The ninth profile in the Cleveland Performing Arts Examiner ACTOR PROFILE series features actor and business owner, JEAN ZARZOUR. This series (in interview form) is in process to “get to know” some of our own northeastern Ohio talent. Profiles will feature equity and non-equity actors, stage and screen actors, as well as young, old and in-between actors. These are your peers and your neighbors – please enjoy!
Full Name: Jean-Marie Zarzour
Years acting: 35
“Day Job”: Actor, Owner of Lipschtick since 1989, Owner/Instructor Find Your Voice-Voice Acting Institute since 2006
Resident city: Lakewood
Kate Miller: Tell me about your first “big” role.
Jean Zarzour: My first role on a semi-professional stage was Marianna in Measure For Measure at Tri-C Western Campus, at the age of 15. I was scared to death. Everyone else was so much more experienced.
KM: Where did you train?
JZ: American Academy of Dramatic Arts NYC, NY – 1977-1979; Stella Adler Conservatory NYC, NY – 1980-1981; Various other courses in Acting, Improv and Dance in Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tucson, New York and London.
KM: You’ve trained and worked all over the world- why do you stay in Cleveland?
JZ: I never really intended to come back to Cleveland permanently. I met my husband while I was living in NY. He’s British and wanted to move back to England. After 2 years there, I found myself in a failing marriage. After the divorce, I came back to Cleveland to lick my wounds for a while before moving back to New York. I became so comfortable being back home after being away for 10 years, and started getting steady acting work. I haven’t looked back since. I realized that the love and support of my family was important to me and if you’re happy, you can flourish anywhere. Knock on wood!
KM: What’s your favorite role you’ve ever played?
JZ: I can’t say I have a favorite. I’ve loved them all accept one. I won’t go into detail about it, but let’s just say never again will I trust a director when he says “we’re adding a few scenes and songs for your character that aren’t in the original script.”
KM: What is your dream role?
JZ: First and foremost ANY of the elder roles in August: Osage County, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, Mama Rose in Gypsy and Helene Nadler in The New Century because each character is as relevant today as ever; powerful, loving, desperate, overbearing, pained and vulnerable; in masterfully written scripts.
KM: So you sing.
JZ; Yes. Mezzo Soprano/Alto, Legit & A MEAN Belt!
KM: And you dance. Where did you train?
JZ: Yes, well, more and better when I was younger. American Ballet Theatre (Joffrey Ballet) in NYC and 3 studios where I taught dance in London, England from 1983-1985.
KM: Have you done TV or movies?
JZ: I was on America’s Funniest People doing a Cher impersonation and The New Candid Camera as a book store shill along with dozens of commercials. The feature films I’ve done are: The Public Eye w/ Joe Pesci, Lost In Yonkers w/Mercedes Ruehl, Proximity w/Rob Lowe and James Coburn, Zach & Miri w/Seth Rogen and most recently Love and Other Drugs w/ the yummy Jake Gyllenhaal and Hank Azaria, in theaters November 24. Sorry, did I drool on the page?
KM: So how does acting for the screen differ from the stage?
JZ: I prefer the term “intimate” to distinguish stage acting from screen acting. Some say “smaller“, but that’s far too simplistic and diminishing. A more “intimate” or “realistic” style is really the difference between film & stage. A camera manipulates the viewers’ perspective making it possible for an actor to merely lift an eyebrow to get a point across. So, film is viewed by one person at a time but each person gets the same image/sound, even if they are all together in a movie theatre. Theater, on the other hand, is being performed for and viewed by a crowd of people in a theater. The audience has more choice about what they are seeing / hearing. It is less intimate in scale. Even the very intimate moments have to be executed on a grander scale for a live audience. Class dismissed.
KM: What did you want to be when you grew up?
JZ: An Actress. I think I came out of the womb wearing tap shoes. My poor mother. That had to hurt.
KM: Why did you start acting?
JZ: Like so many kids who hated school, I seemed born to express myself in that way. I loved the attention and making people feel something, one way or another. Nothing’s changed.
KM: Any other actors in your family?
JZ: My brothers are both irrepressible hams. They perform at any opportunity, but they keep it among their friends and associations. Still, they have talent.
KM: Any particular venues where you like to work primarily??
JZ: I like the variety of work I get; one day acting in a film, another day teaching and the next day doing make up for a TV show and everything in between. It’s the variety that keeps me going.
KM: Why do you love acting?
JZ: There are so many reasons, but I guess the most visceral is that I am exhilarated by the relationship between me / my character and an audience. There is an automatic agreement that you have when you are doing your job effectively, and that agreement is “we are all sharing something powerful / important / moving / uplifting, together and it’s very real; life altering, in this moment”. The other reasons all go back to when I was a kid- I love when my work moves people to feel something.
KM: How do you prep for an audition?
JZ: I don’t take any chances. I work with coaches – acting and/or vocal. I do whatever amount of work will make the material second nature to me so I can handle whatever happens in those few minutes I have.
KM: How do you reward yourself for getting a role you wanted?
JZ: I do a lot of wild dancing in my living room and treat those I love to a great dinner!
KM: What do you do to get through a rough tech week?
JZ: I shut up, do what I‘m told and try to stay healthy.
KM: Who are your favorite actors and actresses?
JZ: Anyone who moves me to tears, scares me to death or makes me laugh out loud. Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando, Judy Dench, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck, Lena Olin, Tom Hanks, Ralph Fiennes, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Liv Ullman, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Newman, Marion Cotillard, Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Quinn, to name a few.
KM: For you, what’s the hardest part about acting?
JZ: Getting the work you really want and taking the rejection, no matter how much you want a role. That never changes.
KM: Tell me a little bit more in detail about Lipschtick and also about Find Your Voice – Voice Acting Institute.
JZ: I started Lipschtick in 1989. I write and produce sketch, improv and musical comedy for corporate events and training programs. It’s a pretty good story. I was doing a Tina Turner Impersonation for a United Way Fundraiser sponsored by Ohio Bell. Ohio Bell’s VP of Marketing came up to me and said “You’re really funny. I’m organizing a retirement party for 3 top Ohio Bell Exec’s and I need entertainment. Do you have a company?” I immediately saw dollar signs and said “YES! It’s called Lipschtick!” I have no idea where I got that name from, but I’m so glad I thought of it. I got the gig, worked with friend that I was doing Improv with, and have been in business since. We were paid $1500 for a ½ hour, customized, improv show. That was great money then. (maybe even now).
As for Find Your Voice- I’d been teaching voice acting for about 15 years at area Arts Institutions, and then in 2006 I decided to start Find Your Voice – Voice Acting Institute. It’s a steady source of income, but I also have more fun than ought to be legal! The real bonus is that so many of my students are getting work after learning how much really hard work goes into it all.
JZ: I like gardening, cooking and feeding my family and friends. Other than that, I guess my work is also my hobby.
KM: Do you have any pets?
JZ: 2 cats – Wacko and Weirdo. The names go so well with Zarzour!
KM: Wacko and Weirdo? Where did those names come from?
JZ: Wacko is my beautiful, main coon who used to hide and then jump out behind me and bite my butt when he was a baby. It was too cute and… well… Wacko! Weirdo came along last year and I named him that because it went so well with Wacko. The best part is calling their names really loud on my front porch. WACKO! WEIRDO! IT’S TIME TO COME IN! My neighbors just love me.
KM: Finally, why do YOU think Cleveland rocks?
JZ: I’d say Cleveland is the perfect example of all that is American; we are diverse, resilient, cultured, real and soulful. The perfect example of what Bruce Springsteen songs are all about.
Find out more about Lipschtick at
Find Your Voice at
See more of Jean’s work at
Do you have a Cleveland performing arts related story or event that would be of interest to our readers? If so, contact KATE MILLER at [email protected] with your pitch!