"On Sunday night," Jenn Colella says, "it will be my 1,180th total performance."
That performance will be her last.
After nearly five years, Colella will voluntarily give up the wings she's earned as Captain Beverley Bass in Come From Away on November 10. If you're sad thinking about it, don't worry; she's just as devastated as you are. But she's also coming at it from a place of pride. She's developed a new set of acting muscles after years of very short runs, discovered a whole new family in her cast, and watched as fans have literally fallen in love after meeting at the stage door.
"It's astounding," Colella remarks as she reflects on the last half-decade. And she wants us all to know that she's torn about leaving. But the time has simply come for her to "be of service somewhere else."
It's right before your last Wednesday matinee. How do you feel this week knowing that this is it?
It's this beautiful mixture of sadness and joy, celebrating the last almost five years of my life. I'm proud of every show that I've ever been a part of, but this show has been a movement of kindness and generosity of spirit and all the things I deeply believe in. The fact that we're still selling out and that I had a job for so long on Broadway is genius, but the fact that it's a show about kindness has made it something that I'm even more proud of.
Why did you ultimately decide to leave?
I think because of how long it has been. I want to open up my heart and spirit to other projects and other energies. I've been able to do a couple of things here and there, but doing one show for so long requires such focus and concentration. My whole life has revolved around being fully present within this company and within this show every single day for the past five years. So I'm trusting in my heart that it's time to open up my energy to other things. But I'm torn still. Sunday is my last show, and I wake up with this deep sadness. I feel like I'm breaking up with someone that I'm in a perfectly good relationship with. [laughs]
Is this the longest run you've ever been a part of?
By a long shot, absolutely.
Tell me about the new challenges that you've encountered doing this show for so long.
As time has gone on, it has gotten more difficult for me to make sure that it's just as fresh. Even though it's my 1,100th-whatever time saying it, I have to remember that this is most of the audience's first time seeing the show, so I have to focus even more to make it not seem like I'm on autopilot. And that is hard. That is not a muscle I had had the privilege to strengthen. I'm so glad that I did, because it really is a whole thing to have to act like this is the first time you're telling the story when you've told it so many times before.
What have you learned along the way?
I've learned that to be a captain, to be in a leadership position, you have to also come to terms with your own vulnerabilities. I got so used to being like, "I've got it, I'm in charge, no problem" and then as time went on, I realized this is quite a responsibility, to do this at this caliber every single night for 1,100 people. I was really humbled by what it takes to stay strong when you have a lot of insecurities coming crashing down around you. That has been a true gift.
Has your performance evolved over time?
I believe I've settled a lot. I'm watching all of these old videos that we're sending around — I wasn't as grounded. I wasn't as certain. I was performing, hoping I would grasp onto these characters. Now, I feel very grounded and very comfortable. I can just say the words, sing the songs, and stand my ground. I don't have to be anything. I can trust my colleagues, the music, the words, and just deliver this message. It's helped me become a better, more grounded actress.
You and the real Captain Beverley became such good friends. How did she take the news?
I gotta tell you, she didn't take it well. I called her and she couldn't really talk about it in that moment. It took her a couple of days for her to call me back. She was like, "I'm just processing my feelings," and I'm like, "Your feelings are totally valid, whatever you need." She's been such a champion of me and so supportive of me in this role. We have become dear friends, so I think part of her sadness is that we got used to seeing each other. She could pop into the theater and know that I was gonna be there to greet her with a warm hug. I think that's part of what she's so devastated about.
I hope you have a nice long vacation coming up.
The day after my last show, I'm going to work on this new piece called The Suffragist at MASS MoCA [the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
]. I have a couple of more little projects in December. But then I'm going to Hawaii, I'm going to teach in New Zealand and trek out there for a while, and then I'm going to Bali for, like, all of January.
I didn't know you teach.
I teach master classes in acting all over the country and the world. I love it. It's with this incredible organization called Broadway Dreams. There are going to be four of us to create a curriculum for 100 students. I'm creating a class on kindness. A whole class dedicated to kindness.
Everything comes full circle.
Kindness is my religion, for sure. To find myself at the center of this show about kindness, surrounded by these people who I am deeply, madly in love with, has been an extraordinary ride.