Interview With Jisel Soleil Ayon: Jenna on The National Tour of Waitress
Updated: Mar 20
Today I’m about to serve some Getting to Know You Pie with Jisel Soleil Ayon, who is currently playing Jenna Hunterson on the National Tour of Waitress.
Waitress follows the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and pie maker, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant while stuck in an unhappy marriage. When a pie baking contest comes to a nearby town, she realizes that she has a chance to build a better life for herself and her unborn child.
Were you familiar with Waitress (the movie or the musical) before joining the touring production as Jenna?
I had seen the 1st National Tour in LA and very much enjoyed it. I got familiar with the soundtrack. I hadn't watched the film until the day before I started rehearsal. I bought 17 different slices of pie and had a pie tasting while I watched. All in the name of preparation!
What can you tell us about your character, Jenna?
In a nutshell, Jenna is a woman who has forgotten about her dreams and how to show herself the love she constantly shows others. She is compassionate, patient, and resilient.
How do you prepare to bring Jenna to life onstage?
Believe it or not, I don't do much to prepare to be Jenna onstage.
Acting is a lot about bringing yourself to the stage for a truthful and honest performance. You can't leave yourself behind. So, each night, I try to stay present, live in the given circumstances of the play, and let the rest fall into place.
I do sing the little pre-show phone song every night. That does sort of help me get into the accent and the voice placement of Jenna right before the curtain rises.
Jenna is a baker of pies, and we see her go through the motions of creating a pie during the show. Did you have any baking experience to draw upon for those moments in the show?
I had minimal baking experience but definitely no pie baking experience. I know things like putting flour on your hands helps keep the dough from sticking and I’ve rolled out dough before. I honestly didn’t need much more knowledge of “baking” for the show than that.
If you could try any one of Jenna’s wonderful pies, which would it be and why?
I have made I think 4 or 5 pies from the show. I will be sharing them on my socials soon so keep an eye out for them!
And, I've tried each of those pies, so I've already tasted some of Jenna's pies, but one I haven't made that I would like to try is My Husband's a Jerk Chicken Pot Pie.
You previously appeared in several classic musicals, including just this past spring and summer playing Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls and Cosette in Les Miserables at the Hale Center Theatre in Utah. Is there a difference in playing a role in a new musical, like Waitress, compared to one that was written many years ago?
Obviously there have been some big changes in the way musicals are written nowadays versus decades ago. Today's shows are written with a little more nuance to the book and lyrics, but I don’t approach the role any different. Each has a story to tell in its own unique way and I’m excited to tell it.
This is your national tour debut. What has the experience been like performing in numerous towns compared to your past performance experiences?
Constantly changing environments, not only cities but also theaters, does add extra challenges to the already difficult task of performing with consistency. Changes in altitude, dryness, air quality, constant travel weariness, stage differences… You start to wish you could perform in one place for a while again. But it is such a unique experience to see cities I’ve never been to before and reach such a wide range of audiences. There’s always a give and take.
What are some of the challenges and advantages to being a part of a touring production?
There's truly not enough space to mention every single advantage and challenge associated with touring, because there are many! I will mention highlights.
Challenges: the schedule is unrelenting and exhausting to say the least, we're often not doing the exact show we rehearsed because of differences in the theater space, we often have long travel days into a show in the evening which means very little rest, making the already difficult job much more difficult to give our very best each show.
Advantages: We get to reach so many more communities and people than if we were just in one city. The variety of lives we touch is so magical and meaningful. And of course, we get to travel and see places we might not usually go. We don't always have time to explore and covid has made that less possible as well, but when we can, we try.
Is there a venue on tour you’re the most excited to visit?
There isn't necessarily a venue I'm most excited about because I don't know anything about the venues. I sometimes don't even remember which city I'm in, let alone the next one we're going to. There's a lot going on when you're touring and there's so much to keep track of, especially when you're moving as fast as we are. But I will say that my most recent favorite venue was the Hult in Eugene, OR because it was a gorgeous sort of seafoam green color and the ceiling design looked like a pie lattice! So that was super fun.
You were set to perform in a couple of shows last year that were cancelled due to Covid. What has the experience been like after close to a year off being back performing in front of an audience?
Words are not quite enough to express the deep gratitude I feel and the true magic that live theater holds. There is nothing else like it, so to have it ripped away from us with no knowledge of when it would come back was devastating. Which makes the return all the more joyous and exciting. Theatre is my home and I am back where I want to be and there is nothing more I can ask. I'm beyond thankful to be able to step out onto a stage almost every night and bring a room together through a living, breathing performance that is one of a kind to that moment in time. It's exhilarating and just where I belong!
What is your favorite moment in the show and why does it resonate with you?
It's hard to pick one favorite. I will say that the song Soft Place to Land and the scene right before it have grown and continue to grow so much founder to me as the tour goes on. I keep finding deeper and deeper ways that I connect to them and I look forward to sharing those lovely, heartfelt moments with my costars who are rockstar women.
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing the tour of Waitress?
This show has so much heart and humanity, and audiences feel that. It's why people continue to come back to this show. People can see a little bit of themselves in each character. Also, two of the central themes of this show are community and friendship. Two things that everyone understands and can really feel when they watch the show.
I want audiences to know that we are so grateful you're coming out to support live theater and share in the one-of-a-kind moments that it creates. We hope you come in with open hearts and leave with them full to the brim, and possibly with a new view on life.
I am so grateful to Jisel for taking time out of her busy touring schedule to join me!
You can follow along with her tour journey on Instagram and TikTok @jiselsayon .
A huge thank you goes out to Jisel and to her agent Michelle for making this interview possible!
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