The Five Question Challenge with Actress Jessica Sherr

Jessica Sherr brings Silver Screen icon Bette Davis to life in “Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies.” (Photo property of Kent Campbell Photography)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

It is a pleasure to welcome actress, performer, and playwright Jessica Sherr to Jake’s Take.

The San Diego, California native, is a rising star in the entertainment industry as she had co-starring roles on popular dramas such as Blue Bloods, Claws, and Flight of the Conchords.  She also made appearances in films such as The Ascension, Great Expectations, One Two, Guess Who is Who, and the 2014 adaptation of Annie.

However, Jessica has a love for theater. After building up a resume as playing leading lady roles in The Great Gatsby, Almost, Maine, and As Bees in Honey Drown with the Hudson Theater Ensemble, she created a one-woman show that pays homage to the legendary silver screen icon Ms. Bette Davis.  Her play, Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies, been performed in Chicago, New York, and at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in Scotland.  Currently, the show is playing monthly at The Actors’ Guild in New York City.

In this edition of The Five Question Challenge, Jessica Sherr opened up when she became a fan of the All About Eve star and how she overcame numerous obstacles as she developed the show.

Jacob Elyachar: When did you get interested in acting? How did that passion evolve into the desire of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry?

Jessica Sherr: When I was 3-years-old, my mother put me into a tap class.  I had this leotard that was way too big for me and hung down awkwardly.  I went to class and the teacher, Mrs. Reid, stopped the music and came over to me.  She had a long piece of thick yellow yarn.  She put the yellow yarn through the bottom of my leotard, wrapped the yarn around my waist and tied a big bow, “There now your knickers won’t fall down.”  I was hooked this was show biz!  Mrs. Reid was the first person I met who was a dancer, opera singer, and my tap teacher.  She had a certain love for me, and she encouraged me never to give up.  She would tell me “let’s learn the steps, one at a time.”  Many times in my life I have repeated her motto to myself.  My passion for being a dancer opened many doors for me.  I was given the opportunity in third grade to attend a fine arts school called, F.A.M.E and I was introduced to acting.  It was the first time that I was asked to memorize lines.  But as Mrs. Reid said, “one step at a time.” I found I was good at learning my lines and this gift has followed me.  I am passionate about all the disciplines, especially learning my lines and acting in front of an audience.  I had no choice but to evolve my passion for arts. It’s all I think about.  I have an undying burning desire to be creating and performing on a daily basis.

Jacob Elyachar: Let’s talk about your show, Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies. When did you first become a fan of Ms. Bette Davis? Why did you decide to create a show about her?

Jessica Sherr: I have to say I did not become a fan right away.  I did not know a lot about Miss Davis.  I was told I had “Bette Davis Eyes,” and that piqued my curiosity.  When I Googled Miss Davis, I was shocked by all she had done for Hollywood.  I had no idea she took Warner Brothers to court in the 1930s and fought the studio system for better roles and better parts.  I had no clue she was one of the first women in Hollywood to speak about the injustices of men and women, and I certainly had never met someone has forthright as Miss Davis.  She intrigued me and stirred up my inner artist.   I was in a class where we had to portray famous people, and I was set to do Lucille Ball, but I knew too much about Lucy.  I knew nothing about Bette Davis.  I decided to create the character of Bette Davis in my class.  Little did I know it would turn into a one-woman that would take me around the world: Scotland three times, London, Virginia, Boston, Texas, Chicago, Arizona and of course New York.

 

(Photo courtesy of Jessica Sherr)

Jacob Elyachar: What were some of the challenges that you faced throughout the show’s creative process? How did you overcome them?

Jessica Sherr:  My biggest challenge in the creative process was learning how to create my own way of working.  There is no one-way to “create” your own show.  It’s a lot of trial and error.  Early on in my process, I performed at the New York Fringe Festival.  I was not ready to be reviewed, but you can’t stop the press.  One critic destroyed me.  He went on and on about how terrible I was, and he tore the play a part.  This set me into such a rage.  I had this burning desire to make my show so good that this critic in a few years would have to eat his words. In a way it fueled me, and I needed a reason to get better and to work hard.  I began to create my way of working.  Be vulnerable, put yourself out there, allow yourself to fail so you can learn and come back a winner.  It’s been nearly eight years since that first review.  A few months I was performing in Chicago at The Athenaeum Theatre.  Allan Chambers, the Artistic Director, gave me a tremendous opportunity.  In 2017 he gave me a four-week run.  He then challenged me to expand the show and in one year return.  I spent much of last year writing and re-writing.  I had extended the show to 90 minutes, and this was the first time I would be sharing the extension of the show.  I wasn’t even sure how I would survive 90 minutes.  I have never felt more vulnerable and raw.  I barely remember the night.  I was so in the show that it flew by, and when I took my bows, the audience stood up and roared with applause.  We had eight reviewers there that night, and they all wrote glowing reviews.  After all the blood, sweat, and tears I had come quite a distance.

“Sherr is a One-Woman Revolution”–Windy City Times

“Bette Davis Is Bad-Ass”The Fourth Walsh

“Audiences will find themselves mesmerized by this animated, energetic performer”–Chicago Theatre Review

“You will laugh, you will feel her pride, soar on her triumphs, and your heart will follow as Bette’s does, through her failures, as her attempts to rise above to do what she truly loves and as she pursues her passion in Hollywood.  A woman unlike many others, but a woman’s heart you can connect to, you will fall in love with Jessica Sherr and Bette Davis (again)”–Buzz News

“There are moments in Sherr’s performance where the verisimilitude is
stunning, where her invocation of Davis’s most private, most internal moments of righteous ferocity, of crippling self-doubt, and of heartbreak are breathtaking. Then, in a wink, she whips the narrative into a joke and punctuates that moment with laughter”–Local Tourist

Jacob Elyachar: What lessons do you hope that audiences take away from Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies?

Jessica Sherr: I hope the audience will take away the lesson that Bette worked hard to get to be a star, but in doing so she sacrificed having a happy home life.  It’s hard to have it all, and in Bette’s case, she never achieved true happiness in her home life.  Many people don’t know that about Miss Davis, and as the creator, I find it very fulfilling to tell Bette’s full story.  Audiences can learn a lot from Bette’s strength’s as well as her weaknesses.

Jacob Elyachar: If you had the opportunity to meet with aspiring actors who want to work in the entertainment industry, what advice would you share with them?

Jessica Sherr: I would tell aspiring actors to create something for yourself.  Having your own project will not only teach you how to be a good artist but also be your own producer, publicist and best advocate for your work. Also, give yourself a performance date.  There is something about having a date that makes the work gets done.  Always be professional.  Be humble by your beginnings as they are some of the best memories of the work itself.

For more information about Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies, visit the play’s website. If you are in the Big Apple area, Jessica will perform Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies on December 12, January 19, February 13, and March 27.  Also, you can check out Jessica’s website to find out more about her career. You can also connect her on social media by visiting her social media channels Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Copyright 2015 Jacob Elyachar