Dancer, playwright, actress, choreographer — Leslie Liautaud is a woman of many talents who has dedicated her life to the arts for more than 25 years. Last year her one-act play “The Mansion” debuted at Parkland College, with Leslie in the director’s chair as well. When she’s not acting or writing, Leslie also enjoys participating in various philanthropic work with her husband, Jimmy, founder of Jimmy John’s. The couple lives in Champaign with their three children: 17-year-old Spencer, 12-year-old Lucy and 11-year-old Fred.
See why we think Leslie is a Chambana mom to know.
Q: You are an accomplished playwright. How did you get into theater?
My first experience on the stage was when I was 5. My mother was an actress and I got the part of the “Little Girl” in Annie Get Your Gun, which she was also in. I remember being so nervous because I had to count (and remember) how many times someone said “Get out of here kid!”, the fourth time being my cue to run off stage. But the first time I heard the audience respond and I got a laugh…it was all over. No more anxiety, I was hooked. I was very fortunate to train with some wonderful coaches and because they gave me LOTS of rope to stretch and try different aspects of theatre and dance, I discovered that what I truly loved was the creating. I moved from dancing in a ballet company to choreographer and from actor to writer. And again, it was just luck that the people around me nurtured that passion and gave me the chance to prove myself.
Q: What does it mean to be married to a local celebrity?
That’s so funny to me…because to me, he’s Jimmy. He’s my best friend, my husband and the father of my children. We’re fortunate that we’re both extremely independent people…that might be one difference in having a recognizable spouse, you can’t be too clingy or insecure. If I was too needy, the attention he gets would be a negative. I think we can both agree that the best thing that comes out of it all is that when we feel the passion to bring attention to a cause or a non-profit, Jimmy’s face, contacts or “voice” can get the message out there much more quickly. Believe me, I use him with wild abandon when we’re trying to help a particular organization! There has been no greater gift to come out of the company’s success than to have the public attention and means to help others in a significant way.
Q: Your family is in the food business, so I have to ask — what’s your favorite local restaurant and why (besides your own, of course 🙂
Wow, that’s a tough one. I think because we’re in the food business it’s difficult to say “This is my favorite.” I see the great things (and not so great things) the local restaurants are doing…whether it’s the service, the management, the concept or the actual food. I can say some of my favorite restauranteurs are Tifani Moot and Carlos Nieto, Thad Morrow and Ray Timpone.
Q: Since it’s almost Halloween time – do you have any favorite special Halloween memories of your kids?
MY favorite question!!! My youngest, Fred, when he was about 5 decided to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He insisted on getting dressed a about 7:30 a.m. Halloween morning. As the day progressed, he began to get too warm, too itchy, too tight, etc. During the course of the day, he started taking pieces of his costume off one by one. By the time trick-or-treating rolled around, all he had left was the last piece of his costume. The first neighbor we went to made a funny face and asked me, off to the side, what Fred was that year. I replied to her he’s “A chubby little boy in a green unitard.”
Q: Has your strong background in the arts influenced how you parent? If so, how?
I think the biggest thing art has given me, that I try to pass on to my kids and how I live my life with them is the message that they are “OK” Whoever they are, whatever their passion…as long as they are kind to others and kind to themselves…then they are OK. It’s hard to put on costumes and play on stage for a living and then go judge how other people live their life. I want them to feel the same way. That they can follow any path and as long as they try not to hurt themselves or others on that journey, then they should go take that journey with joy. Art taught me not to be afraid. I want my kids to be fearless.
Q: What is your biggest parenting challenge right now?
Ugh. What ISN’T a challenge right now?! No, seriously, I think the biggest challenge is my own mindset. There is a definite switch from when your kids are small to when they become pre-teens/teens. In the beginning, it’s all about the physical. Feeding them, dressing them, carrying them…basically making sure all their basic needs are met. And then suddenly, it morphs into all mental. Checking out their moods to help them the best you can as a parent, watching for signs of distress, explaining sex and sexuality with their changes, helping them deal with social situations, biting my tongue and letting them fall down (physically and mentally)… I swear, it’s ten times more fatiguing than changing diapers. But the reward as a parent grows, as well.
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