One of the most beloved shows in Broadway History has been revived this season: Hello, Dolly! I was fortunate enough to see this show back in April while it was still in previews. In shows like this that shine a light on its star, I’ve always liked to see who’s performing in the ensemble. When I took my seat, and opened my Playbill and saw Jessica Lee Goldyn’s name, I knew I was in for something truly special. I have been following Jessica’s career since I saw her as Val in the 2007 revival of A Chorus Line. In the previous season, I had seen her perform in Tuck Everlasting, which I will always say is one of the most beautifully crafted shows I’ve ever seen. Every time I’ve seen her onstage, I wasn’t able to take my eyes off of her. I was truly honored when she agreed to speak with me about her story, her experiences in dance and theatre, and the need for genuine human connection.
S: How did you get into theatre?
J: I grew up dancing. I started dancing when I was three, and I was a gymnast for five years, but I continued dancing. When I stopped gymnastics, my mother didn’t know what to do with me. One day, I sang a solo in church, and someone sitting next to my mother said I had a pretty good voice, and recommended I start going to a studio in Morristown, New Jersey. I got to sing and dance there, and that was it. Around that time, I saw Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago and that was it for me. I was hooked.
S: Dance was my way in, too. It’s sort of inherently competitive, though. What made you stick with it as a kid? Did you ever get frustrated with it?
J: The only time I remember being frustrated with dance was in ballet. I knew I needed to do it for the technique. My preferred style of dance is reckless abandonment, so I’m grateful that I have the foundation of technique in order to break those rules. I didn’t like holding a flower and standing second from the end, I just felt like I was the weird musical theatre kid in ballet class.
S: I was that kid!
J: You know what I mean? I remember spending so much time trying to make the girls laugh rather than taking class seriously. Dance, for me, feels effortless. Even if it’s something that feels like it’s beyond my physical ability, it just feels so natural and it’s my gift to the world. There are things I try and do that may not fit me, but it’s like air. It feels like flying.
S: What have you learned from theatre and dance that you’ve been able to apply to everyday life?
J: I learned to be in the moment for what it is, and be malleable. You never know what’s going to happen in every moment. Just being present in that moment and reacting to it is a way that you will look back on and feel content with. I also learned how to take rejection. You’re not always going to get what you want. And knowing things work out the way they’re supposed to and you’re meant to be doing what you’re doing when you’re doing it.
S: You’ve gotten to do both original work and revivals. Is there a difference in how you approach the character?
J: When you do a revival, there’s a precedent already set, and it can be scary to venture off from what is known or safe. With A Chorus Line, they let me fly; I got to balance what I was doing with what everyone fell in love with about the show for the first time. With a new work, you have the freedom to make it whatever it is you want it to be. I think that that’s exciting. I enjoy both very much. With a revival, it’s like a paint-by-numbers. You can change the colors, but the end product is roughly the same as the original. With a new work, it constantly changes until it’s done. They’re both so challenging, but both so rewarding.
S: Everything I’ve seen you in has been pretty dance-heavy. How do you protect your voice and body in these shows?
J: I’m a big believer in breath through dance and breathing through the movement. I think gymnastics helped with my endurance in both dancing and singing. And in general, if I’m singing more in role, I’m aware of what I’m eating and staying hydrated and getting tons of sleep. I notice a huge difference in my voice. My body can be a little sore and I can still dance. My voice is more delicate—I have to warm up, I have to sleep well, and I have to stay hydrated.
S: Auditioning is part of the job for you, and so is putting yourself out there on a daily basis. Some of my kids have a hard time putting themselves out there. How do you calm those the nerves?
J: I am somebody that prepares as much as possible. I listen to calming music, I make it joyous in my apartment. Maybe it’s eating a certain thing or listening to some nice music. I know when I get nervous I get quiet, and that makes it harder for me to come out of my shell. I try to stay up an active. I’ll stay warm and keep stretching and moving, and keep my spirit up and engaged. And then, if it’s meant to be, it will be, and to be myself. Being you and showing who you are and letting that shine can be more important than whether or not my presentation of the work was perfect.
S: What would you say to your elementary school self?
J: “You are cool,” is what I would say. I felt very much like an outsider in elementary school, and all I wanted to feel was cool. I liked dance, and I dressed different and I felt different. In the end, looking back, everything that made me feel less than is what makes me amazing and I didn’t see it then. So, I’d tell my elementary school self “You are cool and you are so enough.”
S: What keeps you motivated and alternatively, what keeps you grounded?
J: I think back to why I got into this in the first place and that spark. The feeling I get onstage and hearing the audience, I love working hard—that motivates me. What keeps me grounded are my family and my friends. They are everything. I’ll get upset about something that happened at work and then I’ll talk to them and everything falls into perspective. They make me realize what truly matters in life. And my friends love me for me, and they know when to level with me when I need it.
S: How do you perspective shift with your character in and outside of the show?
J: Every character that I play, I do believe a part of me is there. Even if it’s not something I’ve experienced, I’ve experienced that feeling in some regard. Also, it is just a show in the end. I can go and laugh in the wings and leave work at work. But I get to let out whatever is going on onstage through whatever I’m doing. I’ve never had a problem with leaving the theatre at the theatre and my life at the door. I think that’s how I’ve been able to navigate that.
S: I’m still working on that skill.
J: It’s not easy.
S: Every week, I challenge my students and readers to get out of their comfort zone in some way. What would you challenge my readers and students to do?
J: To connect with someone they might not understand, or love someone they feel distant from. I think that that is what helps people to grow the most. Understanding people and where they come from and the life they live, there is no better way to grow as a person. And it can be uncomfortable. We’re all just people and we’re all just doing the best that we can, and I think that that is one of the most beautiful ways to put yourself out there and challenge yourself.
For those of you who have been following along for a while now, you know how excited I am for this challenge. What I do, both here and in my practice as a speech pathologist, is all rooted in the human connection and the human experience. Through our conversation, I was able to share with Jessica more similarities between her story and experiences and mine than I would’ve expected. I am so excited to share her messages of acceptance and kindness with my students, and see their responses to her challenge. I can’t thank Jessica enough for this conversation. Just like she said, it came to me exactly when I needed to hear what she had to say. If you can get tickets to see Hello, Dolly!, run don’t walk to get them. If you look up Broadway in the dictionary, this is the show you’ll find, with a full-page photo.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP