During a recent rehearsal for Love, Loss and What I Wore, director Judith Jesness chuckled at some of the lines delivered by the five actresses on the stage. The words, of course, were familiar to Jesness, but she was responding to the characters. “We have an outstanding cast,” she said later, sitting at a table in Beermann’s Restaurant, one floor beneath the theater. “They’re beginning to really entertain me because the characters are beginning to evolve now and they’re becoming three-dimensional.”
The Lincoln Community Theater originated when Jesness talked with Jean Cross, Art League Executive Director, about the possibility of including theater in the League’s line-up. Cross was enthusiastically supportive.
At first, Jesness was unsure if her audition call for the theater’s debut performance would generate interest. She quickly learned her concerns were unfounded. She said, “We had three little notices in the paper about auditions, and I wondered if anybody would show up. We had 16 women read for five roles, and they were all wonderful! I could have cast them all.”
Judith Jesness knows theater. At an early age, she knew she wanted to act and direct. She said, “Except for brief periods in my early childhood when I wanted to be a nurse or a ballerina, or a firefighter, maybe. I was about 11 when I asked my mother if she’d take me down to the community theater and let me take lessons.” After landing a part in a play, she was hooked. She continued, “I did that all throughout high school and college and then went to New York. After two years of pounding a typewriter, I got my first job and I never worked outside of the theater again. I was very lucky because very few actors can say that.”
Working in theater in the 1970′s was not easy. Jesness explained, “Theater was not in good shape. There were small casts and they were all-star casts. I went up for a part and read opposite Anne Bancroft. I was also willing to go where the work was.” For Jesness, “work” was dinner theater, regional theater, and a lot of off-Broadway.
As she approached the age of 40, Jesness decided to change careers. She said, “I didn’t want to grow old in the theater because that’s a difficult thing to do.” She now calls herself a “retired professional actress.”
Jesness worked in marketing for several years in Southern California. She said, “I met and married my future husband, and we had 32 wonderful years together.” She and her husband retired and moved to Sun City Lincoln Hills. Her husband passed away three years ago.
Even with a new career and later, in retirement, Jesness continued her love of theater. She co-founded a theater company in Cambria 30 years ago. She currently works with the Lincoln Hills Players Group and most recently, the Lincoln Community Theater.
Jesness is excited about the support she is receiving from the Lincoln community. “I’m getting emails and people are calling me saying, ‘It’s so exciting that we are going to have a theater in Lincoln, this is great!’” she exclaimed.
Love, Loss and What I Wore was written by Nora and Delia Ephron, based on a book of the same title by Ilene Beckerman. The play has been performed Off-Broadway, as well as at numerous international venues. The play is arranged as a series of monologues read by five women who describe life memories and their connections to the clothes they were wearing.
Jesness stresses the play is much more than stories about clothing. She said, “The stories are wonderful, from the first kiss to the first prom dress, the first divorce and first marriage. The humanity of this play is breathtaking. It’s so true and so honest, the stories that they tell. I want people to walk out of the theater and say, ‘I want to meet all of these women, because they’re truthful, they’re honest’ and that’s what we’re reaching for in the performance – total honesty.”
She continued, “It’s a play that speaks to everyone, even men. It’s obviously slanted to women, but it may be possible for men to learn what women really want if they see this play. When I saw the play, 60% of the audience were men. They were enjoying it.”
The cast members of the Lincoln Community Theater performance of Love, Loss and What I Wore are Susan Gillespie, Diane Bartlett, Maggie Celeste Worden, Joyce Rule and Renee Bettencourt.
Looking forward, Jesness described Lincoln Community Theater’s 2013 season plans. She said, “We are doing a two-actor play in June, called ‘Old Love.’ It’s ten characters but with only two actors. In the fall, we are doing a 10-minute play festival. Ten minute plays have been the rage for a long time, it’s like a short story in literature. In December, I want to do the radio version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ which is a fabulous production. You put the sound effects man on the stage, he’s turning the wheel with the shoes and the doors are opening and closing. That adds a little spice to it.”
Jesness sees theater in Lincoln as a positive force. “There’s a lot of excitement in Lincoln and we want to make Lincoln an exciting place to live,” she said.
Love, Loss and What I Wore is playing March 14-17 at Beermann’s Historic Restaurant Ballroom in downtown Lincoln at 645 5th Street.
Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (800) 838-3006.
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