Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Jena Slipp
Current Location: Anaheim, CA
Jena, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
The story of my musicality began before I was even born! I have a family that all perform or have an artistic talent of some kind. My mom and dad met in choir in high school, and my aunt is a choir teacher and performed in many community theater shows, including playing Wendy with Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. A good majority of my cousins were Young Americans and are now performers at theme parks and on cruises. At family gatherings, we perform for each other! No one can argue that our family does not have talent.
As for me, at the age of two, my mother put me on stage. Growing up, my dad was the pastor of a church in Rosemead, CA and my mom was on the worship team as well as the director of all children performances. Since a young age, I can’t think of a period of time where I wasn’t performing in some way! In high school, I was in choir, and was a cheerleader. Once in college, I started performing in musicals, and started receiving a good education in acting and singing. I’ve continued to perform in community theater productions as well as sing in a professional Christmas caroling group, The Lil’ Dickens Carolers. Singing is my passion and I hope to continue to perform in musicals for as long as I can!
Can you tell us about what you've been working on recently?
As much as it was a very strong possibility at one point in my life, performing is not the career path I chose. I am currently a Speech Language Pathologist, or SLP, and working for Magnolia School District in Anaheim. I help children, ages three to twelve, improve their articulation, overall language skills needed for reading, writing, following directions, and academically centered conversation, social and pragmatic abilities, especially for those on the Autism spectrum, fluency while speaking, for those that stutter, and vocal use. My favorite speciality in my field is definitely the area of voice. I hope to one day open my own voice clinic in Orange County that will be centered on helping anyone that has experienced vocal trauma- physical trauma from an accident, neurological trauma from something involving the brain, or even psychological trauma that can lead to one’s inability to use their voice-, has pathologies such as vocal nodules, polyps or cysts- most commonly seen in singers or people who use their voice professionally-, or just simply has difficulties maintaining good vocal hygiene. Currently, the school district is having the students participate in online learning which means teachers and specialists have had to change their curriculum to one that can be taught over Zoom or Google Meet. Adjusting to tele-therapy practices has not been easy but I have learned so much! I will take these new digital materials that I have accumulated and use them even when we are back inside the classroom.
Not only has my job’s day to day completely changed, my ability to perform live has been put to a halt for the time being. This pandemic has obviously taken away our opportunity to do live theater but it has left plenty of opportunity for learning how to use equipment to record yourself at home! I now have a whole setup with lights, a professional camera, and a microphone for recording! It’s not the same as performing live but it has definitely been an exciting and different way to perfect my skills. Interestingly, I just participated in a virtual musical which premiered on Facebook! I performed in the ensemble of GCG theatrical’s Chess the musical alongside some fantastic artists! We each individually recorded our parts at home then sent it to the director to edit and splice together. The end results were a total success and very entertaining to watch! COVID 19 has brought out a lot of negative outcomes over the last few months but I can easily list the positives that have arose, one being able to still perform but from the comfort of my own home, and two being given the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn to how perform on camera compared to a live audience!
What are some struggles you've faced along the way, and how have you overcome them?
The obstacles anyone faces when starting their career are typically very hefty. The obstacles a performer faces when beginning their career far exceeds those of almost any other career path. Performing as a career places you in a position where rejection is more common than not, skill must consistently be improved upon and the ability to adapt to new roles and be a team or cast member is a must. Being a performer is hard!!
I did not start doing musical theater until I got into college, which put me at a great disadvantage compared to my peers who had been acting since they were young. The dance training I had was from cheerleading, and my mother- who don’t get me wrong, had a good dance background. But it was provided to me for the purpose of dancing to a worship song, not dancing to a chorus number in a musical. And my acting, don’t even get me started on how bad I was at first. It took so much training, so much experience, observation of different actors, and allowing myself to be open to the critique, which I’m sure anyone would agree is the most difficult part.
The education I received at Irvine Valley and Saddleback Community College really molded me into a performer that seeks out ways to learn how to be a better performer everyday. My major obstacle that I faced, and still do face, as a performer was having a lack of my own self-confidence. When you enter an audition room with doubts about your abilities, that casting team can see that. I really struggled nailing callbacks because of the fears I had within myself, not because anyone else was holding me back. In total honesty, that doubt is why I am not a professional performer. Don’t be like me. Don’t stop yourself from living the performing life because of doubt. To answer how I’ve overcome this is difficult because I still very much doubt my abilities. But what I can say is because I love doing it, I keep auditioning and I continue performing in any way I can even if it’s not for a paycheck and just for fun.
Are there any lessons that you've learned along your journey so far? Something that you'd want to tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to not focus so harshly on my looks and to accept myself for who I am. Comparing yourself to others is so easy to do in theater, especially because that’s basically what all casting directors are doing while casting a show! But doing it to yourself is destructive and unnecessary.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
As I said earlier, do not give up and do give into self doubt. If you really want this career, then do not let anything stop you. Audition for everything, and I mean everything. Also, train yourself. Give yourself the time to get better at whatever you feel you need help with. Even if you’re a great dancer, keep yourself fresh and take another dance class. Even if you think you’ve mastered singing a song, perform it for a peer or your voice teacher and get their take on it. Different perspectives really help you be a better overall performer.
Be prepared for anything at an audition! They may ask you to sing three different songs! They may ask you to sing the entire song, not just your chosen 16 bars. Always have dance shoes and comfortable clothes with you in case they do a surprise dance call. And most importantly, be yourself. Don’t try to be that actor or actress you so aspire to be, don’t mimic the singing style of your favorite singer. Find your own personal acting and singing style, be the most genuine you, you can be. Casting directors want to cast you! When you walk in, they want you to be who they pick. Being a good actor isn’t about mimicry, it’s about empathy and your ability to be so true to yourself that that character you are portraying is you!
Can you tell us about an inspiring life event? Something maybe that inspired you to, at one point, pursue a life in the arts?
This may sound cliche but Disney was a strong influence on my desire to be a singer. I grew up in the generation that was lucky enough to get Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Hunchback of Notre Dame back to back to back in the 90s. I so badly wanted to be a Disney princess! And trust me, I auditioned at Disneyland multiple times. But I grew to learn that Disney is a wonderful company but very picky about the look and voice type they want their performers to have in the park. Regardless, Disney and their stories still inspire me and bring me such joy!
In regard to musical theater itself, I have been very inspired by a countless number of performers, Lea Solonga, Sutton Foster, Audra McDonald, Kelly O’Hara, Laura Osnes to name a few. The first musical I watched that truly shook me to my core was Les Miserables. Don’t get me wrong, as many young girls would agree, Wicked set the standard for my joy of singing, but Les Miserables took theater out of the idea that it’s just something I can watch, to instead something I can be a part of. Watching Lea Solonga as Eponine in the 10th anniversary of Les Miserables gave me the fire inside to learn skills past just singing; the goal was to also become a character written in a show and be that character on stage. My inspiration, in general, comes from pieces of music and story lines that move me the most. When the story is captivating, unique, awe inspiring, or even heart wrenching, I truly become inspired and want to be a part of a production that portrays the amazingness the story and music conveys.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
My proudest moment in my theater career has been getting to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the Rose Center Theater. I have loved this character since I was very little, I grew up singing all the songs, and I so aspired to be just like the beautiful Audrey Hepburn who played her in the movie. My aunt and cousin had both played this role and they are both performers I greatly look up to. This role was very challenging and I loved that I had to work very hard to get her character just right. Eliza has such complexity and has to go through a big transformation, not to mention a dialect change. On top of the acting challenge, her songs are also quite difficult to master! Feeling as if I had “run” a singing marathon after every performance is an understatement! To me, Eliza was the role of a lifetime and I would play her over and over again!
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What purpose do you think the arts play in today's society?
The arts, and artists, are crucial to opening the minds of all people in society. Where else would we be able to see and understand the differing perspective of others if not for watching the life of a character on screen or on stage? We may be able to converse with others about their opinions, but taking the actual perspective of another is not a simple task. The arts paint that picture for us through beautiful work that mirrors the emotions the artist feels. Songs you listen to everyday on the radio are more than just poetry, but actual accounts of how events shape how we feel; the television shows you watch that make you cry because you are feeling exactly what that character is feeling. We need the arts to stay attune with our humanity. Period.
What are your hopes for the future of the arts?
Because the arts are in such turmoil with this pandemic, my biggest hope and prayer is that those that have been put out of a job find a way to stay passionate about their art while also being able to find a means of income. I hate that I am hearing so many stories of artists struggling! The hope of this industry’s future is that it can be restored!
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