Jenny Kelly is a native New Yorker who was born in Staten Island and raised in Rockland County on a strict diet of Nana’s meatballs, old Hollywood musicals, and Roman Catholic guilt. Jenny spent every other weekend traveling between her two homes and from the back seat of her father’s work van, she and her sister gained a solid education in classic rock and hippy values. After taking nearly 15 years off to tackle life and raise a family, Jenny decided to return to college and to theatre. At thirty-something, she enrolled at Wagner College to pursue a degree in Theatre Performance, graduating with a B.A. in Theatre Performance & Speech, and a minor in Religious Studies. Upon graduating, Jenny founded Hemlock Theatre Co., and acts as the Creative Director for the company. Additionally, she is currently the Business and Sales Associate for Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens, Staten Island’s premier cultural site. Besides her love of performance, Jenny enjoys marriage, motherhood, road trips, cooking, spiritual philosophy, 80’s music, biking, forest exploration, Anne Rice novels, and general mischief making.
Enjoy my Q&A for your Tuesday Inspiration!
Victoria: Your history in the arts began in college. What’s the biggest lesson you learned in college be it on stage or in class?
Jenny: I suppose what college truly taught me was that it’s never too late to pursue your calling – whatever that might be. It also taught me a lot about allowing myself the chance to be open, honest, and vulnerable – on stage and off.
Victoria: When did you decide you wanted to start your own theater company?
Jenny: Hemlock was the result of a natural evolution. While attending Wagner College, I wanted to find a way to support a struggling non-profit I loved using the skills I had as a performer. In the summer of 2010, I produced my first show – Broadway Behind Bars – and donated 100% of our profits to charity. Each summer I was in college, I produced another show, eventually moving to scripted/well-known musicals. In 2013, when covering one of my productions, the local paper ran an article entitled “No Name Theatre Group to Produce…”, and I decided it was time to make things more official.
Victoria: What was your first step in doing so?
Jenny: First, I wanted to choose a group of people to come on the journey with me. I have interest in running a group alone. I thrive on collaboration, and believe the best work comes from creating in a group. I have a core group of friends that I love to create with, and I let them know what I was up to and offered the opportunity to be a part of that. It really is an amazing group of individuals who all bring something very unique to the table. The next steps just involved figuring out how to make it happen – getting a business license, bank account, insurance…all the less “fun” logistical preparation that has to go in with doing something properly.
Victoria: What advice do you have for other young women who want to manifest their passions into something greater, (as you did).
Jenny: Do it. It’s that simple. Two people in my life have given me important (and similar) advice. My father once told me that life wasn’t a dress rehearsal – that you have to go out there and make things happen rather than expecting someone to make them happen for you. He said “Jenny, I know what will happen if you DON’T go out and do it, which is nothing, so what’s the worst that could happen?” Years later, my friend and mentor told a group of us to simply “Ask for what you want”. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll be told NO, and you’ll find another way. So just GO FOR IT!
Victoria: In addition to Hemlock, you work full time, are a mother of two AND perform yourself. How do you manage your time?
Jenny: Very carefully! Everything I do, I am able to accomplish because I have an amazing support system that starts with my husband and boys. Without them picking up my slack at home, or cheering me on, I couldn’t do anything. Same with Hemlock. I don’t do it alone – I don’t pretend I can. I surround myself with people who are as hardworking and passionate as I am, and the rest happens from there. I also always have a book on my so I can write everything down so nothing slips between the cracks.
Victoria: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female leader?
Jenny: I’m grateful, because life hasn’t always been easy for me (not that it is for anyone). However, every struggle contributed toward making me a resilient individual. I’m not someone who is easily pushed around, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. Some people can perceive that has being bitchy or bossy, I’m sure, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to know I’m neither of those things.
Victoria: What advice do you have for young women in leadership positions?
Jenny: Always be open to learning from those around you, but also be confident enough to speak up when you believe in something, or have an opinion on how something should be accomplished. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, so make noise. Try, fail, pick yourself up, and try again!
Victoria: What are your favorite and least favorite roles you have done?
Jenny: It will sound cliché, but I don’t really have a least favorite role. I generally won’t put myself out there as a performer unless I’m really interested in being part of the project – I just don’t have the time. I think part of that comes from knowing yourself as a performer – what you have to offer, what you’re good for, and what you’re NOT suited for. My recent favorite roles include: Mrs. Potts (Beauty & the Beast), Audrey II (Little Shop of Horrors), Diana (Next to Normal) and The Witch (Big Fish).
Victoria: Do you have a favorite part of theater (on stage/production/etc)?
Jenny: My first love will always be performing. I feel closest to God when I’m singing, and there’s something so special about immersing yourself in a part and then sharing that beautiful exchange of energy with the audience when you get on stage. Secondary to that, I love producing. It’s almost like giving birth – you conceive this idea that you hope will translate well, and then you work your ass off to turn that idea into an actual product. I enjoy being on the other side of the table and working with my team to cast our shows.