Making Art with Jesse and Friends: It Takes a Troupe
It was the best Fifth Birthday Party Ever
In 1993 I was pregnant for the first time and was working as a choreographer at The Cleveland Play House. The company was premièring a play, and Jesse Martin was the lead character. His role called for him to sing and dance. There was nothing he could not do, or would not try. He was game. And his energy was an exuberant shout-out to being a working actor surrounded by his most intimate kin, for the next six weeks or so. To have a role in a beautiful regional theater is a big score for many actors. An opportunity to work. Working together in regional theater is a bonding experience like no other. Jesse was working with two child actors as well, who traded off performances. The kids bonded with him immediately. And everyone just adored him.
Seventeen years ago.
One day he knelt down and kissed my belly. I felt like it was a charm he bestowed upon my unborn child.
Jesse was shining then, and his light would continue to dazzle and win him accolades in the future. We all knew. Had no doubt.
In 1998 our child saw The Lion King and was given a tour backstage and actually had audience with Mr. Nathan Lane, himself. The backstage was a playground for a careful boy who was in awe of the pageantry and used to going backstage all his life. He was born in a trunk as they say. His dad has been fortunate enough to work in the business for 33 years.
Jesse showed up at my child's fifth birthday party on a rooftop in the Village.. I could still call him then.
He was so excited to see the baby that he watched grow while I ran around the room during rehearsals. It was the best fifth birthday party ever. Sirius talk show host, playbill columnist, blogger, actor, comedian, deconstructionist, vocal and workshop teacher, pit musician, philanthropist, and most amazing pianist, Seth Rudetsky, showed up with a disco ball, Jonathon Freeman came with a replica of Jafar, one of his many voiceovers for Disney. Nancy Alison made an appearance. She runs the Jean Erdman Project, dedicated to keeping her mid 20th Century dances alive by touring the country teaching Jean's work, inspired by Martha Graham, her mentor, and Miss Erdman's husband, Joseph Campbell, Ruth Williamson stopped by, another Broadway veteran, playwrights Arlene Samuels (Beth Lynx) and Lisa Beth Kovitz were there, as well as our hosts, stage and screen veterans, Margot Stevenson and the late Val Avery, and their daughter, actress Margot Avery. The roof was a maze of talent, from Tony winners, agents and casting directors, to writers and artists.
At midnight we went to Times Square and my kid rode on Dad's shoulders to see all the lights. Artsy parents, a lot of attention from talented grown ups, and Jesse's royal kiss: said child is a 17-year-old musician, headed for conservatory.
It takes a troupe.