Interviewing Jewelle Blackman was delightful. Our conversation about her creative life and daily routine highlighted her optimism and confidence. Her fight and fierce determination to fulfill her destiny are what I loved most about Jewelle. Through commitment and perseverance, Jewelle details her journey to Hadestown! She shared the following with me.
Hi Jewelle, how are you doing? I'm good, how are you?
I am lovely, thank you! I'm so excited about interviewing you today. I think you're amazing! Thank you
You're Welcome, so Jewelle, tell me about your growing-up years? I'm Canadian. I was born and raised in Toronto.
Have you always been involved in the arts? Yes, ever since I was young, I have been involved in the arts. My parents put me in tap, ballet, and jazz from when I was five to around seven.
It's my understanding that you're an accomplished musician. What instrument do you play? Thank you. Yes, I'm a violist. When my parents took me to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and I saw a violinist playing, I was immediately drawn to that instrument. From the time I said, "Mommy, Daddy, I want to play the violin, "I started playing and continued throughout high school and college. Although I played violin, I continued singing on the side.
What sparked your interest to become more serious about your singing? The singing was a side thing until I saw The Lion King. I saw The Lion King in my second or third year of university. I saw the Canadian company. Before that, I never considered doing this as a profession. I intended to become an entertainment lawyer, which I was gearing towards. But, when I saw The Lion King and people on the stage who looked like me and were having fun and getting paid for it, that's what sparked my interest. That's what gave me the desire to want to perform.
How was that process for you? I attempted three times to get into the show, and eventually, I was successful. I was a swing until I was cast as "Nala." I played Nala for about eight months; then, I closed the Canadian company as the character "Shenzi ."That was my first introduction to musical theater and performing on a large stage.
Was your mind made up at that point? Yes, it was from that point that I said to myself, "I'm going to do this for real. I'm going to continue this journey." So, I did a few more shows in and around Toronto, Canada, with "Mirvish." Mirvis is that's kind of like the biggest producer in Canada for a theater.
What were the names of those theatrical plays? I did "The Lion King" there, and a few years later, "Will Rock you." Next, my journey led me to The Stratford Festival, the most prominent classical repertory theater in North America. So, I did a few classics like "Tommy," in which I played "The Acid Queen" with Dez Mcanuff. He came back and held Tommy at the Stratford Festival.
I also performed in "Jack Brill is alive and well living in Paris. "While I was doing that show, I was pregnant. Regardless, I managed to close the season and have my son a few months later.
How did your priorities change after you had your son? Well, I thought I would try and focus more on TV and film. This way, I could stay close to home. Doing Television and film was great, but theater always called me back. So, I audited for "Caroline or Change and was cast in that production." That was one of the first shows I did after having my son. It was the Canadian premiere of Carolina. I ended up going back to Stratford for another season. Then Hades Town.
I stopped searching for opportunities outside of Canada and Ontario, which is the province where I lived because my main objective was to stay close to home because of my child.
What Changed? While I was up, I came across a breakdown from Haiti's town. It was at a theater in Edmonton, Canada. I didn't know anything about Haiti town, but I decided to look up the music, and as soon as I heard It, I was impressed! I thought the music, the show, and the story were incredible. There's nothing like it.
What was the requirement? The Breakdown said they were looking for people with unique voices who could play an instrument. I thought to myself, I've been playing violin since I was 8. This is perfect. The song has a jazzy contemporary vibe, and I get to play my violin. So, I submitted myself.
My agent didn't submit me because I told my agent not to submit me for anything that would take me out of the country or the province. So, I introduced myself, and I got to part. So, I went to Edmonton for about six weeks. It was a short run, but it was a great experience. It wasn't vastly different, but it was a very different show in terms of its visual presentation and how it came across compared to what you see today on Broadway. Overall, working with the creative team was excellent.
What were some of your great moments? Rachel Chavkin, Anais Mitchell, and Liam Robinson, the show's producers, were all present, and it was great to have them there! Having them there and almost originating something with them was remarkable. Then it closed. Inside I felt like the show's trajectory was Broadway, but I wasn't sure if I would even have a chance because I'm Canadian. I knew they would return to the States and do what they do. So basically, I had to resolve in my heart if that was the end of my Hadestown run, I would be OK with it. They took the show to London, England, and the only people they brought back were some of the same Americans that were previously a part of the production. They hired local people while premiering in England.
How did you get your chance to be a part of the Broadway cast of Hadestown? A few months later, I saw the Breakdown go out for Broadway and immediately had my agent get on it. My agent reached out, but we didn't hear anything back for a few weeks. Not long after that, we got a call back for an audition.
Oh, great. Did you go? No, I couldn't because I was working on a show in Toronto. Alternatively, they gave me the option to submit a tape. I was baffled by that because they already knew what I was capable of, but I did oblige. On my lunch break, I submitted a tape, and a few weeks later, I got the call that I was booked for the role. That was my very first Broadway gig.
You ran into a small challenge. What was that? Yes, when I did the show in Canada, I played the role of "Fate," who was a violinist. That was natural for me because I am a violinist. But when I got the call for Broadway, my agent told me I would have to play the accordion. I knew she had made a mistake! I asked my agent to go back and check to make sure it wasn't a mistake, and she said, "no, they want you to play the accordion. They know you're a good musician and that you'll figure it out." So, I told myself, if they think I can, I'll figure it out. That's how I ended up on Broadway in Hadestown.
Awesome! Who are the producers, directors, and writers of Hadestown? Rachel Chavkin was the director; Anais Mitchell was the writer and wrote the music and lyrics, and Liam Robinson was the musical director.
And what is the inspiration behind Hadestown? The story centers around two Greek mythological couples, Hades and Persephone and Orpheus and Eurydice. They visit the underworld and live in Hadestown, a fantasy city in the mythical Greek world. In the underworld (known as Hadestown), Eurydice is killed, but Hades survives, finding her mother and escaping.
Tell me about the role that you play? I play one of the "Fates." There are three of us, and we all have different jobs. One spins life, one measures life, and one ends life. I end life. I play the most cutthroat role. (laughs)
That must be challenging. It's fun because you can play against the opposite. I make her tricky and suspicious. Additionally, I play the lowest vocal role of all the three fates. I get to live in the deeper lower tones of my voice, which many composers don't write for. I'm usually the last line. When someone says something, I end it with a cutthroat response. Working with the trio is a rich and rewarding experience because we feed off each other. The three fates are vastly different in how we look and express our characters. Overall, it's lots of fun.
Regarding Fate, how were you able to embody her character? Is her character so different than who you are, naturally? I like Fate. There's nothing that I don't like about her. I love her strength and confidence. She has more confidence than Jewel Blackman, but I'm becoming more like that with age.
One thing to note is that Fates aren't evil; they just tell you how things are. One of the things that I like about her role is that I'm able to sing in the lower register of my voice. I also love the movement of my character. Because I'm not a dancer and more of a mover, David Newman, the choreographer, helped me a lot. He was great at being individualistic with what works on each one of our bodies. He was great.
Was it a challenge for you to sink that low? No, that's my natural singing voice.
Does the cast work well together, and has it been a rewarding experience? Yes, I would say so. What is so unique about the creative team is that there are no egos involved. They were open to listening to us and hearing what we had to say. They would open the floor to listen to our thoughts when we had suggestions. Of course, all of this was within reason. For instance, if Anais wrote something one way and we did it differently, she might be willing to try that. So yes, it was a warm, rewarding and outstanding environment for creative expression.
What does the practice and rehearsal schedule look like for a Broadway star? I'm in a routine now. When I started, I would come in about 30 to 40 minutes early to practice my accordion. At that time, the accordion was foreign to me. It's one thing to play the accordion; it's another to sing, play, and dance. Now a second nature. When I wake up in the morning, I do a vocal warmup. If I have time, I'll go to the gym to keep myself mobile, in shape, and in tone. On occasion, I will take vocal lessons. I'm not as rigid as others. There are times when there is significant preparation, and there are others. When I show up 45 minutes before the show, I put on my makeup and prepare for my performance.
How was moving from Toronto to New York different? It was a bit of a culture shock, but I liked it. I find the people to be much more forward, open, and social than they are in Toronto. I have not come across a mean New Yorker yet. What's most fascinating is that although we're so close, we're different. You're talking a 55-minute flight. But overall, it's been a great experience.
When can we expect Hadestown to come to California? There is a touring cast. I don't know their schedule, but I believe that if it's not coming in 2022, it will be coming in 2023.
Will you be on that tour? No, I won't be on that tour. I'm staying with Broadway.
What would you tell someone pursuing a career in Broadaway that would encourage them? I would tell them that there is no timeline or limits. You can achieve. Dream at any age. I'm in my mid-40s. This is how long it took to get here, but I also realized that this was the exact time for this to happen to me. Everyone's journey is different. Some people plan to pursue Broadway right out of school, and others start later in life. But if you keep pressing towards your goal, you will get there.
Keep working on your craft and persevering to be ready for the right opportunity. Know that if you don't quit, it will happen to you. It won't pass you by. I genuinely believe that it's never too late to accomplish your dreams.
Well said. Jewelle, I look forward to seeing you do incredible things on Broadway. I pray that God will continue to bless you and your family and keep you safe this time. Much success, and I'm so proud of you! Oh, thank you so much; I appreciate that.
You're welcome; thank you so much—great talking to you. Have a wonderful day. You too!
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