By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Isaac Sterling
- Los Angeles, California
Actress Jennifer Schemke talks about Dirty Dancing remake, and advice for upcoming inspiring actors, Also Jennifer talks with us about how she learned to dance badly, and working with Billy Dee Williams.
You play Esther Feinberg in ABCs up-coming remake of “Dirty Dancing” airing May 24th. Can you take us through the audition process?
When I got the audition, I was in New York, so I had to send in an audition tape. My dear friend, Izzy, who’s also an actor, came over and read with me. I dressed with a hint of the 60’s, backcombed my hair a bit, and we did a few takes until we felt the magic. I didn’t hear back for a long while. I kind of forgot about it. Then, while I was visiting my parents in Northern California, babysitting my niece, I got the call that I booked it, and celebration ensued!
We all remember the original dirty dancing starring Patrick Swayze, and Jennifer Grey. How much dancing did you learn for the role of Esther, and was it difficult?
So, my character isn’t supposed to be a great dancer. My first day on set, we were shooting a scene featuring a group dance lesson and the director, Wayne Blair, came up and asked me if I could lose a bit of my fluidity. Basically, he asked me to dance badly. So, if when you watch it, you think I’m uncoordinated, then I’ve done my job!
You graduated with a BA and BFA in theater from San Francisco State and DePaul University. What’s the most difficult part about studying acting, and what lessons can tell people who are looking to take some classes?
Studying acting is great, because it gives you tools to navigate what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task, creating and giving sincere voice to a character you’ve only just met. The nice thing, is that you come to the table with all of your own experiences and observations, so the tools help you to hear that voice you already have, and to stay relaxed and open to your scene partners. The most important task is to tell the story. Studying the craft helps you lose self-consciousness and do that. It’s always a good idea to study, even if you’re an accomplished actor. It’s a safe place to experiment.
You recently had a guest role on the series “Magic Funhouse”, playing the role of Gidget. Can you tell some more your character?
Brandon Rogers, who writes, directs and stars in the show writes me in as a different character each season. “Gidget” is the first of those. Brandon’s writing is outlandish, and this character fits that bill for sure. She’s a “Laughter Therapist”, a woman of manic optimism, with a searing darkness lurking just below the surface. She laughs to stave off these darker urges, and encourages her therapy group to do the same, to questionable result. A lot of the characters Brandon writes make you laugh, but have an element of the disturbing. My character on Season 2, though totally different from “Gidget”, is consistent with that sensibility. Funny, unsettling, unsettled.
You recently launched a new start-up called “CreativeTao”, which is aimed at connecting art teachers and students. What can you tell us about your new start-up for education?
CreativeTao was the brainchild of my former improv student in New Orleans, Mikeal Woods. He never considered himself creative, but is the father of a highly creative son. He found he had trouble finding a wide variety of teaching resources to help his son explore his creativity. Me, being a teacher at the time, sometimes found it difficult to market beyond word-of-mouth or flyers with those tear-off thingies hung in the back of cafes. So, together we decided to create a platform where both creative arts teachers and students could find each other on the web, as well as a place to find creative inspiration.
A large part of the audition process is rejection. How dose Jennifer personally handle rejection?
Oh, Lord. It’s the classic case of learning how not to take things personally. To ascribe to the rule of “Rejection is God’s Protection”, as my mom says. If you’ve done the work, and done your best, you have to remember that different projects are comprised of various aspects beyond your control. It’s also great to create your own work. You never know who you’ll meet when you’re consistently working and creating, and who will see your work. One of my teachers, Tom Todoroff always says that when you convince yourself you’re an artist, the world will also be convinced. Making your own art is a way to learn more about your unique voice, and keep you feeling powerful.
We always hear if you to pursue a career in acting move to L.A. Do you think people can still have an acting career outside of Hollywood?
There are so many great and smaller markets outside of L.A. Hollywood shoots all over the globe, and many of them hire some sizable roles locally. If you’re a tiny fish in a huge pond like L.A., it can be challenging even to get seen. It’s a very smart idea to build your credits and experience in smaller, but burgeoning markets, like Georgia or Louisiana, to name a couple. Make your life happy first, go for the opportunities in that locale, and when you’re ready to get in that big ring you’ll fight more like the champ you are.
In “Dirty Dancing”, you got to work along-side an all-star casting including Sarah Hyland, Abigail Breslin, and Billy Dee Williams. Can you tell us what it was like working alongside such powerful talent?
Every day was an ecstatic and humbling experience in this regard. I was surrounded by the best in the biz, on set and in the hair and makeup trailer. Debra Messing and Katey Sagal were both lovely to work with, and consummate pros. Nicole Scherzinger is such a sweet spirit, and an incredible dancer, and Abbie and Sarah were very friendly and supportive. My high school math teacher used to have framed headshots of Billy Dee Williams around her desk, and Tony Roberts (of Broadway and “Annie Hall” fame) went to Northwestern with my aunt, so that was a fun coincidence. I learned a ton about staying relaxed and confident among this company. I had to balance my inner fangirl with the the part of me that was there to do my work. It was invaluable experience and I owe all of these actors a great deal of gratitude.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter.