Spotlight Interview with Jessica Gallant
Get to know Jessica Gallant who is currently playing Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Drayton Festival Theatre
Belle talks a lot about home - where's home for you?
I'm from Ten Mile House, PEI. It's 10 miles from Charlotttown, so they came up with a really clear name: Ten Mile House. [laughs]
What's the dream role?
To be honest, my dream role was Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. It was the only thing I had ever wanted to do, and I got to play her in 2015 and 2016 at the Charlottetown Festival. And now, I keep realizing that the dream roles are all the roles I get to play. Ariel (last season in Disney's The Little Mermaid) was a major dream role - it was so amazing! And now, I'm doing Belle and the script and everything is just amazing ... so these are dream roles!
Outside of the musical theatre realm (or maybe inside of it), what are you listening to? What's your music?
I listen to everything. Right now, currently, pretty much every morning I listen to Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour Album. Her songs are just really calming. So to start the morning with some of her stuff is really nice.
What are you watching?
[sigh] This is so embarrassing! [giggling] I'm watching Full House right now. [laughing]. It makes me so happy and, I love Mary-Kate and Ashley on the show. (The character of) Michelle is so funny. It's just a nice way to unwind at the end of the day.
Let's talk about your favourite foods. What do you love to eat?
I recently got back from Italy (Rome, Florence, Amalfi Coast, Naples), so any carbs are my favourite things to eat.
What was the best thing you ate while in Italy? One memorable meal or morsel?
Carbonara! Spaghetti Carbonara at a place called La Carbonara in Rome. Yeah, it was amazing.
How long were you in Italy?
We were there for 10 days and then we went to Paris, France! Doing some research for Belle!
What did you do in Paris?
We walked everywhere, we took the metro, we did the Eiffel Tower, we got some cheese and wine and watched the sunset over the Eiffel Tower, and it was magical.
In terms of research in France, what type of research did you do?
I didn't plan the trip to do research for Belle - it just kind of happened! It was nice being surrounded by French culture with everyone speaking French to you. I'm not bilingual, but it was just nice to be in the environment.
You've done many roles on stage, but being a Disney heroine is extra special. Tell us about the joys and challenges of playing a popular character that audiences know and love.
Well, first off, one of the challenges is bringing something new to the role and making it your own. It's so easy to go, "Oh! Belle, this is what Belle is, so I'm just going to do that." But finding yourself in Belle, that's also wonderful! The major joy of Disney is just that there's so much heart in the story, and the characters all have their own journey. It's not just about Belle; it's about the Beast, it's about Lumiere, it's about Cogsworth, and how all of these people collectively work together to try to make one thing happen ... it's just magic.
Talk to us a bit about Belle's Journey.
During the first few days of rehearsal, I was a mess because in the first part of the show she loses her freedom and her father in one day. Also, at the beginning of the show, she doesn't really like where she's from. It's kind of like how PEI was for me. I like PEI, but I always knew there was some sort of adventure out there for me. But when Belle leaves her town, she has a realization about home - she sings about it - "home is where the heart is," and that's her place, and she doesn't really need anything out there. She saw it, she did all of the adventures, and she comes back home and is like, "Oh, this is what I need and I understand that now."
What do you most admire about Belle?
She's so brave and smart. I love that her name is Belle, which literally means beauty, but that is not her main characteristic ... she's smart and she's courageous.
One of the wonderful things about Belle is that she's a bookworm. So, of course, we have to ask about books. Are there books that stand out to you in your life as key inspirations?
Well, being from PEI, Anne of Green Gables was one of my favourite books because the way Lucy Maude Montgomery describes the island is like nobody else in the world. You couldn't describe PEI better. But, one of my other favourite books (that I just read last year) is Big Little Lies; and it's also one of my favourite TV series. It's just so well written. I'm not the biggest bookworm in the world, but when I do sit down and read it's just like, "oh my gosh, this is so calming and relaxing."
In terms of songs in the show, there are so many big hits and they have won a lot of awards. What songs stick out to you? What do you find yourself singing after the show is over?
"Beauty and the Beast," [singing] "Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast" is one of my favourites. And I don't even sing it!
How about Belle's songs?
I love the moment when Belle sings [singing] "I want much more than this provincial life" and "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell." She's literally singing about her dreams in that song, and composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman made those moments so huge and majestic because of how important the idea of adventure is to her. It's just so big and beautiful, and I get to do an arm thing *(spinning around like the character does in the animated film) and it's great.
From an overall production and theatrical experience standpoint, what can audiences expect?
Magic! Whatever they can picture or think in their minds, Beauty and the Beast is going to be 10 times better! [laughing] The cast is just so amazing. Magic and heart is what they can expect.
Let's talk about the cast and costumes.
When I tried on my costumes on day one, my jaw fell to the floor because I got to put on the iconic yellow dress, and it's so big! You go one way, and it takes a second for it to fly the other way with you! The cast is just incredible ... we have Billy Lake as Lumiere, who is hysterical, and we have Tony Edgerton as the Beast, who is just unbelievable. Oh, the Silly Girls, the ensemble, everyone is just so, so right for their parts. And the set is out of this world. It's all just amazing.
What age did you start performing? What made you interested in it?
This sounds crazy, but I was shy when I was little. When I was 10, my parents put me in a musical theatre camp and we did Beauty and the Beast. I'm not kidding! I was a plate and a villager, and I remember getting on stage and just watching Belle. Seeing the audience and hearing the music, I truly felt at home and that's when I was 10! It completely changed my life. I started doing plays after that, but not really musicals. I didn't start doing musicals until I was 18. I played a lot of soccer and sports, so it was mostly just plays at school and camps when I could. But I did the Young Company at the Charlottetown Festival when I was 19 and that kind of took me on the trajectory of going to school for musical theatre, and then it just kind of all fell into place.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Sheridan College for two years, and then I ended up booking the Charlottetown Festival, so I left school early and went to the Charlottetown Festival because it was a dream, so I had to.
What advice would you give to young aspiring performers?
I think just follow your heart and follow your gut instinct. I had to choose between soccer and theatre, and at first I chose soccer and I did that whole thing, then my gut was telling me to go towards theatre. And if that's what your heart is telling you, just do what you love and go for it.