interview by Joan Allison | photos courtesy of Jerre Dye
Hometown: Amory, Mississippi
Current town: Chicago, Illinois
Dream town: I don’t know that I have an ultimate dream town. I’m just dreamy by nature and tend to carry my dreaminess
around with me wherever I go. However, I have been bewitched by many places like Jackson Hole, New Orleans, San Francisco, Memphis, Paris. I fall in love with “place” quite easily.
High School: Cleveland High School (TN)
College: University of Memphis
Other training: A life in the theatre is its own training. I never stop training. I am constantly in training – always learning
and approaching the work with lots of curiosity and even more humility.
Chronological age: 46
Spiritual age: I dunno. I used to think of myself as very much an “old soul”, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe I’ve caught up. So, 46. Yeah. That sounds right.
An age you’d like to revisit: Twenty, maybe? But, only for a short time. Maybe just weekend visits for a while? I certainly wouldn’t want to screw up any space/time continuums or anything because I’m really enjoying 46.
In your childhood home, what were the predominate sounds?
Silence, a TV rumbling in the distance, a lawn mower in some or other yard, kitchen sounds, a cacophony of teenagers, washer and dryer, the occasional Mantovani record on my grandparents’ hi-fi.
Who in your opinion has the most beautiful voice? I love Annie Lennox’s voice. At the end of the day, she’s my diva. So much feeling, clarity and texture in her voice.
Also, my grandmother. Her voice had a kind of sadness and gravel and effort inside it. It wasn’t pretty, per se, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
What sounds make you happy? Nostalgic? What is your favorite sound?
Water moving over rocks, cicadas, ice cream trucks, wind through aspens, the waves breaking at Big Sur, slow moving trains, thunderstorms, and all things Fall.
Did young Jerre put on shows?
Oh, yes. Regularly. I was obsessed with The Little Rascals as a child and wanted to put on shows just like they did. Usually we (me and a bunch of neighbor kids) would lip-sync to the cast albums of Grease or Annie or something. We also created elaborate haunted houses in various basements and garages. Lots of exciting enterprises.
But more often than not, I was perfectly contented to perform for myself. I recall getting a pair of roller skates for Christmas around the time Xanadu came out at the movie theatre. I spent hours rollerskating up and down the freshly poured driveway of our suburban, Mississippi tract home pretending to be Olivia Newton John. Such a queen.
Also, when I was much younger, I recall a fabulous Christmastime “long-playing record” containing a number of ridiculous holiday ditties sung by a brigade of ruthlessly white people. My portable record player was my best friend.
My first performance, though, was singing Delta Dawn at around age 5. I wore my grandmother’s apron and would make my entrance from behind my grandfather’s Lay- Z-Boy recliner with tremendous fanfare.
Like many queer kids my age, I was lucky enough to grow up with The Lawrence Welk Show, The Muppets, and all the delicious 70’s variety shows. The desire to perform and make theatre has always been a part of me.
Baby Jerre with his parents and older brothers. His mother, Dye said, nurtured his love of,
and need for, performing. ￼
Did your parents suffer these shows or really enjoy them? Did you charge admission to your parents?
I’m not sure if we charged, but I’m pretty sure there was some sort of elaborate ticketing system that we created for shear effect. I was always partial to a stem to stern kind of theatrical experience.
My parents pretty much thought of me as a kind of melancholy unicorn. They were always supportive of my creativity coming up. The irony, of course, was that I was also really painfully shy. So, these kinds of productions were a lifeline for me. My mother, in particular, recognized the worth of it. She always recognized my gifts and fostered my imagination.
If musical instruments were living beings, which would be best suited to be actors? Which instrument would you be?
There are two: the cello and the accordion. A cello for the deep resonance and the way it can convey these massive waves of meaning. It’s an instrument of great emotion. The other is an accordion for its ridiculousness, power and the way it breathes and bellows, mimicking the human body.
I aspire to be both.
What was your favorite song when you were 15?
Just one? Oh, come on! There’s too many for just one. When you’re 15 you get to be an unabashed Top 40 whore. And it was 1986, so…
West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys; Life In a Northern Town by Dream Academy; Perfect Way by Scritti Politti; All Cried Out by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam; Nasty by Janet Jackson; Sweetest Taboo by Sade; Kiss by Prince and the Revolution.
I mean, come on. I could go on and on. For some reason I recall being obsessed with Cass Elliott at that time too.
What song best describes your work ethic?
Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
You’ve invited us to your place for a home cooked dinner of Southern fare. What are you cooking?
Cornbread, collards, pork butt, deviled eggs, and for dessert… more cornbread with honey on it.
Who’s your acting crush?
I have several: Sandy Dennis, younger Brando, Holly Hunter, Forest Whitaker, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Gene Wilder, Geraldine Page, Ginger Rogers, Malkovitch, Rosalind Russell. I’ll stop.
And when it comes to more of a pure crush? Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Harris.
Who is the funniest person that you know?
I know so many funny people. That’s a hard one. My partner, Scott Duff, who’s a stand-up comedian and certainly, Steve Swift (AKA Sister Myotis).
Who do you know who has the best laugh?
Josie Helming, my dear friend and acting mentor who recently passed away. Hers was less laugh and more of this fabulous guffaw. You always knew when she was attending one of your shows. Her laugh was big, bold, generous, assertive and completely unashamed.
What do you have coming up that we can see or read?
My last play, Distance, will be published this year. Also several opera’s for which I wrote the libretti:
The Falling And The Rising, a commission for the U.S. Army Soldier’s Chorus, Opera Memphis, Arizona Opera, San Diego Opera, Seattle Opera, Texas Christian University and Seagle Music Colony.
Taking Up Serpents, a commission for Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center; By/In for Opera Memphis; Parksville Horror, an interactive VR opera for Opera On Tap, New York; and an upcoming commission for Opera Philadelphia.
What is Sister Myotis up to?
Plotting her revenge, you can be sure. There’s a new full-length show on the horizon.
A huge dog walks into your room right now wearing a colorful Christmas tree skirt and a string of colored lights around his neck. What does he say to you?
“What the f*#$k are you lookin’ at, asshole?” ￼