Athletic actress glad she made jump to theater

Jes­sica Cum­mings


Grow­ing up in Michigan, there was al­ways that little spark in her when it came to per­form­ing. But Jes­sica Cum­mings said she pre­ferred con­cen­trat­ing on ath­let­ics in­stead.

“That was un­til I got to high school and my drama teach­er saw more in me than I did,” said 27-year-old Cum­mings, who is ap­pear­ing as Rox­anne in the Ar­den Theatre Com­pany’s main­stage pro­duc­tion of Cyrano, con­tinu­ing through April 15.

“He would cast me in plays even though I couldn’t al­ways make it to re­hears­als,” Cum­mings con­tin­ued. “His be­lief in my abil­it­ies was so strong that once I de­cided to go to North­west­ern Uni­versity, I wound up double ma­jor­ing in polit­ic­al sci­ence and theat­er. “

And, it seems, even­tu­ally theat­er won out, be­cause as soon as she gradu­ated from col­lege, Cum­mings headed straight to New York to fig­ure out the best way to make a name for her­self. And that’s ex­actly when fate stepped in, she said.

“My first big break was an un­der­study role on Broad­way in Crimes of the Heart at the Round­about Theatre Com­pany,” she said. ‘For me, com­ing so soon after mov­ing to New York was al­most like tri­al by fire, but I loved it. I re­mem­ber com­ing home straight from the theat­er and call­ing my par­ents right away. They wer­en’t home and so I left a mes­sage on their ma­chine say­ing that this was the best job in the whole world and it’s def­in­itely the right thing for me to be do­ing.”

As time went on, Cum­mings was able to do even more jobs that made her heart sing, in­clud­ing Broad­way’s The Seagull, re­gion­al pro­duc­tions of Lev­el­ing Up, The Dream of the Burn­ing Boy, Laws of Mo­tion and much more. Today, her role in Cyrano marks her de­but at the Ar­den and her first time ever per­form­ing in Phil­adelphia.

Ed­mond Rostawnd’s Cyrano is a new ver­sion trans­lated by Mi­chael Hollinger, co-ad­ap­ted with dir­ect­or Aaron Pos­ner. The clas­sic French love story, re-ima­gined for an Amer­ic­an audi­ence, cen­ters around the most le­gendary nose in lit­er­at­ure. Will Rox­anne fall for Chris­ti­an’s dash­ing good looks or Cyrano’s dar­ing po­etry in this play filled with word­play and sword­play that’s been an in­spir­a­tion to writers and lov­ers for cen­tur­ies?

Cum­mings ex­plained that bring­ing Rox­anne to life meant de­vel­op­ing her char­ac­ter from the in­side out.

“She’s strong and every­one wants her. But in or­der to make her real, I had to de­vel­op a back story for her,” said the act­ress. “In a sense, she’s lar­ger than life, and so the risk can be that she be­comes two di­men­sion­al and un­be­liev­able. I had to fig­ure out a way to get around that.”

That, she said, was just one of the chal­lenges she had to face in do­ing this role.

“An­oth­er was, be­cause I have been liv­ing in a con­tem­por­ary world mainly in terms of the theat­er and the works I’ve been do­ing, I had to em­brace the lan­guage and learn to love every single word I had to say. But I’ve man­aged to do just that and now truly love the role,” she said.

Some of Cum­mings’ oth­er ap­pear­ances have been on tele­vi­sion and film, in­clud­ing The Big C and Law & Or­der: CI. “However,” she said, “TV and film are en­tirely dif­fer­ent art forms. I en­joy them but I do en­joy theat­er more. But I love do­ing film and TV work simply for the lux­ury they af­ford me to then be able to con­tin­ue to work in the theat­er.”

Mar­ried to a writer, Cum­mings said she hasn’t any­thing spe­cif­ic lined up at the mo­ment, al­though her hus­band will go to Canada to shoot a new film and she’ll prob­ably go along with him.

“When we come back, I’ll prob­ably hit the ground run­ning,” she said. “And some years from now I hope to have star­ted a fam­ily and be work­ing as much as I’d like to. I want it all, and I don’t see why I can’t have it.” ••

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