Prolific Dallas actress exposes carnie roots and obsession with Amy Schumer
In Amy Herzog’s Belleville, Abby and Zack are young married Americans living in a funky Paris neighborhood. He’s a doctor without borders; she teaches yoga. In typical dramatic fashion, this seemingly charmed existence is too good to be true, and the audience watches helplessly as dishonesty and insecurity slowly, heartbreakingly break down their relationship.
Second Thought Theatre is tearing into this 2011 drama with Lee Trull as director and two of Dallas’ most impressive actors: Jenny Ledel and Drew Wall. Though Wall is an artistic associate at STT, and Ledel’s husband, Alex Organ, is the company’s newly appointed artistic director, it’s been a few years since Ledel has been on the STT stage. That’s because she’s been nonstop busy all over Dallas-Fort Worth, working in theater, film and television while also penning her own plays.
Before she opens in Belleville, which is playing at Bryant Hall from May 20 through June 13, Ledel took the time to fill out our survey of serious, fun and sometimes ridiculous questions.
Name: Jenny Ledel
Role in Belleville: Abby
Previous work in the DFW area:Wilde/Earnest, The Arsonists, Becky Shaw, The Turn of the Screw, Macbeth and Detroit at Kitchen Dog Theater; Tomorrow Come Today at Undermain Theatre; Julius Caesar and The Taming of the Shrew at Trinity Shakespeare Festival; Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Hamlet at Shakespeare Dallas; The Glory of Living, Anton in Show Business and Pluck the Day at Second Thought Theatre; On the Eve at Theatre Three and Spacegrove Productions.
Hometown: Bedford, Texas
Where you currently reside: Dallas
First theater role: Mrs. Warren in The Boys Next Door
First stage show you ever saw:The Velveteen Rabbit at Casa Mañana
Moment you decided to pursue a career in theater: I honestly don’t remember an exact moment. It just always made sense that I’d end up here.
Most challenging role you’ve played: Anna in The Arsonists at Kitchen Dog Theater. I doubled as a chorus member, which meant frequent quick changes, difficult music and choreography to learn, and very little stage time and few lines to establish with the audience who I was. Sometimes the smaller roles are the most difficult.
Special skills: Yoga, roller skating, running, knitting, IT/tech problems, cooking, baking, notary public (not really a skill but I can stamp and sign stuff).
Something you’re REALLY bad at: Don’t ask me for directions … anywhere. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been there 1,000 times. Don’t ask me for directions. I will either tell you wrong or find out I’ve been going at it the wrong way for a long time. Don’t ask me for directions.
Current pop culture obsession: Amy Schumer
Last book you read:Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen
Favorite movie(s):The Birdcage, Melancholia, From Here to Eternity
Favorite musician(s): Radiohead, Rachmaninoff, Regina Spektor, the many talented local musicians here
Favorite song: "Danse Macabre" by Saint Saens
Dream role: Irina, Masha and Olga in The Three Sisters; Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible; Blanche and Stella DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire; Lady Macbeth, Hamlet. Let’s be real — I want to play all the parts in all the shows.
Favorite play(s):A Streetcar Named Desire, Macbeth, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, Becky Shaw
Favorite musical(s):Oklahoma (No joke — I love it.) And I really enjoyed Fly By Night at Dallas Theater Center a few years ago.
Favorite actors/actresses: Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Dame Judi Dench, Frances McDormand, Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, Viola Davis, Carey Mulligan, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsboro, Donna Reed, Lucille Ball, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Paul Newman, Sam Rockwell, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Robin Williams, Bill Murray — I could go on.
Favorite food: Mashed potatoes
Must-see TV show(s):Better Call Saul, Last Week with John Oliver, The Comedians, Louie, Broad City
Something most people don’t know about you: My family used to own and operate a carnival that began, I believe, with my great-great grandfather. I have childhood memories of traveling around with it so we could see my dad during the summer.
Place in the world you’d most like to visit: Couch space right next to Dame Judi Dench.
Pre-show warm-up: It really depends on the demands of the show and the particular day in question. If I spend a lot of time on the phone, for example, I may not do a ton of vocal warm-up that evening. I like to do a little yoga to get the breath/mind/body on the same page. I also like to make physical/eye contact with everyone in the show before we start.
Favorite part about your current role: Abby’s so wonderfully flawed, clinging to things that hurt her, avoiding problems and self-medication. She leaves the room mid-sentence on occasion. She’s in no way a strong female to look up to but a very real human trying and failing.
Most challenging part about your current role: There’s nudity required, playing drunk, self-mutilation and tracking many props throughout the show. There are many “pauses” in the show: “brief pause,” “pause” and “long pause.” The stage directions are specific and beautiful and deserve the attention to detail Amy Hertzog offers her actors.
Most embarrassing onstage mishap: Back when I was performing in Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare Dallas, I had to change into a wedding gown onstage in front of the audience. … The temps outside went up to the 100s, and I accidentally pulled down my underwear when I pulled down my jeans and gave the audience an accidental eyeful … an audience that consisted of my entire extended family. I hoped they didn’t notice, but they absolutely did.
Career you’d have if you weren’t in theater: I have this non-theater fantasy where I own a B&B and bake/cook all day and teach yoga classes.
Favorite post-show spot: At my place, in my living room next to my husband Alex Organ and Willis (our cat.)
Favorite thing about Dallas-Fort Worth: In Dallas, I get to be a part of new works and a full range of classical/contemporary work as well. I also get to perform regularly with friends I’ve known for years and years, which can be like getting a running start on a process. I love that there’s so much theater here, you really can’t see everything.
I love that it’s a 9-to-5 town, and people take their downtime seriously. I love the restaurants, the sports, the stupid-hot summers and the strange psychology behind the Grassy Knoll.
Most memorable theater moment: I took some advice while I was living in NYC to volunteer my time at theaters I want to work at. So I volunteered at the Public Theater and for the Cherry Lane Theater. The Cherry Lane didn’t have an intern program — so I asked if I could be it. And they accepted.
The first show that season was The American Dream and The Sandbox, directed by Edward Albee and starring Kate Mulgrew. I remember putting together an opening night gift for a donor when the Edward Albee came around the corner and asked me what I was doing. After I explained, he remarked “That’s so [expletive] stupid.” Wise words from a man of many.