She is an accomplished actress, teacher, wife and mother—a woman who makes a difference in the community.
Jane Fessier, 68, was born and raised in San Rafael in Northern California.
“I’m a perfect combination of my parents,” she says. “My mother was witty and an observer of life. She was the one person I could go to, always so loving and patient.”
Fessier’s father was the ultimate salesman—a real estate broker and storyteller with an aggressive nature.
“He could always fill up a room; everybody wanted to be around him,” Fessier says. “But he was somewhat impatient. I work on that constantly.”
Her parents moved to the Coachella Valley when her father got involved in the mobile-home business—and he encouraged her to follow.
“I was in my mid-20s and had been doing shows in the San Francisco area, but I wasn’t making much money,” Fessier says. “I had worked with my dad before, and he said, ‘You have to come down here. The market is upscale, and there’s lots of money to be made.’ I lived with them in a mobile home. I remember the highlight of my day was coming home and seeing what my mom had made for dinner! I wanted to make enough money working with my father so I could go back to the Bay Area.”
Fessier was often named the most-humorous student by her classmates.
“I could be goofy and silly,” she laughs.
After learning to play the cello, her mother encouraged her to study theater. While attending community college, Fessier was exposed to Stanislavski’s “method” style of acting—a way of getting into the motivation of a character to develop a realistic portrayal, employed by actors like Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and many others.
“I remember once I was told to think about something that I felt bad about, so I thought about how I had once hurt somebody, and I started crying,” Fessier says. “I realized you have to really feel it.”
Once in the desert, Fessier tried out for some local theater roles. During the 1980s, she worked in Palm Springs productions of Death of a Salesman, Oliver and Man of La Mancha, appearing opposite veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff.
“When I was doing Man of La Mancha, the director told me I had done fine in rehearsals, but that each time, I had done the same performance,” Fessier says. “Persoff was waiting for me onstage, and I was to sing the song about what was happening after my character had been raped. The director told me to close my eyes—and then he slapped me, literally knocking me against the wall. Then he told me to go out there and sing it. And it worked. I was totally in the moment.” While the move worked, Fessier says she was outraged the director resorted to violence to motivate her—and that at that time, she did not feel empowered enough to object.
Fessier’s plans to return to the Bay Area fell by the wayside when she met the man who would become her husband—Bruce Fessier, who recently retired as the arts and entertainment writer for the The Desert Sun.
“In 1983, the director of Man of La Mancha ushered me into a room where Bruce interviewed me,” she says. He later reviewed the show. “I hoped I’d be good—I never wanted to be an actress who wasn’t good. Well, when the review came out, it was a rave! Then Bruce called and asked me out to a party with Kirk and Michael Douglas. I said, ‘I’ll let you know.’ My mom said, ‘Are you crazy?!’ Six weeks later, we were sharing an apartment.”
After 35 years of marriage, Jane acknowledges that Bruce is the local star.
“Being married to Bruce, I find I’m standing next to him when he’s the one people want to interact with, so I can either be very shy—or the life of the party, without feeling any pressure,” she says. “I joke about how my father married me off, and then he and my mother went back north.”
After their two sons came along—Clay, now 31, and Parker, 29—Fessier began teaching youngsters.
“I had done some shows in the Bay Area with kids, and I enjoyed it,” she says. “Bruce is a great writer, and I directed and starred in one of his musical revues before the kids were even in kindergarten.”
Fessier taught children’s theater at St. Margaret’s School in Palm Desert.
“I remember when a parent told me her child wasn’t so shy any more. I love that I can make a difference in kids’ lives based on acting and performing,” she says. “It can help them to be happier and more well-rounded. My goal is to make it fun. I’ve worked with children with social anxiety, handicaps and learning disabilities, and it’s very rewarding to bring them out of themselves. As a teacher, I think about how to be the person I might have needed when I was a child. I teach children the Stanislavski method, helping them find ways to get into the emotion they want to portray.”
Fessier worked with the CVRep Conservatory for six years, training classes of 25 to 40 young students.
“I built an incredible program, and I’m so proud of it,” she says. “Unfortunately, I was somewhat shocked, even insulted, when they decided to shake up their pay structure, but the truth is that I had outgrown the program by then. I’m so excited about starting to work now with the Musical Theatre University at Rancho Mirage High School, where I’ll be working with third- to eighth-graders through the Palm Springs Unified School District. The MTU students are being prepared to pursue a career in musical theater, and some of them will go straight to Broadway. The program is that good!
“When David Green (the founder and executive/artistic director of MTU) called me and asked if I would consider becoming part of their family, I didn’t have to hesitate for a moment before saying yes,” Fessier says, adding that she will also continue working privately with adult actors.
Fessier projects a calm, warm, open personality. She and her husband are clearly in love and have built a family anyone could envy.
“We both know we’re very lucky,” she says, “and we don’t take anything for granted. We respect each other. We’re very close with our sons as well. Parker is an entrepreneur in San Diego, a real math whiz. Clay is a successful animator in Los Angeles. He has a girlfriend of five years.”
Fessier laughs. “I honestly wish they’d get married so I can be a grandparent. I want a grandchild while I can still hold one!I have to say, this is the best time of my life—right now.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.