MU Theatre Student Stars as Sister Jane Mooney in Blood Sisters

Headshot of Jamie Chmielewski

An interview with Jaime Chmielewski who plays Sister Jane Mooney in Miami University’s Department of Theatre’s online production of Blood Sisters written by Robin Rice Lichtig. This interview was conducted and written by Theatre 200 practicum student Abby Coulter.

How did you choose to portray your character as Sister Jane Mooney?

One thing that I leaned into a lot was her nervousness. To create a really powerful character, I’ve been contrasting that nervousness with moments of a deep sense of being grounded in her and walking that very fine line between a mental breakdown and consciously analyzing and making educated decisions about situations. It has certainly been a challenge to find her but I think she plays innocent sometimes too. I have just been leaning into all three of those things and trying to balance them as best as I can.

How do you get into the mindset of your character before a performance?

We always warm-up and do a pretty extensive physical and vocal warm-up to get our bodies as actors warm. As a part of that, we also do what is called “walking into your character” where you walk around the space of the theatre starting as yourself and progressively you go to 90% yourself and 10% your character until eventually, you build your way up to 100% your character. That exercise has been very helpful for me in finding her.

How is the character of Jane similar or different from you in any way?

We are very similar in age, I think she is 23 and I am 21. Jane is also described as growing up pretty shy and quiet and not super outgoing which to your surprise I was very similar. I was a little bit nerdier and quieter and I think we are very similar in that way. I also think that I do not personally identify very much with her in any way. She is just such a unique person and a little nutty. In our rehearsal process, we talked about what the back story of our character is and how they became a nun and it was particularly interesting for Jane because, why is she 23 and in a nunnery? We concluded that it was likely some abuse from a paternal figure throughout her childhood that has led her to being this person who is not as mentally sound. So, I think we are very different in terms of life experience from at least what we imagine her life experience to be.

What were the challenges you faced playing this character?

The mental challenge of finding her craziness while still telling the story. That is a very hard line to walk because it’s very easy to access her nervousness because everyone has been nervous before. It’s not a hard emotion to access but it’s allowing the nervousness to portray and not letting it take over me so much so that I lose the story and I lose what I want to get from the judge and what I want to get from the other actors.

What do you hope the audience comes away with after watching Blood Sisters?

Such a good question! The show is centered around women and religion which is a topic that you do not hear much about, particularly in Catholicism, due to it being run by a patriarchy. It is also about overcoming an injustice, which I think is something incredibly timely right now given the recent events with the Black Lives Matter movement. There is one line in the show that is particularly hitting for me, one of the other nuns says “Make civil disobedience illegal in America. Never say never.” This is just extremely timely for what has been happening with protests and all of the events going on recently. I just hope that people take away the sense of female empowerment, and just empowerment in general, for anybody who is fighting for a cause that they believe in and are being told no.

How do you think the stage scenery, costuming, lighting, and the script helped tell the story of the play?

The tech is so important in this show. Dylan Gray designed the lighting and she is an incredible designer and has just done such good work! The lighting in particular puts you in this liminal space and allows you to understand you’re no longer in the courtroom you’re somewhere else. They are acting on memory, they’re acting out this thing that has already happened and you can do a lot with that as an actor, but it’s portrayed and shown to the audience through the technical elements. Also, the costumes are amazing and it’s just funny to see 20-year-olds in nun-wear.

What did you love most about the show and playing Sister Jane Mooney?

In a weird way, I have enjoyed the speed of this process. We got the script last Monday so we have only had the script for a week and a half at this point and we perform next week so it’s like a three-week process total which is a super quick turn around. At times, it has been challenging don’t get me wrong, but with the shortened timeline it’s allowed itself to become a more immersive experience. I have felt in it at every rehearsal because you have to be and I think it’s allowed us to let go of some of the apprehensions that come with rehearsal and trying something new because we know we don’t have time to have those apprehensions right now. It has allowed us to discover and play and be creative, in a way that I don’t think I have ever felt before because of the time crunch. I have enjoyed. It’s such a wonderful group of women and being with them every night is super awesome even if we are six feet apart. It feels like we aren’t together but we are. Discovering the show with them has just been my favorite part of the whole thing. The bond we have developed has been so helpful both inside and outside the rehearsal room.

Blood Sisters was live acted on stage at the Gates-Abegglen Theatre and live-streamed on the College of Creative Arts Youtube Channel on Friday, September 11, 7:30 p.m. The recording will remain on the site through September 18.