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Interview with Tracee Chimo

Before rehearsals began, Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Tracee Chimo about her role in Bad Jews.

Ted Sod: Please tell us a little about yourself. You started your career as a dancer, correct? When did you decide to become an actor?

Tracee Chimo: I was born in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts called Saugus. My parents were both born and raised in pretty tough neighborhoods of the city and are both products of ethnic, blue collar families. My Dad's family came here from Albania, and they spoke no English. I have big admiration and respect for my Dad, how he was brought up, how he conducts himself, and how he's worked for everything our family has. He raised us good. So did my Mom. She busted her ass to be a great mother. She gave up a lot to be with us. My parents both pushed me to leave Saugus right after high school because it wasn't the best town to grow up in, as far as "making something of yourself" was concerned. Acting was just something I liked, not something I thought I could do for a living. I was supposed to become a choreographer, or teach dance classes like my Mom. It was the only thing I thought I was good at. At the time, I saw acting as fun and awesome. I didn't really know how to "be an actor."

Come senior year, I was all set to go off to college on big dance scholarships. One night in the middle of a dance performance, I blew out my left knee. In one week, I lost all my dance scholarships, could no longer attend the school of my choice, and was told by doctors I'd never dance again. After my injury, I learned the only school that accepted late submissions was Salem State College. So that's where I went. I auditioned to be in their BFA program, but because of my strong Boston accent, they wouldn't accept me without dialect training. So I had private dialect sessions after school to learn how to speak properly. I re-auditioned the following semester and got in. It was great. After school I moved to NYC and thought I'd try my hand at dance again. I missed it. So I went on some auditions and was offered a 10 month contract dancing for Carnival Cruise Lines. After the contract was up, I came back to NY and said, "Well, that was fun. I think I'm done now." So I hung up my dance shoes and poured everything I had into pursuing acting.

Tracee Chimo (Daphna) and Michael Zegen (Liam) in Bad Jews. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: Why did you choose to do this play and the role of Daphna?

TC: To be honest with you, I did not choose this play or Daphna. She chose me. I was sent the script and read the first two lines and thought, "Oh my God. I know her. I know this girl." That was it. Truly. It was simple. I just fell in love with her immediately. I agree with her way of thinking and I like how bold she is. She's unapologetic. I wish I was that unapologetic. I've only just begun to embrace not apologizing for myself all the time. I've only just begun to stop doing that. I admire how she owns who she is. That's a tall order in this day and age. It can be hard to stay yourself in this world. You've got to work at that every day. For Daphna, it's effortless. I love that about her.

TS: When we did post-play discussions during the Roundabout Underground run, audiences were always surprised that you are not Jewish. What kind of preparation or research did you have to do in order to play Daphna?

TC: No, I'm not Jewish, but I do come from an Eastern European background. My Mom is Italian and Irish and my Dad is 100% Albanian, so I'm a good mix. I found myself focusing less and less on the religious aspects of this play, and more and more on the family dynamic. To me, this play is not about Judaism. It's about doing what's right by your family. Being loyal to your blood, where you're from, where your family's from. That's what this play's about in my eyes. Yes, of course I did research on the significance of the Chai and the Israeli Army and things like that, because they mean something to Daphna. She wants to join the Army. She's got big dreams. I wanted to have a full understanding of why those things mean something to her. I try to understand Daphna's upbringing and family life in the same way I recognize certain things from my home and my past in Boston. Jewish, Catholic, Albanian Orthodox, Hindu, this play is about family. The religious aspect to it is deeply important to Daphna, but it's certainly not the crux of this particular story.

Bad Jews begins previews at the Laura Pels Theatre September 19. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

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