As Broadway begins to reopen its theatres, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with stage and screen star Thom Sesma, whose Broadway credits include The Times They Are A-Changin', Man of La Mancha, Face Value, Search and Destroy, Nick & Nora, Chu Chem, and La Cage aux Folles as well as the national tours of Titanic, The Lion King, and Miss Saigon. Off-Broadway he has been seen in Unknown Soldier, Fruiting Bodies, Superhero, Nassim, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Sweeney Todd, Discord, Pacific Overtures, Awake and Sing!, Craving for Travel, Othello, Cymbeline, and more. Sesma's numerous screen credits include Cupids, Death Saved My Life, Instinct, Madam Secretary, Jessica Jones, Gotham, Single Ladies, The Good Wife, Person of Interest, Lay The Favorite, Third Watch, Whoopi, Trinity, Law & Order, and Building Girl.
The actor returns to the Off-Broadway stage beginning September 14 in Second Stage's production of Rajiv Joseph’s Letters of Suresh, which also features Ali Ahn, Ramiz Monsef, and Kellie Overbey. Directed by May Adrales, the production will officially open October 4 at the Tony Kiser Theater.
What is your typical day like now?
Now that we’re out of what I have called “the filet” of the pandemic, days are returning to a sort of actor-normal. I have auditions to prepare for, self-tape auditions to record, physical training, and the like. My wife and I are out and about more, indulging in city life activities—required and recreative. But it’s all a bit tenuous. Delta looms large, and we find ourselves holding our breaths every day. We still socially distance and wear masks and reflexively kind of wait for the other shoe to drop. We’re both really excited and eager to get back to work, but the reality is—it’s like having a big landmark birthday but not being allowed to celebrate.
How did this role come along?
I’m guessing you mean how I came along to this role, rather than the other way ‘round. The shorthand reply is, “the usual way.” I was asked to audition, I read this gorgeous script in one sitting and knew, hoped, prayed that I’d get to do it. I felt connected to it—and to the character I was auditioning for—on a deeply personal as well as a spiritual level, so preparing for it was easier than usual, but basically my journey to it was routine and not terribly glamorous. It’s what actors do, right?: Read the script, study, prepare a self-tape audition, send it in and forget about it until you’re called back, prepare again, and get to your appointment on time. Sometimes it works out. And, if it’s a role that you desperately want, it’s particularly nice when it does. Now the work starts.
Tell me a bit about the character you are playing.
I’m reluctant to know too much about a character I’m playing until I’m well into the process, but in short: Father Hashimoto is Japanese, has been a Catholic priest since he was a young man, ministered in Nagasaki during WWII and until the time we meet him in the play. On first reading he’s much a mystery to himself as he is to everyone else except in one thing: his deep faith. Unraveling that mystery is, I think, going to be very rewarding, and with this company, a lot of fun. Oh, did I mention that I’m also a practicing Roman Catholic who wanted to be a priest who also happens to be Japanese? I suppose this was just a matter of time…
How do you feel about returning to live performance?
“Excited and scared…” to quote Little Red. I’m eager to stretch my creative muscles, and even more eager to see how the long pandemic year will have affected my craft in technical, emotional, and spiritual ways. The world has changed in ways that are still emerging; but it’s even more important to learn how we ourselves have changed.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
Be as passionate and excited and as grateful as you have always been to see a live performance, but remind yourself that there is a new participatory paradigm that requires attention and awareness on both sides of the footlights. Proceed with caution, tempered by common sense. Everyone involved is concerned with safety, and no one’s taking this lightly. But remind yourself that the experience of live theatre is a communion between the play itself and the audience, and it doesn’t happen if you’re not willing to join in. Let’s move forward together.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Art & Faith by Makoto Fujimura. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Hacks on HBO Max.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Bluntly, I want people to acknowledge that systemic racism and abuse not only exist in the theatre industry but have been fundamental to the very success of that industry, especially for the small group of well-intended movers and shakers who bankroll Broadway. But then I’d ask all of us to consider if we too have been complicit in small and unintended ways, in our own everyday behaviors, or how we’ve profited from that same systemic paradigm. If we discover that we have been complicit, how can we now work to change ourselves and that business that we love so much? At the very least, I invite everyone who cares about the theatre, whether on Broadway or in community playhouses, to engage in a sincere conversation about these issues that have been avoided for far too long.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
So many things come to mind, but I think the most important is, don’t struggle alone, because you’re not. Stay informed on a daily basis, but temper taking in what may feel like a tidal wave of bad news with whatever small thing you might be able to do to remind yourself of your essential humanity. The most important thing is to engage in simple acts of kindness, even if it’s as simple as a silent prayer or sending out good vibes to someone on social media. Remind yourself of your essential humanity on a daily basis.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
For an introduction to organizations that can do both, visit StopAsianHate. Also: BlackLivesMatter, Hollaback!, FairFight, Catholic Relief Services.