The Story Behind the Photo: "Once"

Tania Thompson
 | Dec 10, 2020
Rustin Cole Sailors (center) and Amanda Leigh Jerry (kneeling on the bar) with the cast of Once (2017), photo by Jordan Kubat.

About Once

“Glorious and inspiring” (Time Out New York), “fun and heartfelt” (The New Yorker), Once tells the story of a Dublin street musician about to abandon his dream when a beautiful woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to new heights, and their connection becomes more than an everyday romance. A captivating tale that will draw you in from the very first note.

South Coast Repertory’s production of Once (2017) earned raves from reviewers and audience members alike. The Los Angeles Times called ​the musical “joyous” and said it “resonates with an emotional truth all its own.” The show also resonated with the cast, drawn together around the music and story. For Amanda Leigh Jerry (who portrayed “The Girl”), the final song of Act I (pictured above) marked a turning point for her character. Read on to learn why this scene still shines brightly for her.

What moment does this depict?

Amanda Leigh Jerry: This is the finale of Act I, the song is titled “Gold.” The Girl takes The Guy to a local bar and goads him into performing one of his songs. He gets heckled at first but, slowly, he wins over the crowd and they join him, one by one, in the performance. The Girl wanders through the joyful crowd in awe, eventually takes a seat on the bar to watch. 

How did you work to make this moment happen?

ALJ: This song was the most-rehearsed moment in our production. Everyone else in the cast would be on their feet, playing, singing and dancing for hours, but I had a different sort of challenge. The song “Gold” is a revelatory moment for The Girl—she's not only seeing the fruits of her emotional labor with The Guy and basking in the communal joy of making art, but she also is realizing that she has fallen in love with a man who is not her husband. I had no technical challenges during this scene, it was all about being present and noticing things. Kent [Nicholson, director] had to keep a lot of plates spinning while we worked on this song, but he always checked in with me about my experience and emotional journey. It ended up being my favorite part of the show.

What’s the power about this moment?

ALJ: For me, this moment is all about the liberating act of making art and the power in witnessing it. In a way, The Girl is a direct conduit for the audience in this scene—she is the audience. It was absolutely delightful for me to spend an entire song (and a gorgeous one, at that) just witnessing and reacting. There was almost no acting required. My castmates were incredibly talented, kind and beautiful people. At this point in the production, we had all fallen in love with one another. I didn't have to act to in awe of them—I just was! 

Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

ALJ: This was a life-changing production for everyone involved; I gained so much from being a part of it. My gratitude and love go out to all the Oncers—makers and witnesses alike!