NEA Arts Magazine

Nothing Glamorous At All

A Talk with a Working Actor

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Two actresses - one expostulating the other next to her with head on shoulder

Jeri Lynn Cohen (left) in the Jewish Theatre San Francisco’s production of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig. Photo by Ken Friedman

Jeri Lynn Cohen has been a working actor in the Bay Area for about 25 years, performing with companies such as the Jewish Theatre, Magic Theatre, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. In a recent e-mail interview, Cohen commented on why she loves her job, the ups and downs of the actor’s life, and the importance of the arts.

NEA: What do you love about your job?

JERI LYNN COHEN: I love the community I work with. I love surrounding myself with others that are as passionate about what they do as I am. I love working with people that have faith in me, challenge me, are smarter than me.

NEA: What’s the hardest part?

COHEN: The hardest thing about being an actor is not having any job security. Figuring out what you are going to do in between gigs is challenging and exhausting. Finding the right part-time job that is going to give you the flexibility you need to go on auditions—or when you need to take time off for rehearsal—and that pays enough and doesn’t run you down. I often feel that working in the theater is not conducive to family life. I am a single parent, and when I am in performance I am constantly patching together childcare, which, if you are doing six or seven or eight shows a week, can be trying.

NEA: What do you think would surprise people about life as an actor?

COHEN: That there is nothing glamorous about it at all. That it is hard work. That it’s not just the work that can be difficult and challenging but the getting of the work that can be stressful. That you have to remain flexible and resourceful in all aspects of your life so that you can make a life in the theater.

NEA: Why do you think theater is important?

COHEN: [It’s] more important than ever because it brings the community together to experience a live production. We become more and more removed from gathering together to witness a happening and rely more than ever on computers and technology to tell us the story in a solitary setting. Theater is by nature a community experience and, unlike film or television, it still asks you to use your imagination.

NEA: Overall, why are the arts important to you?

COHEN: In this age when school budgets are being slashed left and right, the arts are the first thing to go. This is so wrong because, for many kids, it’s the only way into understanding who they are…. Relating to someone’s story or a visual image or being moved by a piece of music or movement, responding to it and realizing that you have a story too, that you might want to paint or make music or theater. You can’t know it unless you are exposed to it, and you can’t be exposed to it unless there is money to bring the arts to the kids or the kids to the arts.