Jessica Vosk grew up dreaming of becoming an actress. But before she hit it big on Broadway, the most difficult role she may have played: herself as a real-life New York City financial investment relations executive.
It took a panic attack to shake her back into chasing her dream of performing.
“Panic attacks feel like you're dying,” Jessica Vosk told ABC News. “You feel like your heart is racing and it could completely beat out of your chest, or you're sweating, or you completely feel totally shaky, or you feel light-headed and like at any moment you could totally pass out. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. I really was scared.”
Working for an investment relations firm with clients on Wall Street, Jessica Vosk had just recently been promoted. The attack hit her one morning after a particularly long night of work.
“I didn't know what it was," she continued. "And I was sitting in my office sort of silently freaking out. I think I allowed that to happen for another couple of months.”
Her career in finance was on a meteoric rise. Hired before even graduating from college, she impressed her bosses during her relatively short finance career.
With a knack for handling important clients with confidence, pitching finance stories to business news outlets with great success and even learning how to use the Bloomberg terminal (an important tool for those working on Wall Street) without any background in finance, her bosses at Gavin Anderson thought she was on the fast-track for a long career in investment relations.
“Jessica was just obviously someone who was going to be good and successful in this career,” Kelly Cameron, who managed Vosk at Gavin Anderson, said. “I didn't know it at the time, but [that was] until the heartstrings of Broadway started calling her.”
Through those moments of panic and anxiety, Vosk said she felt a calling to the stage. Acting and singing were her longtime passions. However, after one semester at a performing arts conservatory, she left that college and pivoted to a communications and investor relations degree at a new university and almost never looked back.
“Everything happened so fast,” Vosk said. “I wound up having a job in finance, in investor relations, before I graduated. My parents were thrilled. In turn, it always makes you happy to please your parents. At least, it made me happy to say, ‘OK, look, hopefully they're not worried about what it is that I'm doing now because it's reputable and I have a real people job.’”
Her father, Mike Vosk, was “overjoyed.”
“I said, ‘Wow. This is absolutely perfect,’” Mike Vosk told ABC News. “You've gotten right into the groove. Go for it. Keep doing it. Plus, you know, it's a great field."
Vosk was promoted twice at Gavin Anderson, worked with clients around the world, traveled for business, earned a comfortable salary and was a star among her colleagues.
“It was very strange but, somehow, I was able to bury the singer or the theater girl and move forward,” she said. “In the end, that really ... was not the best move.”
After another panic attack, it took a sign from Vosk’s grandmother to push her to make a change.
“I was sitting in the office and gathering a bunch of folders, and papers, and things like that, and a piece of paper fell on the floor,” Vosk recalled. “I picked it up and it was a note from my grandma who had passed. I don't ever remember her giving me this little piece of paper that said, ‘Jessica, I wish you a lot of luck. Grandma Vosk.’ I still have that piece of paper, and that's the moment where I was like, something has to change. This has to change.”
Vosk said as difficult and “daunting” as it was, she hatched a plan to leave her high-powered career in finance and take a leap of faith in pursuing her acting dream.
“I received a phone call from Jessica one day, very upset,” her mother, Patty Vosk, said. “I couldn't understand why, and she basically said … ‘I can't do it anymore. I miss theater. It's not what I love. It's not what I want to do and I'm going to quit.’ And I said, ‘Please don't.’”
Vosk remembers her parents’ concerns about leaving behind a job with benefits, a salary and security.
Patty Vosk said she ultimately wanted her daughter to be happy.
“When [Jessica] makes up her mind it's done,” Patty Vosk said.
When Vosk began telling people at work about leaving her job, her colleagues and bosses were both apprehensive and supportive.
“I was very disappointed,” Cameron said. “I knew how good she was at her job and how much I depended on her. And she was my really good friend.”
“We were actually on the verge of promoting her again,” Richard Mahony, a leader at Gavin Anderson at the time, said. “She basically said, ‘Look, I think I want to take my life in a different direction.’”
After quitting her job, Jessica Vosk began singing at open mic nights in bars and clubs, like the famous Birdland Jazz Club in midtown Manhattan, hoping to meet people in the industry. She started auditioning and competing against hundreds of other hopefuls like her for every role.
“I was afraid monthly that I was not going to make my rent,” she said. “I questioned myself probably every minute of every day … Did I just ruin my life? Have I made the worst decision in the entire world?”
After months of auditioning, she was offered a part in a show at Carnegie Hall.
“That was the push into the deep end,” she said.
That first break led to more auditions and jobs. She finally made her Broadway debut as a swing actor in “Bridges of Madison County” at age 30.
“Making my Broadway debut at 30 was later in the game than many people make their Broadway debuts and I knew that,” she said. “And how lucky I was to make it. I felt like I made it.”
Soon after “Bridges of Madison County” she landed another Broadway role in “Finding Neverland,” and then “Fiddler on the Roof.” She was hired for the national tour of “Wicked” and ultimately got the role of a lifetime this past July as Elphaba in the flagship Broadway production.
She warmly remembers the theater exploding with applause when she first stepped out as the green Wicked Witch at Broadway's Gershwin Theater.
“My family was there and I was completely overwhelmed with the support,” she said. “I know what it took to get there … That moment was like, oh my God, this is everything that I have worked for is this moment, and I get to do this every night.”
Patty Vosk said the first time she saw her daughter in “Wicked,” she held in her emotions as family members cried around her.
“I was pretty stoic about it until we got to her dressing room,” she said. “I took one look at her and I just lost it. … It was definitely the emotion of ‘she's found it, and she's so happy,’ … That's all you want. That was it. Jess did it.”
Looking back, Jessica Vosk said she would have laughed if someone told her 10 years ago she would now be in a leading Broadway role. She also released a solo album this year, “Wild and Free,” to positive reviews.
It’s a far cry from her days of working with clients on Wall Street and she recognizes the parallels between the character she plays in “Wicked” and her own life.
“Every day I play Elphaba, every show that I get to do, I sort of find a parallel universe with the life of Jessica Vosk as it were, of taking a leap, doing something different [and] not everybody might be on board with you but you're going to do it anyway,” she said. “At the end of the day, playing this role, playing Elphaba on Broadway has also given me the strength as Jessica to finally be OK with who I am.”
She said she hopes her journey to Broadway can help others who are struggling with finding or pursuing what they feel they were meant to do.
“If you know that you're meant to be somewhere else, life is far too short to not take a risk or a chance,” she said. “I know it's a long shot sometimes, I know that it can mean disappointing people, but I promise that if you don't go after what it is that you love, you will wind up disappointing yourself more.”