Q & A with actress and Schoolhouse Theater manager Jenny Smith
She’s wowed audiences on the stage of the Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater many times before, and now, Jenny Smith has been kind enough to grace the pages of the Islander. Read on to find out what this stylish southern girl’s dream role would be and why you probably shouldn’t challenge her to a video game tournament.
Where did you grow up and what brought you to Southwest Florida?
I was born in St. Louis, Mo., where most of my family now lives and where I call home, but, I grew up in Jonesboro, Ark. We moved there from St. Louis because my dad went to work with my uncle as a mechanic for Mack Trucks. I went on to get my BFA in Theater at Arkansas State University and later, an MFA in Acting from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
It was at Arkansas State that I met my now-fiance Brian. His parents, Donna and Jerry Hubbard, retired down here. So, when Brian and I finished all our schooling, he applied for a job at The News-Press (he got it) and I auditioned at the Florida Rep (I didn’t get it!)
What’s your family like?
I am the youngest of five brothers and two sisters. My dad died from cancer when I was sixteen so my middle brother, Joe, pretty much took care of me, one of my sisters and my mom. By that time, most of my other siblings were married or moved out of the house. When I get married, I want Joe to walk me down the aisle.
When our family gets together for holidays, it is crazy — but fun.
Two years ago, my brother Ron also died from cancer. I think about him every day. My other family is Brian’s parents and his sister, Kristy. Kristy lives in Kenosha, Wis. and we just visited her this September. Every Sunday night, you will find me and Brian at his parents’ house for dinner and games.
Audiences have seen you onstage at the Schoolhouse many times. When did you first come to the Schoolhouse?
I first auditioned for the Schoolhouse two years ago. I was working at 106.3 WJPT (now Sunny 106) as a DJ, but my position was being moved from full-time to part-time, so I decided to make a change. I did two shows in 2008 and 2009, “Play On!” and “Out of Order!” In August of 2009, I was asked to be the house manager and props manager after Bobby Logue decided he wanted to start teaching dance full-time. Those were some big shoes to fill, I can tell you — the audiences never stopped asking me, “Where’s Bobby?” Everyone, including myself, loves Bobby!
In 2009-10, in addition to the house managing duties and props searching, I got to perform in “Plaza Suite” and “Unnecessary Farce.” That was a very fun year and I learned a lot.
When did you first know you had a passion and talent for acting and theater?
As I mentioned, I am the youngest of eight kids — so I was always hamming it up to get attention. If a joke got a laugh once, then that joke was told a million times, just to get that laugh. After awhile, I would realize my schtick was getting old, so I was always looking for something else that would get a laugh or get all the attention on me. At the same time, I could always be found alone in our backyard in Arkansas climbing trees and riding the huge propane tank like it was a horse. I would use the spray nozzle from the garden hose as my gun and I was James Bond. A curtain rod was my light saber. In a house full of siblings, it’s funny that my best work was done alone, away from my audience!
So far, what have been some of your favorite or most memorable role?
My first favorite would have to be Anne Boleyn in “Anne of the Thousand Days.” I did that role in undergrad, but I would love to try it again now that I am older. (Then again, I may now be too old to play her!) My other favorite was the Marquis de Merteuil in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (the role Glenn Close had in the movie version of the play, “Dangerous Liaisons.”) That was my thesis role the last year of graduate school. I did so much background work on that character, that by the time I got on stage, I thought I WAS her!
What’s your dream role?
My dream role is Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” — but that will never happen since I can’t sing. So, instead, I will have to say Susy Hendrix, the blind lady terrorized in “Wait Until Dark.”
If you could be in a production with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
For an actor, I would say Daniel Day-Lewis. He is the absolute best actor of our time — a huge method actor. He raises every performance to perfection. Actress, I would have to say Katherine Hepburn. Her comedies were hysterical and her dramas were divine.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I am a child of the ’80s, so I LOVE video games. I have every Nintendo Game System — from the first Nintendo console, to the Super Nintendo, N64, GameCube, Wii and of course, the Nindendo DS. Brian and I play video games every night. It is one of the best ways to relieve stress.
The other thing is that I love to read torrid historical romance novels. What is fun about the novels is that the men are gentleman and the women are ladies. They hate each other at the beginning and then realize they are made for each other. The books are like Jane Austen’s, but a little more racy!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love fashion magazines, re-reading the Harry Potter Series, shopping and making crafts. And there should always be a nap if there is time in the day.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become an actor, but might be afraid to get up on stage?
Take classes! Or start out small by helping backstage so you get comfortable with the atmosphere of theater. Then, maybe work up to a non-speaking role. But I can promise you this, anyone can get up onstage if they are prepared. At the Schoolhouse, we rehearse for up to eight hours a day, six days a week, for two weeks. Some theaters have rehearsal periods of three to four weeks. Once the lines are memorized, then it is about connecting to your fellow actor. It’s about trust — in yourself and the character you are presenting. It’s about re-acting, not just acting. And you must listen on stage. If an actor is too aware of himself on stage, the audience can sense it, but if you give yourself over to the character, they will want to go with you on that journey. It is never too late to start your voyage!
What’s it like working both on and off the stage at the Schoolhouse?
I have my dream job. When I was younger, I thought I was going to be a famous movie actress. But as I got older, I realized that it wasn’t about being famous (don’t get me wrong, that would be awesome!) it’s about loving what you are doing. It’s about connecting with an audience. Every day at the Schoolhouse, I am truly glad to be there. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some stress — if there wasn’t, it would be boring! When I am working backstage on a production, my job is to make everyone else look good. The props have to be in place and sometimes I help with costume quick-changes. When I am onstage, my job is to connect with the other actors. I try to present a story to my audience without letting them know I know they are there. Every time — and I really do mean every time — before I walk out on stage, I am terrified. I ask myself why I put myself through this misery. And then I walk on stage and I remember why. It’s because I have to tell the story.
Are you involved in any productions right now? Where can people see you on stage?
I just finished playing Eve in “Searching for Eden: The Diaries of Adam and Eve” at the Theatre Conspiracy in Fort Myers. My next role will be at the Schoolhouse in “It Runs In The Family”, a farce by the hilarious Ray Cooney. I cannot wait to get started!