Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre alumna Jesse Hooker ’10, has been cast in many stage roles, but the part she enjoys playing the most is herself. Hooker found her professional niche while attending Shenandoah, making her star shine brighter as both a performer and a person.
“In a business where we play characters all the time, it’s easy to be known for these roles,” explained Hooker. “At Shenandoah, I learned how to be myself and to enjoy who I am as a person.”
Hooker’s performance schedule has taken her across the United States and Canada. After graduation, she performed in Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s production of “Showboat.” She performed regional work in Kansas and New Hampshire, then landed a 10-month, national tour role in “Legally Blonde.” When the show ended, she decided to move to New York City, where she auditioned and took classes for a few months. Her new agent cast her in “Company” at the Geva Theatre, and she received an Equity Card in April 2012.
Living from one performance to the next can be very stressful, and waiting in anticipation to see if a part is hers keeps Hooker very anxious, but she stays grounded and true to herself because of what she learned at Shenandoah.
“The casting director sees many people over hours of auditioning. It is my job to focus on just being myself and not this product,” she explained. “I’m just me, and I have what I have to offer. I learned that from Shenandoah.”
Hooker has performed with the USO Show Troupe, an entertainment tradition for more than 70 years. Performing live annually for more than 600,000 troops and family members worldwide and nationally televised audiences, the USO Show Troupe presents top-of-the-line entertainment. Its cast members include performers with extensive Broadway, off-Broadway, film and TV credits. She has traveled from California to Florida, Texas and many bases in Hawaii with this ensemble, and in December, the troupe performed on “The Ellen Show.”
“We perform across the United States, and sometimes overseas, supporting the troops and their families,” said Hooker. “It’s really great, because I get to perform, sing and make people feel good.
Just before the holidays, Hooker finished playing the role of Sarah in “Ragtime” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. It was the second opportunity for Hooker to play this role; the first was during her senior year at Shenandoah, where classmate and best friend, Ira Lindberg Harris ’10, played opposite her. The two- year anniversary of Harris’ untimely death occurred on Feb. 27, 2014, so this role was especially important to Hooker.
“Ira and I were best friends,” she explained. “We were inseparable. He was like my twin. Playing this role again was an amazing experience for me. I think Sarah will always remain my favorite role to play.”
In February, a group of alumni, including Hooker, gathered in New York City and organized a Shenandoah Alumni Cabaret to honor Harris and the two-year anniversary of his passing. Alumni, conservatory faculty, current students and community members also made the trip to the Big Apple to remember Harris and support the Ira Lindberg Harris Scholarship Fund. Harris’ parents, Ronn ’72 and Novella West ’75 Harris, also attended the event.“
That’s another reason why Shenandoah is so close to my heart,” said Hooker. “I met someone as wonderful as Ira — and I know so many people at Shenandoah who are as wonderful as he was — so it was the least I could do to give back.”
In December, Hooker again shared her love and gratitude to her alma mater as a guest performer during the 2013 Holiday Gala. She stunned the crowd with her performances of “All I Want for Christmas” and “A Baby Changes Everything.”
“It was truly an honor to come back and sing; I had never been a part of the gala before,” explained Hooker. “It was a beautiful production and a very cool experience.”
Looking to the future, Hooker knows that in whatever role she performs, she wants to make the audience escape from reality and feel what the characters are feeling. This is why, when she was 10 years old, she knew her passion would be to connect with others through performance.
“I’m passionate about telling stories and making people feel things through the characters’ stories,” said Hooker. “I love going on this roller-coaster ride with the audience.”