“Because I am not independently wealthy, and nor are a lot of people in this industry, the hardest part is trying to create art while trying to pay your bills,” explains Tony Award nominee Jennifer Simard. “Sometimes you have to take jobs outside of your passion that take you away from your passion, and sometimes you have to take a job in this business that maybe isn’t the best thing for your soul artistically, but you have to do it because it’s a paycheck.”
But, this time around, Simard was gifted the comic role of a lifetime in Disaster! She plays Sister Mary Downy, whose addiction to gambling is downright sinful, and her scene-stealing performance opposite a slot machine garnered Simard a Tony nod for Featured Actress in a Musical (the only Tony nomination for Disaster!).
“It’s a wonderful honor and responsibility that I am delighted to have,” she says. “I’m with a cast full of experienced, lauded veterans who have nothing to prove, so they have been nothing but supportive and encouraging and excited for me and welcoming me into the club.”
Simard has been with Disaster! since it opened Off-Broadway in 2013 (its second incarnation, following a 2012 production at New York City’s Triad Theater). The rest of the cast, however (sans its star and creator Seth Rudetsky), had been upgraded with tried-and-true theatre stars for the Broadway production. Kerry Butler, Roger Bart, Adam Pascal, Kevin Chamberlin, Rachel York and Faith Prince were among the stars who joined Disaster! when it hit the Nederlander.
“I sent them all an email yesterday telling them that they make me feel like the Saturday Night Live sketch where Justin Timberlake is hosting for the fifth time, and he’s welcomed into the five-timers club with smoking jackets…! And, while that is a silly reference, the sentiment remains the same—they’ve all been so supportive.”
Though the cast is littered with pervious Tony winners and nominees, none except Simard were recognized May 3 when nominations were announced, and later in the day Disaster! announced that its run would be cut significantly short. Its final performance is today, May 8. (It was planned to close July 3.)
Walking into the show that Tuesday evening, “The vibe was one of acceptance and love,” Simard shares. “Saying goodbye to the show will be like saying goodbye to your best friend. It will be sad for all of us, but the joy that we’ve had is something you can’t take away, and I still maintain that this is part of life. It’s part of Broadway—shows open and they close—and I am so grateful that the Broadway community as a whole is thriving! We’ve had more than our fair share of love and people coming and the community rallying around us and supporting us and that’s… What great news.”
The key to her success with Sister Mary Downy? “Less is more. I think if you can do something with economy, do it. Oftentimes—and I’m this way—I’ll start out big and throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks, but I like to pare everything down to see how little you have to do to achieve the result because I think there’s nothing less attractive than pushing onstage. I think it’s important to let the audience come to you…let it build slowly and let it inform you rather than you inform it.”
Looking back, the newly minted Tony nominee admits, “I’m grateful for all my survival jobs. I used to work at a bridal salon, I babysat, and some of the theatrical jobs I’ve done—they’ve all been great and taught me so, so much. Not every job is the dream come true, but you still have to find something about it that you love and be grateful for it.”