Jesmille Darbouze has had her eye on the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey just waiting for the right role or show to come along.
“I’ve always admired the work being done there,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I saw an audition notice for the Princess of France (in “Love’s Labours Lost”) and I liked the team behind it.
“The Princess has an extreme amount of status and warmth and sense of humor. She is witty, a strong leader and intelligent,” Darbouze explains. “She’s everything I love about a person and the role was in my wheelhouse.”
She got the part and is making her debut with the theater company based at Drew University in Madison, NJ, through July 26. The comedy is performed at the College of St. Elizabeth’s outdoor theater, a recreation of the Theater of Dionysius in Athens, just a few miles away.
When considering a role, Darbouze looks first for a challenge and then material with which she can connect, even if it means leaving home.
“I don’t care if it’s in Oklahoma or Ohio, I want a challenge that helps me grow as an actress,” she said, adding working in NJ and being able to go home at night to her place in NYC is “the best of both worlds.”
“Love Labour’s Lost” is an early play by Shakespeare that offers clever banter between four sets of lovers, not much character development or plot, and a downbeat ending. It fell out of favor for years and is not at the top of the list when Shakespeare plays are considered for the stage.
But with judicious cutting and creative staging, director Brian Crowe has turned his production into a two-hour delight for all ages. He also chose a multicultural cast.
Non traditional casting is improving
Darbouze, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, grew up involved in the performing arts thinking there were no real limitations on her dreams. Certainly, being African-American wasn’t one of them. Or it shouldn’t be.
“I feel like the business is getting better at incorporating as much diversity into productions and shows as much as possible, but I still feel there’s a long way to go,” she said. “There are people brave enough to break those barriers and do non-traditional casting. But some will still play it safe and are scared to go there. With time, things will get better.”
Darbouze puts no limits on herself but said some casting directors will be very specific asking for African-Americans, Hispanics or Caucasians actors for specific roles.
“I will let them decide whether I’m right or not. I will not decide for them. If I’m interested in the role, I go for it.”
Apparently three-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall thought she was right for her 2014 revamped production of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at the Denver Center Theatre Company. She played a character called Maude. Darbouze said working with Marshall helped her learn the importance of specificity.
“You need to have a clear vision of the story you want to tell, how to connect to it on a basic human level and what it means to you,” she explained. “Really, it’s being in touch with the inner life of your character: were they are in their journey, why do you say what you are saying?
“A personal connection makes things pop, makes the theatrical experience alive,” she added.
Whether the show comes to NYC or if she would be a part of it, she has no idea.
Expanding into TV and film
Still young and NYC-based, Darbouze is collecting as many credits and as much experience on stage and on film as she can.
She appears in one episode of the upcoming Marvel Netflix series “A.K.A. Jessica Jones.” Also, she plays a casting assistant in the film “No Pay, Nudity,” appearing in a scene with Gabriel Byrne. No release dates have been announced.
“I’m just beginning to gain experience in TV and film, just scratching the surface. It’s like a Golden Age in TV now with lots of work, New York definitely getting stronger in that area with lots of actors crossing across lines. The artistry level is so high.”
Not to fear. Darbouze will never abandon the stage,
“I will always live and be in the theater. Nothing for me comes close to taking a journey night after night with a live audience. It is so alive, so present, really magical.”
She likes the classics and new work equally.
“With the classics there’s an incredible foundation to work from and build off and the specificity is greater.
“New work you work closely with the creative team to build foundations and it can change from day-to-day. It’s fun and exciting.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s the highest form of storytelling.”