Jesmille Darbouze-Smith Gets Her Flowers on Broadway

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Jesmille Darbouze-Smith watches and analyzes scenes and songs in a classroom at Marymount Manhattan college, gives individualized notes to each of her students before their theater showcase – the pinnacle of a BFA students college career. She gives them three hours of undivided attention before herself getting ready to go onstage in in the revival of A Doll’s House on Broadway as Kristine Linde. The entire Spring 2023 semester, Darbouze-Smith has been juggling around 25 anxious 22 year olds while also performing 8 shows a week on Broadway opposite Jessica Chastain and Arian Moayed. Darbouze-Smith’s star turn in this production gives the credit she deserves after 15 years in the industry. 

Darbouze-Smith, 38, is not alone in juggling multiple jobs to make it in a competitive environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even though “employment of actors is projected to grow 8 percent from 2021 to 2031, and about 7,000 openings for actors are projected each year, on average,” many actors across media have long periods of unemployment between roles and often hold second jobs to keep the dream alive. 

Darbouze-Smith’s dream began with the American classic, Grease, when she was cast as Cha Cha and had dance solo in Act 2 at the center of the conflict during the “Born to Hand Jive” dance contest required the right outfit. While all the other elementary school girls of the production had their moms make poodle skirts, Darbouze-Smith’s mom knew that driving from Long Island to Manhattan would allow them to find the perfect costume to play Cha Cha. When they saw a gold halter top dress, they new that was the look. Once on stage, Debouze-Smith realized acting was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.  “It was…magical, ” she reminisces.  

Darbouze-Smith continued to flourish in the arts in elementary school by being in the school chorus and playing the flute. She would later go to a specialized middle school for drama and then to a performing arts high school in Florida where she lived with her mom until making the decision to fly into New York to audition for Carnegie Mellon University for musical theatre. While she was prepared to sing “Show Me” from My Fair Lady, she was asked to belt out  “All That Jazz” from Chicago on the spot in her audition. She was fed the words to the song in the moment and later would be told after she performed her monologue selection that she belonged at CMU. In the graduating class of 2006 of Carnegie Mellon University, Darbouze- Smith’s contemporaries included Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Megan Hilty (Wicked) and countless other future Broadway stars. Everyone just seemed so confident and they knew who they were, Darbouze-Smith said.  

Darbouze-Smith did not know who she was until her senior year of college preparing for her senior showcase final where agents and casting director would be. As an AfroLatina woman, she chose a scene where she spoke in both Spanish and English. Although Darbouze-Smith didn’t land an agent then, the performance gave her confidence. Even though there was a lack of diversity and inclusivity that she felt held her back, she knew she would remain confident in who she wanted to be in the industry. 

 Over the next 15 years, being AfroLatina in a predominately white industry and market has led to countless instances of Darbouze-Smith having to deal with auditions that ask for a “sassy black women,” or a token black girl in a Broadway ensemble. She was also not able to showcase her soprano/classical training because she was more often asked to “belt” instead of singing the more operatic roles she had trained all of her life. Then in 2019 after years of auditioning working restaurant job after restaurant job, Darbouze-Smith made her Broadway debut with the cast of Kiss Me Kate. At the same time, she booked the Broadway play Betrayal as the understudy of the role Emma. Then the global pandemic hit. Though jobs were nonexistent, a shift in the industry began to occur spurred by the 2020 Black Lives Matter Movement and the response within the theatre community to the entire history of racism that the entertainment industry is built upon. Darbouze-Smith finally got to audition for the role of a Dominican woman who speaks Spanish. Yet she feels like advocating for herself is still something new and still processing how to stand up for herself and yet not be labeled difficult” as so many women in the entertainment industry do. 

Obstacles remain. During the pandemic, Darbouze-Smith made the decision to start taking online prerequisites for nursing school and started adjunct teaching at Marymount Manhattan College. She wanted to find some stability for her kids now ages two and five. She has taken four of the seven prerequisites required to apply for nursing school, and is determined to finish them. She also landed an adjunct teaching position at MMC by hearing of the school through Professor Michael Mendez’s wife who also starred in Kiss Me Kate. 

 Then last year, at a casual dinner with the Jonathan Glew, who was the associate director of Betrayal and who would be the associate director of A Doll’s House, Darbouze-Smith learned  

that Jamie Lloyd, who directed Betrayal and A Doll’s House, was going to be bringing A Doll’s House to Broadway starring Oscar winner Jessica Chastain, and they wanted her to audition.  She went into the process thinking she would be understudying because the producers would want other Hollywood names to act opposite the Chastain. When she learned she landed the part, she didn’t believe it. But months in, now she wants the young performers she teaches to know, “you are enough!”