Very few people have the gall to chase their dream as a professional actor; Jennifer is one of the few. I’ve known her since our tee ball days and have always been impressed at how fearless she is. Jennifer is currently traipsing around the Midwest leading acting workshops for school children. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about what life is really like as a professional actor.
Learn more on her website: http://www.jenniferallman.com/
Where are you right now?
I am sitting in my hotel room for the week in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. I have an amazing view of a snowy parking lot and the local Pizza Hut!
What company are you working with? How did you find them?
I just finished a gig with the National Theatre for Children and am now working for Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre. I auditioned for both companies (along with about 90 others) at a big regional audition back in February of 2013 called the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions. UPTA’s takes place every year in Memphis, TN and is an amazing audition and networking opportunity for actors wanting to travel and work regionally. There are big “cattle call” auditions like this all the time really, you just have to look for them.
When did you start acting?
I started when I was a kid. In first grade I had the longest monologue in a Christmas play about some famous kid being born in a barn. I’ve been hooked ever since!
Why do you love acting so much?
Acting is storytelling. To me, it’s primal. Sharing stories is as old as humanity is. Stories are not only entertaining but vital to our existence. I love being involved in a piece that challenges the audience to think about how they live and to consider changing something about that routine. I love pieces that pull people out of their comfort zone. Nothing does that like live theatre, for both the audience and the performers. Good stories have some sort of take away and I thrive on working as a medium to give that to an audience.
I also honestly love the vagabond, working artist lifestyle. A good friend and fellow actor once said to me (about Acting), “I’ve never worked a day in my life.” Which is totally true. We play. We get paid to play pretend. Actors are grown children who look normalcy in the eye and say “Aw, hell no.”
What’s your average day like?
Haha! “Average” is tricky for me currently, as every day and week is so different. And every couple of months I’m working for a new company on a new show or season of shows…But I’ll focus on right now. I have rehearsals Mon-Thurs and shows Friday and Saturday. Some weeks I have morning rehearsals and am up at 6:30 like a normal person, but most weeks I’m luckier and have afternoon rehearsals. I live in hotels, but I love cooking. And continental breakfasts are the bane of my existence, closely followed by hotel coffee. So, I usually make breakfast for myself with my electric skillet and coffee in my French press. What can I say, I’m a breakfast snob.
I also take advantage of the hotel fitness room (if it has one) and generally trek around town looking for quirky bits of Americana. My favorite haunts in any given town include local parks, antique malls, bowling alleys, dive bars, and tons of one-of-a-kind restaurants.
Afternoon rehearsals usually start around 3pm and I’m done by 7:30pm. So I generally work only about 5 hours a day. Except for show days those can be 8 hour days. It really depends. And Sundays we have off, but are also travel days. I am a pro at packing a pick-up truck or a mini-van. I knew all those years of playing Tetris on my TI-89 would pay off!
But seriously, the hours are great. I get tons of time to myself. When I’m not exploring or cooking or slushing through snow (we do a lot of that in Minnesota and Wisconsin) I read a lot, write a little, have your standard Netflix addiction, sample Scotch, and record voice-over auditions and gigs when I get them. That’s a whole ‘nother ballpark of performing, which I also love!
What are your responsibilities with the company?
With this gig I’m in a new town in the mid-west every week and I work in schools or community centers putting on an original adaptation of Peter Pan. I play Mrs. Darling and Tiger Lil. But aside from performing, my tour partner and I also direct the show. The other roles aside from ours are played by young artists in that town (ages 7-18). We have auditions, cast, rehearse, and perform the show all in a week with up to 80 young people. We pack up on Sunday and then do it again. It’s kind of insane, but good insane. What appealed to me about working with this company is that almost every town we work in has little to no performance programming. Our founder started the company back in 1987 with the desire to bring the theatre production process to young people who otherwise would never have access to it. It’s kind of beautiful and entirely rewarding.
We have a variety of other responsibilities as well. We travel with the set, the props, the scripts, and the costumes for the show and are responsible for the upkeep of it all. This means loading the set in and out every week, sewing and repairing anything that needs it, and—the most glamorous part of the job—spending a few hours every week washing up to 80 sets of children’s clothing in tiny, mid-western laundromats. You end up learning a lot about yourself in those moments. And you get weird looks from people. Which is the perfect recipe for a social experiment! Just kidding. But I could probably write a book or a play on conversations I’ve had in laundromats with strangers. I’ll probably call it Conversations I’ve Had in Laundromats with Strangers.
How many people do you tour with?
I tour with one other person, which can be a total toss-up. Will I hate this person that I’m spending three-five months with? Will they only want to listen to Ke$ha songs in the van? Will they be vegan and impossible to eat food with? But luckily, I’ve never had to answer ‘Yes’ to any of those questions and have only had awesome experiences with my tour partners.
What are your expenses?
The company covers all of my expenses. We use a company vehicle and they cover gas, oil changes, car washes etc. But we are responsible for recording and reporting those expenses weekly. The company also covers our hotels each week and we have a daily per diem for food. So, because I don’t own a car and I have per diem on top of my salary, my only true expenses are my cell phone bill and my student loans (which I should have paid off by 2016, yippee!).
Where do you want acting to take you? Broadway, Hollywood, Bollywood…
Ha! Of those three, Bollywood is easily the most interesting to me… I might try LA someday to pursue voice-over work and I might try New York one day…just to try the madness that is New York. But the city I’ve come to love and that I see myself settling in is Chicago. I want to study Improvisation, raw-storytelling. I love Improv Olympics and Second City would be a dream. There so much culture there, so much live performance; it’s the mecca of comedy. I really want to delve into that world. But when it comes down to it I’m just happy doing meaningful work with cool people. Fame’s not the end goal for me. Honestly, I’d love to end up professing at a University one day with my future dog and my future kayak and my future full-kitchen.
All of this is always subject to change on a moment’s notice of course…This summer I’m taking a course in Nicaragua to get my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate. So I may side track myself from performing sometime soon and just teach and travel abroad for a while. That’s my second passion, and was also my second major in college, Spanish. So it makes sense to try it on as a second career sometime soon. If that happens do I get a second interview?
I’ll definitely be following Jennifer’s adventures and so should you! Subscribe to her monthly mailing list to hear about her next move!
Have an interesting story to tell? Reach out to me, I’d love to interview you!