Interview by Jaclyn Bethany
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Jill! What was your childhood like? When did you discover performing?
Jill Paice: My father was in the air force and we moved around a lot when I was young. We moved to Ohio from Crete, Greece when I was eight. I was having a terrible time adjusting. When the high school put out a call for children to audition for their production of Oklahoma, my mother thought it might be a good way for me to meet people and make some friends. I had always sung in church choir, but had never been part of a company before. It changed my life.
JB: You made your Broadway debut as Laura in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, The Woman in White, and originated the role in London prior to that. What was the process of embodying that role? And what was it like to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber?
JP: I was first put on a tape for The Woman in White, which was shipped off to London for Trevor Nunn to see. The second time I auditioned was in New York, and it was for Andrew Lloyd Webber. I was so nervous; I did the entire audition kneeling on the floor. It was at about this time that I learned I had been cast as Hodel in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof. My agent called Really Useful Group to let them know, and they made a quick decision to fly me to London to sing for the entire creative team in the lobby of Royal Drury Lane. It was the most surreal few days of my life. I was jet-lagged, the cleaning crew walked in in the middle of my song, and I felt like the audition had gone horribly. I was so upset with myself. When I got back to my hotel room, there was a note asking me to stay another day for a second go-round with the creative team, as well as some chemistry reads with other actors. By the second night in London, I knew I had booked the show and that I would be packing my bags and moving to London for a year.
Working on The Woman in White felt like a dream. I arrived far too early to rehearsal every day. I was filled with energy. The show was pretty much handed to us completed. The creative team had done a great deal of work on the show in the years prior so I don't recall making too many changes. I learned so much from Trevor Nunn and from my fellow actors. Maria Friedman became like a sister to me. Michael Crawford felt like a wonderful sort of uncle. I was always very shy around
JB: You've been part of many interesting projects that have taken you all over the United States and Europe. Has there been a particularly special role or show for you thus far?
JP: Each show holds a special place in my heart. They are like my children in that I cannot love one more than the other. Each has presented a new set of challenges and each has given me the opportunity to try something new and terrifying and exciting. I will say I don't think I will every play something as physically and emotionally difficult as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with The Wind. Being on stage for nearly three and a half hours, particularly in those early previews, felt like quite the marathon.
JB: What was your most favorite show that you saw in 2016?
JP: Falsettos (currently playing on Broadway) absolutely set my heart aglow.
JB: Your most recent show, An American in Paris, premiered in Paris and then transferred to Broadway. What was that journey like? Did you discover any special places in Paris while you were there?
JB: Spending two months in Paris was the best research our company could have ever hoped for. So much of Paris remains untouched and unchanged since World War II. As we walked the streets and went on daily explorations, you could easily pretend it was 1946, the year our show took place. The experience ensured we would not make a caricature out of the Parisian experience in the years following the war. It was so easy to piece together the setting for our show.
JB: How did you approach playing your character, Milo?
JP: I based Milo on Peggy Guggenheim and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. She was confidant and a fast-talker. Milo had to be smart, sophisticated—and she had to have expensive taste. But she was also looking for her niche in the world. Despite having limitless funds, Milo’s a bit lost. When she meets Jerry, she suddenly finds an untapped place for artistic expression by bringing together art and ballet.
JB: What are the challenges of doing a show eight shows a week? How do you keep each performance feeling fresh?
JP: It’s our job to figure out how to make that work. You learn to pace yourself and you learn your limitations. You have to treat your body well and do your best to stay healthy. As for keeping the performance fresh, there is a character that changes on a nightly basis and that is the audience. [Something like] 1,800 people have handed over good money to come and see a show, and it's my job to deliver. I never want to go home at the end of the night with extra energy or with the knowledge that I didn't try my hardest.
JB: So if you could have lunch with any woman dead or alive, who would it be and why? What would you ask her, and what would you cook/eat?
JP: Peggy Guggenheim. Milo is very much based on her experience in the art world. I devoured biographies and spent hours going down Peggy Guggenheim rabbit holes on the Internet. I would love to meet up with her in Paris at Le Loir dans La Theiere (The Mouse and the Teapot).
JB: What have your experiences been like working with female creatives? Do you notice a shortage of females in leadership positions in the theater world?
JP: It cannot be denied that men dominate my field. I've had several opportunities to work with female directors, but not as many opportunities to work with female writers. When I think back to An American in Paris, it was very much a male-centric show, while the female characters served as love interests and muses. Would the story change had it been written by a woman? I've no idea! Perhaps that particular story was always meant to be told through the eyes of men.
JB: What challenges, if any, have you encountered as a performer on the basis of gender?
JP: There have been occasions when I have felt at a disadvantage by being a woman in theater. I have had my opinion disregarded, my challenges unheard. I have been dismissed for asking questions. I sympathize with any actress I hear being referred to as a diva. Is she really a diva, or was she seeking answers that perhaps a creative team found challenging? There is nothing I hate more than being dismissed as a fool. The rehearsal space should be a safe place where we leave our egos at the door, no matter which side of the table you sit. In my experience, the best performances have come out of rooms like this: a room where we collaborate and challenge each other without offense. These are the rooms I long to be in. ★
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy and An American in Paris.