Maizie honored with theater named after her
For the Nevada Appeal
A familiar sight around local stages will be honored Sunday, when the Brewery Arts Center’s Black Box Theater officially becomes the Maizie Harris Jesse Theatre.
The days’ festivities include a performance of “Nunsen-sations,” for which Jesse has served as mistress of ceremonies, followed by a private dedication and dinner.
“I am pleased and honored and all that stuff,” she said. “Usually when people start naming things after you, they wait until you die, so if I can hold out ’til Sunday, everything should go well.”
Raised as an Army brat, Jesse, 75, began performing early on. At the age of 4, she was accepted to go on the “Major Bowes” radio show to sing “East Side, West Side, All Around the Town.” She went on to tap dance for the USO in Germany and performed “You Can’t Take it With You” for the Army Special Services.
While attending the University of Kansas, Jesse attended a speech class taught by Broadway actress Frances Feist.
“She thought I was perfectly dreadful, until she saw me in a performance of ‘Heaven Can Wait,'” Jesse said. “She loved it.”
Jesse was accepted by the Pasadena Playhouse and was also offered a Decca Records contract, both of which she turned down.
“I couldn’t run off to pursue a recording career leaving my husband alone to raise five children,” she said. “I did have some professional opportunities that I passed on, but looking back, I have no regrets.
“It just wasn’t the right time.”
But whatever her choices have been, Jesse’s involvement locally has created a legacy that is arts-centered and has served her community well.
She came to Carson City by way of Lovelock in 1962, where she was a stringer for the Associated Press and also helped stage the PTA variety show at her children’s school. She also has had bylines in the “San Francisco papers, the London Times and New York Post,” she said.
Today, she continues to write a column, with Carolyn Tate, for the Nevada Appeal.
In 1965, she and Jim Johnson co-founded Proscenium Players, which today is the longest continually running theater in Nevada.
“I am proud of them and BAC and what they’re doing,” she said. “Theater is doing very well in our area; there’s a lot going on and much of it is better than what I’ve seen on Broadway.”
Jesse credits feeder programs like Wildhorse Children’s Theater and BAC Stage Kids for growing children and parents who have an appreciation of the arts.
Her many years in theater have created in Jesse the ability to wear any hat necessary to stage a production.
“I like to act, direct and do publicity and enjoy costume and set design,” she said. “I can do practically everything but electrical work, but most of it’s not real high on my list.”
What is first on her list is having fun, she said.
“I find if I’m not having fun, then I back off,” she said.
“When I’m teaching, I tell (my students) don’t take it personally if you’re not chosen for a role. Just do your best work and have fun.”
Her other life credits include running for city supervisor in 1969 and lieutenant governor in 1994, bids she lost.
Her first job was setting pins in a bowling alley, then working as an artists’ model and doing voice-overs for Ford Motor Co. She eventually worked for the Nevada State Employment Security Department. She also is a voracious reader, sometimes consuming one title per day, all part of her anti-aging formula.
“We age first in our minds, so I try to learn something new every day,” she said.
As far as her theater life is concerned, Jesse has never considered herself a professional because even though she’s been paid for much of her work, she never made a living at it.
“Maybe that’s when you move from amateur to professional,” she said. “The most meaningful part of my theater life has been the many wonderful people I’ve met – too many to name, an entire panoply of characters who’ve gone before.”
The primary benefit to the theater dedication is reconnecting with longtime friends, she said.
“When they start naming things after me, I find I’m hearing from people I hadn’t heard from in a while and that’s been nice.”
As for her future plans, Jesse is keeping it simple.
“My first plan is to be alive past Sunday, and then I would like to do more traveling,” she said. “I want to continue being a good, honest person; the best I can be.”