Jessica Lea Patty has been on Broadway seven times, and understudied both Wednesday and Morticia in the original company cast of “The Addams Family” while also playing the Flapper Ancestor. She is currently in the Tony Award winning musical, “Bandstand.”
But even with a busy schedule juggling rehearsals and creative pursuits, Patty has found time to return to her alma mater, Florida State University, to choreograph and direct the upcoming production of “The Addams Family.” She sat down with the Democrat to talk about her love for the theater, “The Addams Family” and what it takes to pull off success.
Q: You have understudied both Morticia and Wednesday and you were a part of the chorus for “The Addams Family” on Broadway. What’s it like to understudy for two of the main characters in this play you’re now directing?
A: Well, I’ve kind of made a career out of being an understudy. All of the shows I have done on Broadway, I was the understudy, so my experience with that is pretty deep. For me to understudy (in “The Addams Family”) it was really fun because (Morticia and Wednesday) are completely different ages. You have Morticia, who is the mom, and Wednesday, who is the daughter, so getting to dive into these characters was a challenge for me as an artist to channel youth and to channel this poise and this age that Morticia has to bring to the character. You have, basically, a double job as an understudy. So, I would have understudy rehearsal during the day and we would do the show at night. And then you never know, really, when you’re going to go on so you just kind of wait around for that phone call.
Q: You love “The Addams Family.” What about it attracts you so much?
A: Gosh, there’s so many things: The Addams family is not your typical family and I think that rings true for every family all over. We all have our own definition of normal … but really, normal is subjective. IBut you get to explore (normal and family) in this awesome, weird, macabre, crazy, kooky family and you end up with this hilarious, beautiful story.
Q: What kind of challenges do you face working with the much younger cast at FSU?
A: Well, youth, honestly, has not been much of a trial in this because everyone is so darn talented. These students…This is what they want to do, this is what they want to pursue as a career. So, they take it very seriously. So, I guess the trial would be that we have these incredibly young artists — 20-, 21-years-old — portraying roles that are 45- and 50-years-old. It’s interesting to try and dive into these characters with them to help create these older characters.
Q: Can you explain what choreographing is and what it’s like to see all the moving parts you have to communicate to a team of students or professionals?
A: This is a massive show, this show is huge…There’s huge sets, the lighting is huge, the costumes, the characters…So when you’re choreographing, you have to take all that into account. And the music, the score of this show is so deep and beautiful. So I have to take all of those elements, as well as the abilities of my actors…and put them together and lay them out in front of me and go, “OK, where can I go from here to create this world?”…It’s not just about the dance. It’s about the look of the show, the feel of the show, it’s about the texture of the show. It’s creating this incredibly huge world that is so detailed. So I literally have to go through in every layer and create it bit by bit. So what you see on stage is a multi-layered project to get it up on that stage.
Q: Can you draw the audiences’ attention a little more to certain scenes that were more challenging or things we should watch out for as we’re watching the show?
A: I think it’s more — not necessarily things to look out for — it’s about finding the characters you connect with and going on their journey with them. For me, I have such a history with the show, so I know where my heart kind of tends to follow. And that’s changed when mounting this production, too. I now have a new vision of the show because I’ve looked at it through every character’s eyes. But, I would say, as an audience member, I would love it if they found the character they connected with and followed them on their journey. There’s something for everyone in this show, honestly. There’s tons of dancing, there’s tons of singing, the costumes are incredible. So, no matter who comes to see the show, I think someone’s eye is going to be pulled to something.
Q: You’ve worked with the likes of Bob Avian, Joe Mantello, Jerry Zaks. Can you talk a bit about the people who have influenced you the most on Broadway?
A: My journey on Broadway has been amazing. I have worked with the best of the best on Broadway, and I am forever grateful to that. I have learned something from every single person I’ve worked with, be it the biggest names in the industry to the people making their debuts. It’s always, for me, about…observing the details, and observing more the quiet moments of how these people work…And I think that’s kind of why I’ve been drawn to this side of the table, from being an actor to being a director. So, my process is kind of a culmination of all these incredible people that I’ve worked with.
CD Davidson-Hiers, Tallahassee Democrat
*This article was originally published on the Tallahassee Democrat website.*