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PROFILE: Jessica Jennings

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24232927_10155944422813887_253466198039665662_n.jpgThe landmark American Theatre of Actors, one of the last bastions of the famed off-off Broadway movement, which began in the 60s and reached a zenith of sorts in the 80s, is still presenting the best of the brightest and the freshest of the first. This summer the ATA will host a classics series which included Ilia Volok’s wildfire production of Diary of Madman. The ATA part unveils new renderings of Chekhov and Strindberg.

The ATA Classic Summer Series
ONE-ACTS: CHEKHOV/STRINDBERG
THE BOOR by Anton Chekhov
directed by Jessica Jennings features Monica Blaze-Leavitt,* Michael Bordwell, Stephen Goodin.
THE STRONGER by August Strindberg directed by Monica Blaze/Leavit features Jessica Jennings,* Siw Myrvold.
THE PROPOSAL by Anton Chekhov
directed by Jane Culley features Michael Bordwell, Stephen Goodin, Francesca Shipsey.

July 19 @ 8:00 pm; July 20 @ 8:00 pm; July 22 @ 3:00 pm
July 25 @ 8pm pm; July 28 @ 2:00 pm; Aug 4 @ 2:00 pm
Tickets $20 – sold at the door/ Tix also on sale at smarttix.com

THE CHERRY ORCHARD
Dalrymple award-winning director, Jessica Jennings, sets this seminal work of Anton Chekhov in the USA, 1965. Features Monica Blaze Leavitt,* Johnny Blaze Leavitt, Elizabeth Chappell, Alexander Chilton, Jane Culley,* Joy Foster, Cait Kiley Eli Douglas LaCroix, Joyce Lao, Shayna Lawson, and Susan Ly.

July 28 @ 8:00 pm; July 29 @ 3:00 pm; Aug 1,2,3,4 @ 8:00 pm; Aug 5 @ 3:00 pm
Tickets $30 – sold at the door also on sale at smarttix.com

The Festival will be performed at the American Theatre of Actors
314 W 54th St, New York City 10019

While the senior James Jennings first opened the doors, his daughter, Jessica Jennings, is rapidly gaining notoriety throughout the indie theater community. She is an integral part of the legendary ATA and a founder and board member of Ripple Effect Artists, who change the world with art.

Tell us About Yourself as an Artist?

I consider myself collaborative. I also come form an extensive dance background and work toward body language to match the emotional landscape of characters and the stories being told.  As Martha Graham said: “the body never lies.”  I am picky in this way – it really bugs me to see an actor too formal when it’s inappropriate, or too casual when they are playing formal characters.  There’s always exceptions and that’s fun to find.  I do my best to teach these small nuances and challenge actors: does this character look people in the eye? Do they eat space or shy away?

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With ATA founder, James Jennings

I gather theater was always in your blood. What’s it like growing up in the theater … literally?

Yes – I am born to a theatre family and they put me in Macbeth when I was just 3 weeks old.  It sounds horrific!  But to me it’s all normal. We grew up staying up late; learned to sit still in the theatre.  As soon as we could read we were reading Shakespeare,  helping our mother learn lines, seeing our father bring his plays to the stage – cringing when it was a nod to our own family problems.  I still remember how easy it is as a child – I could remember anyone’s lines and blocking.  That fades as we grow up.

 

 

 

 

What is your personal mission as an actress and a director? 

For me, it’s the same answer for acting and directing.  I want to play and create something really provoking.  I never want an audience to get bored.  I want them to be compelled, to feel, to think.  They should feel an array of things, lean forward and want to get more invested in what’s happening on stage.   If that happens then I feel successful.  

Tell us something about this festival … something we won’t see in the press kit? 

Haha! American Theatre of Actors asked to direct Merry Wives of Windsor and I just couldn’t get into it. So I took a few weeks to read and find a classic that I could sink my teeth into.  The first piece I fell for was The Boor by Chekhov. That lead down a road toward presenting all of these One-Act Classics in a festival while giving mean extra 10 days to rehearse a full length.   I hosted around and found a rare play of Chekhov’s.  That’s where my heart is – but it’s going to take a lot more planing. The Cherry Orchard was sort of my fall-back plan – that’s hysterical right? – It’s considered a masterpiece.  

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with Jana Robbins at an event for Ripple Effect

Tell us about Ripple Effect? 

Ripple Effect Artists is a production organization that I’ve raised up with Jessie Fahay.   We focus on social justice theatre: presenting masterful plays that align with a major issue facing our world.  I am really proud of the work we’ve done over the past 8 years.  We’ve worked with a dozen organizations form The Trevor Project to GEMS to the League of Women Voters.  We present plays and give a platform for activists and advocates to educate the audience on real-world issues that are presented in the plays. Right now we have Chuck Gorden’s Guarding The Bridge up at The Triad Theatre (158 W. 72nd St.).  It’s a short play that looks at generational racism. We’ve paired it with a powerhouse spoken word artist who presents immediately after – Dawn Speaks.  The last performance will be July 30th at 7pm.  For more info go to rippleeffectartists.com/productions and you can read about it, sign a petition to better moderate police violence, and learn more – or text the word RIPPLE to 77948.  Next season we are leveraging theatre to address climate change issues.

How important is legacy to you? 

This question feels like the elephant in the room!  For me, the most important piece of my family legacy is laying our own path and following our dreams, in the face of all odds.  I work for myself, so do my parents, so does my husband.  Expressing myself as an artist is a huge and important part of my life.   The director in me loves the legacy of creating opportunities for other people.  The parent in me – and it’s important to mention I have a 5 year old son – is not fond of the year-round grind.  Late nights are tough on a family, so I try to find balance.  I’ll rehearse daytimes and make sure I’m available to read my son to sleep.  I’ll take on maybe 3 or 4 big projects annually. That means the late night performances are periodic, but not a life-style.

What’s next?

Technically there’s a lot potential projects but no dates in my calendar – I’m available for hire!    I’m flattered to be in a few conversations about directing and choreographing.  I’m exploring a new musical with Mark Barkin.  I still want to direct that Chekhov play that’s rare (but I’m not going to mention the title right now).  Ripple Effect Artists will present a play on climate change in the Spring of 2019.  

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