Inclusion · Interview · The Human Connection · Wise Words

And the Torch Is Passed: A Conversation With Jeremy Jordan

As a kid growing up, we had this thing called a VCR, that you would put VHS tapes in, and that’s how I watched movies at home.  Newsies was one that I wore out. I knew every word, song, step, and I can quote it without thinking twice. When it was announced that this beloved childhood movie was becoming a musical, I couldn’t get to the theatre fast enough. When it was announced that Jeremy Jordan was going to play Jack Kelly, I knew I was going to love this show. I saw it on Tony Day 2012, and sat there in awe. I had recently seen Jeremy Jordan in Bonnie and Clyde, and couldn’t get over his vocal abilities. This actor could go from singing to screaming and back to speaking in a dialect unlike anything I’d ever seen. I recently had the honor of speaking with Jeremy Jordan about his training, how to best work collaboratively with others, and the differences between acting for stage and screen.

Stage SLP: What got you into theatre?

Jeremy: My grandma used to run the children’s program at the local community theatre, and she did theatre when she was younger. I think I kind of got pushed into a few little kid plays when I was younger, not really willingly. I think I always kind of liked getting to be someobody else and expressing myself that way. I was always a choir kid, and that’s kind of  what pushed be back towards theater when it was my own choosing. When I was a freshman in high school, we had had our spring concert and someone had heard me do a solo and said they needed boys for their summer program, and I did it. And I guess it just stuck.

S: My mom’s mother was  Rockette for a year, and that’s how it spread through my family. Other than choir and theatre, did you do other things in school?

J: Well, I did baseball as a kid but not in school. In school I mostly did choir and got good grades. Theatre was separate from school.

S: So, did that create a boundary between your school friends and theatre friends?

J: Not really, because they were two separate groups of people. There wasn’t a whole lot of overlap. We moved a lot, so my friends shifted all throughout my childhood. The friends that you do make are going to be open and accepting of new people, and those are the friends you want.

S: I got to see you in Bonnie and Clyde and in Newsies. What’s it like to do originate a role like those?

J: It’s the most fulfilling. I’ve done a bunch of shows, but originating a character is by far the most gratifying. In theatre, you go through the whole process of readings and workshops, and things are always changing. It’s a cool fluid process and what you bring to the work influences the creators that a around. It ties you to a show in a different kind of way than you would otherwise be.

S: I’ve noticed that in both of those shows you had a dialect. How’d you learn them?

J: Almost every show I’ve had a dialect. I’m from Texas, so Clyde was easy because that’s his accent. And somehow, I developed this New York dialect. I’ve always been able to do it, and I studied accents and dialects in college. I pick them up pretty quickly. If I travel to another country, I have to be careful because I will pick up however everyone else is speaking.

S: You know, I’ve done that too. I’ve worked at a few summer camps with mostly international staff and depending on who I was talking to, I’d pick up their accent.

J: I think it’s a way to connect to the environment and better connect with those around you.

S: Yeah I definitely think it’s something about fitting in and connecting with others.

S:How did you take care of your voice in these shows with keeping the dialects and also the amount of singing you had to do? Both of these shows in particular a really song heavy for you.

J: Discipline. I didn’t go out after the show, trying to stay quiet throughout the day, because your voice will get tired. You build up a little muscle for it, but you have to warm up, steam, stay hydrated. More often than not, I’d wake up in the morning and spend the day warming up so I was warm enough to do the show.

S: As a speech pathologist, I work with all those things. It’s nice to know people actually take care of their voice and have some solid strategies in place.

J: Yeah, and there’s technique. There’s a way to support your breathing and I’ve had a lot of training. There are actors who can just scream and be fine, but I’m not one of them. Your voice is your livelihood and it’s a muscle to be taken care of.

S: What’s the difference between performing on television, in theatre and in movies?

J: I was trained in theatre and I think it’s easier to start there, because you can always tone acting down for TV. In theatre as an actor, you’re kind of in control. You present the story live and in person, and it’s happening in the moment and you do it again later. Even if you mess up, you get another show to do it again, and no one will know. And you get in-the-moment reactions from the audience which is so gratifying.
With film, there’s more of a process. You still rehearse and flesh out the characters. You film things out of order, but once you’ve done it it’s out of your hands. For TV it’s very fast-paced, and you do what you’re given and trust the people around you writing and making decisions. I do think theatre is the hardest because you have the most responsibility.

S:What do you like most about each medium?

J: I love everything about theatre. I love the idea of being there with the audience, telling the story, that anything can happen, and the creative process. You’re always close with the cast because you see them every day. With film and TV, it’s more like a normal job, where you get your weekends off and allows for us all to play around and be silly, and reach a wider audience because it’s broadcast instead of in a theatre in new York and it lasts forever.

S: Did you ever think you’d get to revisit Newsies?

J: No. When they came to me about it, I was filming Supergirl, and I didn’t know if I could. Luckily it all worked out. I’ve never done anything like that, mixing theatre and film.

S: Was it the first time you revisited a character?

J: No, I’ve done Tony from WSS a few times, but you don’t get to do that much in theatre. In TV you get to, but you’re doing different things because the characters grow and change.

S: So, all of it is really collaborative. My students don’t always love group work, so they want to know how you’d make sure you’re being a productive member of the team?

J: For me, anything I can contribute I am all about, because it often happens that you may not get a say. You do what’s on the page. Any opportunity I get to be heard, I am going to take. We work together and it’s collaborative, and seek the moments out when you’re able to share what you have. It’s just about listening to everyone’s ideas and not taking anyone for ganted. Stay open and listen to new people and new ideas—don’t discount anybody. Know that you’ll be better by collaborating with other people. Other people will come up with something you’ve never thought of. And it’s hard for kids, because they can feel like nothing they say is important, or everything they say is important. Once you learn that balance, you’ll know how to better collaborate with each other

S: What advice would you give to your elementary school self?

J: To be more outgoing, and speak up more, whether it’s making friends or being nice to other people. I’d be more open with people, because every second of your childhood you soak up and that’s what shapes you. If you don’t allow yourself to experience everything possible, you’re not allowing yourself to grow as much as you could. It’s about having a good time and enjoying yourself and being nice and respectful to other people.

S: I am all about letting kids be kids. Speaking of being a kid, did you know then, that’s what you wanted to do as a kid?

J: No, I wanted to be a computer engineer. I wanted to either make video games or make scientific discoveries. I didn’t discover it until high school, but I liked theatre because I got to be someone else. I didn’t connect with people in those fields as much as I thought I would, and I connected better with people in theatre and choir and was happier. I still love technology, but you have to be able to connect with other people. It’s all in my life in different ways now.

S:  Do you have a favorite song to perform?

J: I don’t have a favorite, but Santa Fe in Newsies was pretty special. That was probably my favorite experience, singing this big dramatic number into a blackout and hearing the crowd cheer. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

S: Every week, I give my readers and students a challenge. What challenge would you give them?

J: In whatever project you’re doing, in school, theatre, weekend activities—anything where you have to make a decision or interpret something, think out of the box and try to do something unexpected and find what makes you different. A lot of people try to do what’s safe and what will make them fit in. There’s no risk there. I think taking risks and making daring and different choices will always push you as a person and direct you towards where you fit in the world. It’ll make other people notice you in a different way and think of you differently. Find what makes you creative and unique and do that until you can’t think of anything else, then find something else and do it with that.

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. My students were given this challenge on the last day of school, with the assignment of telling me how it changes what they do over the summer. Thinking outside of the norm is highly promoted in the speech room, and I can’t wait to hear how tackling this impacts their summer. Readers, let me know how doing this affects your activity of choice in comments. In case you missed it in February, the filmed production Newsies The Musical is coming back to movie theaters this August. I strongly encourage everyone to go see it. I already know I’ll be there. You can also find Jeremy in the television series Supergirl on The CW.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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