Mis" is truly one of my favorite shows and I would love to play Eponine.  "Secret Garden" has one of the most beautiful scores....I'm sure if I keep thinking about it, I'll come up with several more!!!
An Interview With...Jessica Cohen