The AWTea with Mary – Jasmine Daniel

What does Shrek do from 9-5? Did you know Pippin also bakes a mean pie? With this series I aim to answer those questions and more as I peek behind the curtain and learn all about our participants’ experience with AWT and take a glimpse into their robust lives outside of theater. It’s time for AWTea with Mary!

In this episode, we get the AWTea from Jasmine Daniel!

Mary: Thank you so much for talking with me today for this installment of AWTea with Mary! Please let the people know how you like to identify yourself.

Jasmine: Hi! I’m Jasmine Daniel, my pronouns are she/her and I identify myself as a black female!

M: Amazing! So tell me a little bit about your experience at AWT so far.

J: I started with AWT in Rent summer of 2022 and then did every musical after that until I took a short break, but I just finished playing Charlotte in Cinderella! My other roles included coat vendor #1 in Rent, Maria Delgado in 9 to 5, McQueen in Urinetown, and a troupe member in Something Rotten.

M: Those are some great roles! Any particularly memorable moments?

J: In my year and change with AWT I’ve had so many memorable moments on and off the stage! I think my favorites would be Rent cast peasant feasts, performing Urinetown for writer Greg Kotis, or the night that I got stuck in traffic returning to the city from a wedding and was devastated that I would miss my last Urinetown show, but made it in time to hop onstage and perform “Don’t Be the Bunny” with my cast twin, Sarah Hulsmann (iykyk).

M: I’m very sad I didn’t get to see Urinetown, and now I’m just a little bit sadder that I missed that! Rent was a great show to start with, how did you find this little organization?

J: I found AWT through a Google search for NYC Community theater, I think. I was really searching for a social community where I would be both a bit in my comfort zone, and a bit out of it. I really missed theater and figured it could be the perfect fit. I also love acting and was excited to do more of it. That Google search led me to a reddit page where someone was enthusiastically recommending AWT and at that point I signed up to be on the email list. However, it was about a year before I actually signed up to do a show.

M: Wow! A whole year later! Also, if anyone would like to step forward as the AWT enthusiast on Reddit I’d like to know who that was…

J: There were a few factors that led me to finally bite the bullet and sign up. For one, Rent is one of my absolute favorite musicals (I had even gone to a production at the local performing arts high school a few months before!). I was also in a period of my life where I really needed a fun, positive experience. In the summer of 2021, I had suddenly started dealing with chronic intense joint pains, exhaustion, and feeling unwell almost daily. It took me several months of crying, complaining, specialist appointments and blood tests before I was finally given a diagnosis: Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease where your body attacks its own healthy joints and organs. I was so relieved to finally have an idea what was wrong with me, but also had to weather a storm of heavy emotions at being so young and diagnosed with a lifelong chronic illness. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be so physically and emotionally devastating that it’s easy to start living in the gloom of “Why me? Why is this happening to me?” I didn’t want that. Instead, I chose to say, “yeah, this awful thing is happening to me, but look at all the cool things I can still do!” And so, after a few months of treatment and starting to feel better, I decided to jump back into theater, something I loved in high school. I was also fully ready to be social again and meet some new, fun people coming out of the pandemic shutdowns.

M: Wow, I’m so glad that this experience came to you at just the right time. How are you doing now?

J: It’s honestly such a journey. Some days, weeks even are great, and I feel fine, and then there’s that one day where I can’t get out of bed and it’s like, oh yeah, right. I think outside of the physical pain the biggest aspect for me has been going from feeling mostly carefree to managing a medication schedule, frequent doctors visits, that kind of thing.

M: That must be so hard but I’m glad you are able to carry on and still participate in AWT. Is there any advice you have for others out there who may be struggling with similar issues?

J: I think the advice that’s been most helpful for me is that being chronically ill doesn’t define you, you’re still the person that you are with your own voice and beliefs and interests. You are still a person with value. Although it may not always feel like it, Illness is just one part of your life. Trying to really appreciate and make the most of the good days has also helped me.

M: That’s so great, thank you for that! And do you think AWT has contributed to your healing journey?

J: I definitely feel like AWT has helped me; it’s given me a community to turn to, an amazing distraction, and during show season, something to look forward to.

M: So before all this, AWT, illness, etc, what was your life like? Where did you grow up?

J: Like television legend Nanny Fine, I grew up in Flushing, Queens, and have always said that I’ll likely be a Queens girl for life. I grew up in a one bedroom apartment in Flushing with my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother. Even though our apartment was small it was also the family party spot growing up. We had aunts, uncles, and cousins over almost every weekend, watching movies and singing karaoke, just enjoying each other’s company. On my dad’s side I have two half sisters and a half brother. My mom has since moved down south to Atlanta and so I typically visit every chance I can get and spend the winter holidays there. Flushing wasn’t for me, but I think I really thrived once I left home and moved to western queens. Growing up in New York, my mom ensured that I would become a theater kid by taking me to see as many Broadway shows as she could for as far back as I can remember.

M: Ooo! What was your first show?

J: It might have been The Lion King! I loved it. I also remember seeing Aida and Miss Saigon when I was pretty young. We were big frequenters of Kids Night on Broadway. And then in my junior year of high school, I started participating in SING, which is a New York City public high school initiative where each grade writes, produces, and stars in their own musical and competes for the top honor. That year I was on the writing team (we wrote a prequel to Austin Powers) as well as dancing in the show. My senior year, I was on the writing team, danced and acted, including a quick Disney sendup scene we wrote where I played Princess Jasmine. When I think back on high school, the long nights spent figuring out a storyline, coming up with jokes, learning choreo or running lines are my absolute favorite memories.

M: What a cool program for high schoolers! I’ve never heard of that! Clearly you’re once a theater kid, always a theater kid! Where did you head after high school?

J: I graduated from Boston University class of 2013 with a degree in Television and Film. Since I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in entertainment, it was the only major that made sense to me.

M: Awesome, where has that taken you?

J: Currently I’m a Curation manager at Paramount. I work in the Network Streaming division, which is the team that works on online platforms for brands like Comedy Central, MTV, and Showtime. Essentially I manage the pod that refreshes and schedules content for the Logo, TV Land, Smithsonian Channel, and Showtime websites. Prior to this, I was the curation manager for VH1, and before that I did QA for the entire team, meaning I watched a ton of television to make sure everything played correctly for our viewers. I honestly love my job as I’ve never wanted to do anything other than work in TV, and Paramount is such a fun company to work for. It’s so fulfilling to work for the brands that I grew up watching.

M: So fun! What types of work did you do before Paramount?

J: Before my 7 years at Paramount I spent 4 years working at a talent agency, which is basically exactly the way it’s portrayed on TV. I went from an intern to an assistant to several talent agents. It was a stressful, fast-paced, loud environment but there was also rarely a dull day. That job was the reason for some of my life’s most random experiences, from running into O-Town in the office, hanging out backstage at the Today show with TLC and Salt N Pepa, to having brunch with Rondell Sheridan, the dad from That’s So Raven. Almost every week there was an industry party or a concert. As much as I value that period of my life, I always knew that television was the end goal for me. My ultimate dream is to be a screenwriter, and I work on my scripts whenever I have the chance.

M: She writes too? What can’t you do?! You are truly like a quintuple threat! Can you tell us a little bit about what you are working on?

J: I have one feature script finished that I’ve been tweaking for a while. It’s a satire that I like to call Scream meets Mean Girls. I have another feature script in the works, a dramedy about reckless college students, and a semi-autobiographical sitcom pilot idea floating around in my head until I actually get down to writing it.

M: I can’t wait to see it on the big screen! What else is going on in your life right now? Where are you living now?

J: Well, right now I live in Astoria, Queens and I absolutely love it (shout out to Astoriawork Theater!). I live alone and as much as it freaked me out in the beginning, now I absolutely love having my own weird little space. I spent 3 years living in the heart of Long Island City before Astoria and loved it there as well. This area is great because there is so much to do, great food and bars and so many other young people to meet. Having so many friends in the neighborhood is also a plus. My ultimate favorite place in Astoria is probably the Museum of Moving Image, but I also love Pig Beach and the Thirsty Koala (amazing gluten free options!). My best friend and I are also currently obsessed with the esquites at Mayahuel (SO.GOOD!!).

M: Yes! I also love the Museum of the Moving image! I tell everyone to go there and see the Mrs. Doubtfire mask! Is there one thing there you think everyone should see?

J: Everything! I’m a huuuuge pop culture fanatic so I love seeing all the costumes and memorabilia.

M: So BESIDES movies and theater, what else are you into?

J: Oddly enough one of my biggest hobbies is meeting strangers who will hopefully become friends, so I am always looking for opportunities to meet new people. I’ve been playing in a bocce league in Astoria for over two years now and it’s been great. I’m not sporty or athletic by any means and bocce is the perfect game for someone like me because it’s skill based and competitive, but you can also play the entire time with a drink in hand. I love social leagues and in the past have also played mini-golf, cornhole, and Mario Kart. I also go to many events hosted by Better off Brunching and NYC Brunch Squad (if you couldn’t tell, I’m a big brunch girl). My solo hobbies include trivia, old sitcoms, knitting, Nintendo Switch, and looking at pictures of people’s apartments (I love interior decorating).

M: I’ve met a couple other AWTers who are into trivia! I am too! Maybe we should start a pub trivia team! 🙂 What’s your best trivia category? 🙂

J: I have honestly been trying to start a trivia team since my first season, lol. I pretty much only know everything about pop culture and absolutely nothing else. But I still plan to be on Jeopardy one day!

M: I can totally see that! Any last words you’d like to share?

J: I am so incredibly grateful to have found this community and can’t believe how many great people I’ve met and memories I’ve made in such a short span of time. As we get older it is so important to have a community and I’m so happy to have found mine. Nothing makes me happier than being able to make someone else’s day or put a smile on someone’s face and I really hope that we do that with our performances. Also, I’ve touched Rihanna.

M: Ok, now time for the rapid fire questions. Try not to think too much!

  • What is something you’ve done recently for the first time?
    I rode a train through the Colorado mountains and it was one of the most breathtaking, life changing experiences I’ve ever had
  • What makes you happiest right now?
    Having a community on the outside and my peace at home
  • What superpower would you want if you could have any super power?
    Unlimited energy reserve! Or healing people. But also, truthfully I just want to be able to talk to animals.
  • What’s your favorite stage show and/or dream role?
    Sophie in Mamma Mia is my dream role, favorite stage show is Spring Awakening
  • What’s your favorite food?
    Pizza! Or mashed potatoes
  • What’s your favorite karaoke song?
    It’s All Coming Back to Me Now by Celine Dion, or anything by Eminem
  • What’s your favorite dinosaur?
    Barney, who came to my 1st birthday party
  • What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday? (when there is no rehearsal )
    Sleeping in, making myself brunch, catching up on TV, then lounging and being lazy all day. Brunch is for Saturdays.
  • What’s your zodiac sign and what’s the most “sign” thing about you?
    Capricorn. I guess I would say that we’re funny when people don’t expect us to be.
  • What is a piece of advice you’d give to an AWT Newbie?
    The community is scary at first but then so warm and accepting! Don’t be afraid to talk to people and prepare to have an overly stacked social calendar. Also, if you don’t love karaoke, start.