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BWW Interview - Debut of the Month - THE CRUCIBLE's Jenny Jules

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Jenny Jules makes her Broadway debut as Tituba in the current Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Directed by Ivo van Hove, the production is a a fictionalized re-telling of the Salem witch trials that took place in Colonial Massachusetts during the late 1600's. Miller wrote the play as an allegory of the McCarthyism era, when the U.S. government blacklisted citizens believed to be communists.

Today, Jules speaks exclusively with BWW about making her Broadway debut and explains why being in Salem every night can be "quite harrowing"!

[NOTE: BroadwayWorld's fabulous photographer Walter McBride captures images of the Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column in a special photo shoot. Check out the pics of Ms. Jules throughout the feature!]

Was this the first time you've done THE CRUCIBLE?

Yes it's the first time I've done it, but it's always been a play I've admired. And I thought that no one would be brave enough to cast me as any character other than Tituba, until I heard that Sophie Okonedo was playing Elizabeth Proctor and I was so happy. And then I met Ray [Anthony Thomas], Teagle [Bougere] and Ashlei [Sharpe Chestnut] and saw that it was a multi-cultural company and I was like, 'I am very, very happy to be in this production.'

I believe this is the fourth time the show has been revived on Broadway since the original production. What do you think it is about the story that still makes it so relevant to audiences?

I think essentially, as human beings, we have not evolved. You know modern man is over 150,000 years old and yet we still behave in the same way. We still project our feelings in the same way, we still dream the same way, we still have the same fears and desires. So until we change our nature, I think plays like The Crucible and plays that Shakespeare wrote will always be relevant, because they are about the human condition and human nature.

I agree. It's interesting, I read an article recently, not to get too political, but this particular author compared the play to Donald Trump's presidential candidacy in the sense that if you can get people to buy into a certain mindset, you can have a great influence on the masses.

Yes, when you preach something, if you keep saying something's happening, and then you get everyone to believe it and say it, you create a mob mentality. And then you create a witch hunt where everybody believes what you are saying, everybody believes your lie as it were, and then the lie becomes the truth. And then we're all full of fear, and we will want to push out the thing that we're frightened of. People also say, look at what happened in Germany in the 1930's, somebody rose up and people followed him.

Yes, it's terrifying.

It is.

And your character Tituba plays such a pivotal role in the story because she really sets the entire phenomenon in motion.

Yes that is true, but really she doesn't know what she's doing. She just doesn't want violence done against her body, and so when they promise her, 'we'll bless you, we'll save you, we'll take care of you," of course she responds by saying, 'yes, I did it,' and then she names the people who they've named. And then she's put in jail and you never see her again. It's very, very sad. She's never safe because she's a slave.

I couldn't help but think to myself, 'what would I have done in that situation?'

Yes, with hindsight of course, we all think that we would have been braver, and that we'd all stand up for ourself and we'd all be Rebecca Nurse or Elizabeth Proctor. But actually, in that moment, Tituba is the most vulnerable person in that society, in that community because she is a slave. So if someone says, 'these bad things are going to happen to you unless you say what we want you to say,' it's going to happen to her if she doesn't say it. She has no power over her own life or over anything she does. If someone says, 'I'm going to whip you,' they're just going to take her out and do it, and I'm sure that is something she had seen her whole life. So I completely connect to people who are disempowered, whose ancestors were slaves, mine were, and I feel like I have that energy that drives through me that connects me to anyone who has suffered. I have huge empathy. So yes, I can understand why she says, 'whatever you want me to say, I'm going to say it. Just don't harm me. Just don't hang me.'

There were so many unique choices made with this production, beginning with the musical underscoring, which was written specifically for the show.

Yes, it's original scoring by Philip Glass. It's just beautiful.

The play also features more contemporary set designs and costumes. What were your thoughts when you first learned about that concept?

I found it quite exciting. At the very first rehearsal we were presented with the concept and the set and images of why and what it related to, and I found it really exciting and quite thrilling. They were so confident in what they were representing to us that we could only jump on board.

What has it been like to work with this cast and creative team?

It's been incredible. Ivo Van Hove is quite brilliant, as you can see - a very, very confident and intelligent director. The cast is amazing and I'm very happy everyday to look in their faces. They're just a great bunch of people and we're really a family already - really supportive of each other. You know it's hard being in Salem every night because it can be quite harrowing. It's harrowing for the audience and it can also be as harrowing for us because we're producing those moments and telling this story over and over again. So we are so respectful and supportive of each other and it's really lovely.

Yes, you can see in all of your faces when you come out for the curtain call that you've just given 110 percent of yourselves to the performance.

Yes, we leave it all out there! Thank you for saying that.

What do you hope audiences take away from the play?

I hope that people can see how relevant and important this story is. When I read it, I just thought it was incredible and when I listened to it and saw it, I thought, my goodness, he [Arthur Miller] is such a genius, he so understands the human condition and this story I think, is like America's 'Hamlet', because it's so like Shakespeare for me.

On many levels it resonates in so many different ways. It's a psychological, mind-altering, mind-bending story where somebody offers something, and instead of that being rebuked in the dust immediately, somebody else begins to escalate the situation in the first few minutes, and the situation starts to grow until we all believe that's what's in the room and that's what exists. And then the next thing we know, people are accusing others of witchcraft and saying, 'you're gonna die, you're gonna hang, you confess unless you'll be hung.' It's just extraordinary. I know he was talking about the House Un-American Activities Committee, but you just think, in 1692, there was a witch hunt, and then in the 1950's, another witch hunt was going on, and people's lives were destroyed. It's shocking to me and it can keep happening, and that's why I want people to remember it and be very careful who they listen to.

You know I read the play in high school, I've seen several productions of it, but yet I found myself still hoping that somehow the story would end differently this time!

Of course, of course! You just want to yell, 'no, you can still stop this now, it's not too late!' It's very clear in this production when the people in charge stop listening to the people who are making sense, and that's what is so terrifying. The story of John Proctor, it just breaks my heart every single night. By the time he shouts "because it's my name" I am just literally in tears!

Can you tell me what it has been like to make your Broadway debut in The Crucible?

It's been a lot of things. It's been really exciting, it's been very scary. It's been heartbreaking, it's been all kinds of things. It's not just been 'yay, I'm on Broadway!' [laughing] It's a massive show and it's lovely that lots of people are responding in a positive way. I'm sure some people will find it too much and have other views about it, because people are really responding in a very personal way. So I think that once we settle down into a rhythm, then I'll know exactly how I feel. But I am proud that I can say that I'm on Broadway, it's fantastic. And I'm so proud I'm in this amazing production.

Congratulations to Jenny Jules on making her first appearance on Broadway. The American Musical Theatre Academy is also making its debut in New York! Our school has been grooming young performers in London for five years and we are proud and excited to be opening a school in Manhattan. We're happy to support BroadwayWorld's Debut of the Month, since bringing fresh new talent to the stage is what we're all about. Check out our website www.tamta.com - training takes place in New York AND at our school in London for part of the winter term. All our tutors are working professionals."

Jenny Jules Off-Broadway credits include HENRY IV and JULIUS CAESAR (St. Ann's Warehouse), and FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (Public Theater). Her West End credits include JULUS CAESAR (Donmar Warehouse); KING LEAR and MOON ON A RAINBOW SHAWL (National Theatre); A RAISIN IN THE SUN (Royal Exchange Theatre); RUINED (Almeida Theatre); DEATH AND THE KING'S HORSEMAN and THE HOMECOMING (Almeida Theatre) ; and PECONG (Tricycle Theatre.) She won the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress for RUINED. Her film credits include "The Man Inside." On TV she has appeared in "Law & Order: UK., "Skins", and "Prime Suspect 2"

Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos


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