Q&A with Jess Andra, The Umbrella's Eva Peron

October 27, 2014 by Miranda

Rehearsals are underway for Evita, opening November 14 at The Umbrella Community Arts Center with Jess Andra in the role of Eva Peron. This will be Andra's third production with The Umbrella's Performing Arts Program. She recently answered a few questions about Evita and performing in The Umbrella's productions.

Evita will be your third show with the Umbrella, having previously appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar as Mary Magdalene and Side Show as Daisy Hilton. What keeps you coming back to perform with The Umbrella?

I am thrilled to be back at The Umbrella for the third time. Having performed with many theater groups throughout the area, it's always nice to have a place you consider home. I can rely on a quality of talent and professionalism at The Umbrella that provides a challenging and enriching experience not only for me as an actor, but for our audience as well.

What most interested you in playing the role of Eva? Did you do any special preparation for the audition?

Evita is not a show that I grew up listening to like I did with Jesus Christ Superstar. So, when I decided to audition I really dove into the material. You never know what you'll be asked to prepare for auditions so I just put the album on my iPod and listened on repeat. It wasn't until I received a callback that I started to research more about Eva herself.

Having now played Mary Magdalene, Daisy Hilton and gearing up for Evita, it seems like you are drawn to stories of women in history. What is it like stepping into the shoes of someone who actually existed?

Having the opportunity to become someone who really lived and walked on this earth is one of my favorite things to do. I love getting inside their head and experiencing the emotional journey that makes them worthy subjects for a piece of art such as these musicals.

Does it present any special challenges?

When you play a fictitious character you are only bound by the text when creating their vocal sound and physicality. A special challenge of portraying a historical character is listening to them speak, watching how they move and trying to recreate that in such a way that the audience feels like they really get to meet this amazing person.

Does playing such a role leave a different mark on you than playing an entirely fictional character?

Oh, absolutely. 100% yes. The first time I was asked to play a real person was when I was at AMDA [American Musical and Dramatic Academy]. We were given the task of choosing a famous performer who has passed on, and creating a one-woman show about their life and career. I chose Gilda Radner. I researched her life, watched her skits and movies, listened to interviews and fell in love with her. I remember that it took months to shake the feeling that I was carrying around a piece of her spirit with me. Now, when I close a show I find it comforting to take them with me. I learn something about myself from every role I play.

As you know, Evita initially ran on Broadway some 30 years ago and was revived just recently. The title role has been played by some legendarily talented women like Patti Lupone and Elena Roger. What is it like following in their footsteps and how do you arrive at your own interpretation of the role?

Patti Lupone and Elaine Paige have always been influential to me as a performer. It's an honor to tackle a role this iconic, especially when it has already been done so brilliantly. As an actor, we each bring part of ourselves into any role. The parts of Eva that I connect with and are drawn to might not be the same as someone else. My goal is always to play a role with as much honesty and authenticity as I can. Together, Brian [The Umbrella's Director of Performing Arts] and I explore who Eva Peron really was and what drove her. It's an incredibly humbling process.

What do you think will set your Eva apart from other actresses who have played the role before you?

I hope [to] take the audience on all of Eva's highs and lows with me. As much as I want them to think I sing beautifully, I am more excited for people to say that they have never connected with the show the way they did with ours.

How are rehearsals going so far and what is it like in the rehearsal room with the rest of the cast?

Just a few minutes into the first rehearsal I knew we had an amazing show on our hands. The people that I have the privilege to share the stage with leave me speechless at every rehearsal. The level of talent and commitment from the cast and creative team makes it hard to believe that this is community theater.

Evita is of course one of the most well-known Broadway musicals with iconic songs and a familiar story line. What do you think audiences can look forward to in this new production?

The talent in this cast is going to blow people away. The design concept is stunning and we are lucky to have one of the best costume designers in the area. The dancing is high energy and we are telling this story with heart.

Do you have any pre-show rituals or routines that you go through when gearing up for a performance?

I've never been one to have crazy rituals before going on stage. This role is a beast, though, so my pre-show routine will likely be eating healthy, drinking lots of water and tea, running to keep my stamina up for running around the stage for 90 minutes. Staying healthy and keeping my voice in good shape is my priority!

What do you do when you are not on stage?

My day job is a Pet Stylist. I am also an avid distance runner.

If you could sum up Eva Peron in 3 words, what would they be?

Powerful, Complicated, Driven.

Evita opens at The Umbrella on Friday, November 14 and runs through Saturday, November 29. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 students & seniors. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more. 

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