Arts & Culture

Alum makes Broadway debut

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jessie Austrian ’03 MFA’06 made her Broadway debut Tuesday, playing Gwendolen Fairfax in the Roundabout Theater production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.

The production, which began in December, has extended its run through July 3. Sara Topham — who was originally cast to play Gwendolen — was unable to continue with the extension due to conflicting commitments to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Austrian said she was called to come read the script in mid-February and received a call back Feb. 17. By March 1, she was rehearsing three times a week with the cast as an official member. Overall, she said, the experience has been exciting.

“Brian Bedford is just phenomenal,” Austrian said of the Tony Award-winning actor who both directs the production and stars as Lady Bracknell. “It’s an honor to work with him and the rest of the cast.”

Austrian said that Wilde’s original text has only been slightly cut. “The writing is just so clever and so witty and so much fun,” she said.

Austrian credits her Brown experience for her current success. “There’s no way in hell I would have gotten this job if not for the training at the Brown/Trinity (master’s of fine arts) program,” she said.

“I learned a lot from Lowry Marshall,” she said, also recalling clinical professors of theater, speech and dance Brian McEleney and Stephen Berenson, as well as Clinical Associate Professor of Theater Arts and Performance Studies Thom Jones as instructors who influenced her.

“It’s rare to find an actress as physically beautiful as Jessie who also has such strong comic chops, great language skills and the ability to play in both the contemporary and classic worlds,” Berenson wrote in an email to The Herald. He also credited her vocal skills to Jones’ training.

Berenson recalled attending a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” with Jones. “At intermission he said to me, ‘Wouldn’t Jessie Austrian be a perfect Gwendolen?’ Sometimes the theater gods are listening right beside you. Or perhaps Mr. Bedford has spies in the lobby,” he wrote.

“Our acting program stresses the importance of finding an authentic self and an authentic voice, and Jessie took that charge very seriously and ran with it,” McEleney wrote in an email to The Herald. “The results speak for themselves.”

McEleney recalled that in the three years he worked with Austrian in the MFA program “she grew from a girl into a woman, confident in her strength, her passion, her intelligence and her vulnerability.”   

After graduation, Austrian founded Fiasco Theatre Company in New York with fellow alums.

“It’s given me more confidence,” she said of her experience with Fiasco. “It makes me very happy.”

Austrian said that her experiences both at Brown and with Fiasco have helped her reach this point in her career. Without them, “I wouldn’t be as successful as I luckily have been over the past few years,” she said.

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