21 August, 2010

Portrait of a Friend: Jill

Jill as Laura
Jill Paice and I are inextricably linked. Yes, we are both actresses and singers. Yes, we were both raised as only children in the Midwest. But we were initially linked by a mutual acquaintance of ours: Laura Fairlie.

Unlike other big musicals I could name, there are only two people to have ever played Andrew Lloyd Webber's Laura Fairlie (okay, three if you count Anne Hathaway in the workshop and six if you count understudies who went on).

It is a funny thing, long before I ever met Jill, I felt as though I already knew her. After all, when preparing to audition for the role, I was still a young 21-year-old drama student, busy playing 8 men and a puppet in an Ionesco farce in Glasgow. I spent an inordinate amount of time "with her"-- listening to her beautiful performance both before and after getting the role, attempting to be as familiar with Limmeridge House as possible in between classes.

The first time I met her I had not been in London 5 hours. I got off the train from Glasgow, plopped my bags down and attempted to find The Palace Theatre for my very first professional costume fitting. I tried to pretend it was nobigdeal, but in all honesty, I was overwhelmed to be inside a professional theatre, let alone one in the West End, let alone being fitted for twelve not-from-my-closet-or-from-Scottish-Opera-stock-but-made-for-me dresses... for a female character...

From the wig room around the corner came a voice, "Alexandra?"

"Yes?" Oh my goodness, I thought, this was Jill.

"Hi," she smiled so warmly, her hair was wet and tousled, a towel around her shoulders. She had been in the middle of a haircut before the show. I couldn't believe how different we were-- there she was: a willowy blond, Nordic looking almost. She was small-framed with delicate features; but her stance was assured-- full of feminine strength and confidence. A far cry from what felt like the almost childish dark featured Gibson girl staring shyly across from her. Or perhaps that is merely how it felt.

Jill extended her hand, I do not know if she could tell that I was nervous. In hindsight, I wonder if she may have been a bit nervous herself. "I'm Jill. I'm playing Laura right now..." ohmygodI'msoembarrassedhowmuchIknowthatIliterallylistentoyoueverysingleday I think. She continues, "I've heard so much about you and wanted to say hello."

"Thank you so much," I say, returning her hand. "I've spent so much time listening to you, it is such a pleasure to meet you."

Al as Laura
"Everything going well so far?"

"Well I just got here this afternoon actually! I literally just left drama school in Glasgow on Wednesday, so I'm a little shell-shocked if I'm honest." I breathed deeply, and she smiled.

"That is amazing," she said. She was so genuine. "I was just getting my haircut," she said, sort of apologizing, and we laughed, "and I should let you get back to your fitting!"

"Okay, thank you for taking the time."

"My pleasure, I will see you soon. Take care."


But it didn't end there. For those of you who do not know, there is an extensive drawing scene in The Woman in White that involves large sketch books. During the day, I would rehearse with the actual sketch book that Jill used in the evening. One day I saw a little note in the book that simply read,

"Hello Alexandra, do you use this sketch book too?"

I was enchanted! It was a message from another world! It felt like George and Amalia, like Griffin and Sabine, like a message from beyond. The sketch book was a portal to communication. I wrote back,

"Yes I do American lady. How is everything going?"

she wrote back

"Well! Is rehearsal going okay? Anything you need just ask!"

and it continued on like that for a couple of weeks.

Cards and gifts were exchanged on her closing, and my opening nights. She stood and cheered when she returned to watch the show before re-rehearsing for Broadway, always gracious, always a true lady. And on her opening night in New York, I sent her a bouquet of silk flowers (learning from our lovely dresser Helen that she was allergic to real ones).

It was funny, somewhere along the line, Jill and I had sort of become friends and only ever met face to face-- once.


Months ago, new to the city and overwhelmed by waves of new people, I ran into Jill at The Plaza Hotel, (at the opening night party of Promises Promises). She was there with a legendary composer and we greeted one another with such warmth, like the reunion of two old friends.

"Al?" she called across the foyer to me, and we hugged. " Legendary Composer?" she turned to the Legendary Composer friend, "this is Alexandra Silber. Al replaced me in The Woman in White in London and she is the real thing. I saw her play Laura after I left, and you are gonna see her performing in New York very soon. Who knows? Maybe someday together."

She turned to me and smiled. In a room filled with celebrities and having no idea how genuine anyone may or may not be, it was clear in her voice to hear how much she meant it. I was floored. We hugged and parted in the sea of celebrities and met a few weeks later for a proper 'friend date.'

And this was it: something about sharing secrets, truths and cappuccinos on the Upper West Side solidified what we had both always known, we were not just actresses passing in the night, we truly were kindred spirits. For a lack of better way of articulating it, it seemed we 'recognized' one another.

We talked, we laughed, we shared the intimacies that belong to those who have known one another for years. She told me the story of her life. I filled in the details of mine. My trials and tribulations, my travels, my projects. "What brings me to New York?" something about the way she asked the question was larger than it appeared. I answered accordingly, something made me trust her, despite our lack of clocked "hours" as friends, "I just figured it was time. I felt it. And I needed a change of scenery. And I thought, you know what? Fortune favors the brave."

Her expression rang with astonishment. "...You're amazing." she said softly and when she said it I could not believe how much she meant it. It was impossible to me to be this impressive to a woman I admired so greatly on so many levels. "You are such an inspiration!"

Again, I was mystified. "My God," I replied, my voice shocked, "thank you, Jill."

Most people never learn to be vulnerable, never to be open. Even in the most intimate relationships they remain guarded, closed, afraid. The truth is, the heart is a powerful awe-inspiring force to be reckoned with in the world and Jill Paice's heart is the true inspiration. Seeing her energy fully revealed as she sat before me openhearted, I was moved. She projects a genuine-ness, a kindness, an open, conscious vulnerability that can only come from strength. I wanted to bask in her light, to align myself with that energy.

It was time to thank her. Something I'd wanted to say for years.

"You know Jill, in many ways, The Woman in White changed my entire life, it was responsible for the path I am currently on..." I admit meekly, shy to admit the truth, "and in every way you and Laura, and you as Laura, were the Ambassadors to that new world. I've never been able to thank you properly, to your face. I don't know that I've ever really seen it with as fine a clarity until recently. So thank you for that. I always tried to honor what you had started."

She stared at me. Perhaps a little bit floored.

And that was that.

Sometimes in life we just "find our people"--  friendships form in the most curious of times and places. They feel right. Then seeds are planted, they gestate, solidify and grow.

In a world of disappointments, falsities and insincere exchanges, where people take, deceive and often walk all over, it is important to pause and take a moment to mark when we see a light. Jill Paice is remarkable and has been more than an Ambassador or a person to share cappuccino with-- for whatever people may see onstage, I wanted the world to know that for someone privileged enough to know her I am inspired by her being as well as, but not merely by, her performances.
She is a light.


Lauras unite.


  1. I loved your completely different and equally beautiful performances so much in The WIW!! Couldn't IMAGINE two more different actresses playing the same role!

  2. I am taken back to a magical 'yesteryear' with this piece, Al, and i feel suddenly lucky to just now think, 'I'm one of a small, elite bunch of people to have played on stage with you BOTH as Laura Fairlie...I was just some dude charged with pushing around a theatrical legend(and true gentleman)in a wheelchair, shamelessly pulling focus with barely 5 or 6 lines of his own, but still,looking at it another way, i was one of only 2 or 3 people to ever say those few lines...and I was the first...I LOVE this blog, Al. It shows the world what a great art you have for putting into words the incredibly varied ideas and musings which seem to be always flowing around in your head. xxx



Related Posts with Thumbnails