Broadway, Inclusion, Interview, The Human Connection, Wise Words

Becoming Someone New: A Conversation with Arielle Jacobs

Perspective-taking is a large focus for the students I work with in my speech room. We work on understanding the teacher’s expectation and what they think while they’re giving instructions, and understanding the perspective of other students. I’ve always believed that the best way to understand someone is to put yourself in their position. Arielle Jacobs has gotten to understand the perspective of so many strong characters in shows like Wicked, In The Heights, Aladdin, and soon to include Between The Lines. We talk about her nonprofit organization that promotes community between girls, and the many wonderful roles she’s gotten to play all over the world.

S: How did you get into theatre?

A: I started singing in my local church choir and I thought I wanted to be a pop singer and told my mom I wanted to take voice lessons. I had already started dancing at the age of three, but at seven, I started singing lessons in San Francisco. Through this, I learned not only how to sing all the pop songs I wanted to sing but also musical theatre songs. I fell in love with the storytelling in the musical theatre songs and going on that journey. My first voice teacher also ran a song and dance troupe called The Razzle Dazzle Kids, and my brother joined me in doing this, and we got to do shows all over the Bay Area.

S: It’s kind of a family affair with you and your brother both acting. What was that like growing up?

A: Yeah it was! My parents weren’t involved in theatre at all. My dad’s mom was a cabaret singer in the 1940’s, and my mom’s dad has a beautiful singing voice, but he never performed. He’s 91 years old now, and still sings for fun.

S: You’ve played a lot of iconic roles including Nessarose in Wicked, Jasmine in Aladdin, Nina and now Vanessa in In The Heights, to name a few. What were those roles like for you?

A: They’re all great roles. They’re all different and challenging and fun. They’re hard in different ways, and I love that every one of them has been a learning curve for me. I enjoy getting a role and figuring out my connection to that character. I remember getting the role of Nina in In The Heights and feeling confident that I could connect to her struggles, but getting Jasmine and learning how to be a Disney princess in a musical comedy was really different, and even getting to play the sassy girl as Vanessa in In The Heights right now is totally different and exciting for me. Nessarose in Wicked is a great role too. She spends only thirty minutes on stage in that entire show, but it’s more challenging than you’d think. It was the most physically demanding show I’ve ever done, performing in a wheelchair on a raked stage. What I love about all of those roles is that they’re all strong women, and that’s been a joy. There’s a delicate balance between being strong and also being graceful and kind.

S: Is it as magical for you to play such fantastical roles like Jasmine and Nessa as it is for the audience to watch you portray those characters?

A: It really is. Those girls are meaningful to me and to the audience. Hearing the audience gasp when the carpet flies in Aladdin was my favorite part of the show.

S: As I’m talking to you, you’re currently playing Vanessa in In The Heights in Virginia, and Karla Garcia, who’s been on the blog before choreographed it. What’s it been like to learn from her?

A: This was the first time I’ve met her, which is funny because we have so many friends in common. I love her, and she’s a genius. She makes everything look so easy, and she leads by example. She has this policy of ‘If I’m going to make you do it, I’m going to do it first.’ She’s a great leader, has such a bright joyful energy, and always made sure we felt comfortable doing her work.

S: You are about to play Delilah McPhee in Between The Lines. Jodi Picoult is my favorite author, and I love Between the Lines and Off the Page. What can you tell us about that project?

A: That I’m really excited for it, and that the creative team is amazing. The musical writing team are two awesome women, and our choreographer is Lorin Latarro (who choreographed Waitress on Broadway). The show really looks at the world through the lens of a fairytale, and also through the harsh reality of today’s world, and how one can balance those two points of view. It’s a story of female empowerment, and choosing a life that you design.

S: How is performing a scripted show different from your recent cabaret show A Leap In The Dark?

A: That one was scripted too, but it was autobiographical. It was more of a one-woman show than a concert. It was alternating between songs and monologues using stories from my life told in a very theatrical way. I got to play the people in my life and I got to act my way through past events in the present moments. It was challenging and very cool. I got to sing a lot of songs I’ve performed in shows that I’ve done, and sing some new songs, too. We recorded the whole show to be released as my debut album.  You can find it on iTunes and Amazon soon!

S: How do you take care of your voice?

A: I get a lot of sleep. I avoid going to loud places. I warm up every morning, and then again before the show, and cool down the voice after the show. I have a lot of recorded warm-ups from all of my teachers, so I have a lot of exercises to pull from. I’m starting to do some private vocal coaching and teaching masterclasses as well. I really enjoy teaching what I’ve learned about singing healthily and acting honestly and creatively.

S: Can you talk about the Girls’ Camaraderie Project? How did that come about?

A: The Girls’ Camaraderie Project is run by women from different genres in the performing arts, who come together and run a workshop for girls between the ages of ten and thirteen in New York. I started it because I had a horrible middle school experience and most women I talk to have said the same for their experiences. I wanted to see what I could do to improve that. I have always thought that our personal wounds could be the key to our individual purpose on the planet, and a way to serve others while healing ourselves. In other words, our medicine is our purpose. Our workshops focus on teamwork and collaboration among young girls, helping them understand and treat each other better.  A lot of other non-profit organizations are focused on empowerment, which is great, but I saw a lack of organizations that focus on unity and trust among women, which starts around this age. Getting women to trust other women, to feel safe around each other, that’s the goal.

S: What would you say to your elementary school self?

A: I was pretty guarded, and rightly so. I talk about this in my one-woman show, but keeping that guard up made me crave a creative outlet, which got me where I am now. I think I would tell her that everything has its purpose, and not to doubt yourself. I think I would tell her even if it feels like you’re alone right now, you won’t always be alone, and you will learn to trust people again.

S: Every week I challenge my students and readers to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge them to do?

A: I would say that the way you look at every situation determines your response, and that when you are emotionally struggling, you can usually find evidence to believe whatever you want to believe. Look at your life and think about what you believe is true. What story are you telling yourself about the circumstances of your life? Are you telling yourself a negative story, or a positive one? I challenge them to always be on the search for evidence to confirm a positive story, and seek out some reason to feel good. Choose that story for yourself and have faith that it is true.

I really admire Arielle’s perspective on finding the good in everything, and can’t wait to see how my students take this challenge. I am so excited I got to speak with her, and will definitely be looking out for her in Between The Lines at Kansas City Repertory Theatre this September. If you can go see this show, please do—I know I’ll be trying to get there myself. Lucky for all of us, Arielle’s one-woman show, A Leap In The Dark, has been recorded, and I can’t wait for that to be released as well. This was such an insightful conversation, and I hope others gained as much as I did from it. Let me know how this challenge went for you through comments!

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

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