Dear Readers, This week we take a trip into the head, heart, and soul of, Me!
Previously on the blog, I interviewed a few of my artist friends about what it means to be an artist, and it was so much fun, I wanted to see how it felt to be an interviewee, so without further ado, my artist interview with Professor Gab Peña!
The following is a condensed version of my interview with the artist known as Jennifer McKenna Haston. In the following paragraphs G is Gabriel Peña (me) and J is, of course, Jennifer.
G – Simple start, your name: What is it?
J – Interesting story. Jennifer Mckenna Haston is my name now. I was named “Jennifer Rose” for a soap opera star. When I got married it was important for me to take my husband’s name. I’m very proud to be Jennifer McKenna Haston. My name is a piece of who I was and a piece of who I am now. I always watch the credits at the end of a movie, to honor all the people who worked on it. It happens every now and again, I will see McKenna and I tried to shrug it off as “not my name any more” and my lovely friend (Dr. Keya Howard Litt) reminded me that I should be proud of that, even if not all of my childhood was something I want to claim, it doesn’t mean I have to throw my whole past away. There’s also no hyphen between McKenna and Haston, I legally changed it so that McKenna is my middle name. It’s all part of picking up your identity and deciding what it will be.
G – What role does preparation play in your artistry?
J – Two things in equal measure-Improv and Preparation- which sounds counterintuitive- Improv was the first level of acting I learned about and I love the lesson of “permission to fail” and the sense of play you have in improv. On the other side believe preparation is key. Richard Robichaux (previous acting teacher) talks about lazy actor syndrome. I think many people believe actors are lazy so I want to show how actors are actually VERY responsible and hard-working.. There is so much planning and preparation involved in being an artist, you have to prepare to audition, (rehearse for said auditions) and when a casting director or agent asks you if you will consider nudity, you have to know your boundaries and know your limits. You can’t answer that honestly if you haven’t prepared what you will say when asked. In preparation, you find peace. If you’re not fully prepared you know it, you feel it. I’ve experienced it. When I showed up prepared to “play” for Richard’s (former acting class) it wasn’t a difference of night and day it was like a whole other country. The same goes for any audition or interview.
G – How do you define your artistry? You wear many hats, an actor, stage manager, director How do you identity yourself, what do call yourself?
J – Since taking Richard’s class I identify as being an artist. People know me as a director in this town (Austin, TX) and I make it clear I’m an actor first. So the biggest change, since taking Richard’s class, I’m no longer afraid to audition for lead roles. Richard’s class helped me put it in perspective, by saying, “I train leads, if you want to be Horatio, great, but I train Hamlet.” It also helped me clarify that I had a talent to offer. It allowed me to treat this as a career I am committed to, not a hobby. When I’m directing I want to be acting or if I’m stage managing I feel that desire to be on stage. But when I’m treading the boards there is no where else I want to be.
G – What was your first artistic love? Film, tv or theatre?
J – Theatre. In fourth grade they changed the name of the play we were doing so I could star in it. They changed the “boy” in the title to “girl” for me. That was it, I was hooked.
G – Is there a particular type of show you love doing?
J – I have to say musicals. I love to sing any chance I get. I had a singing lesson earlier that was amazing and it’s a chance to be creative in my life right now, my instructor is amazing and I love singing so much more now that I have been working on getting better. I have auditioned for “The Voice” four times, and each time, I feel like I get closer and closer, and that’s because of Cara. She is wonderful! I am better in her air, it’s as simple as that.
G – What is a piece of advice that you would give others interested in the arts?
J – I’m gonna borrow from Michael Shurtleff’s book “Audition” and say, “make sure this is something you have to do”. Knowing what your limits are is so important. It’s important, if you want to pursue it, to ask yourself “why?” If you want fame or to make a lot of money there are easier ways to do that. If you want to be part of the family of artists, however, you have to know why you want to do it.
G- Wby do you do it?
J- I do it because I love honoring stories. Because I love learning. Because it opens a place for me that I just don’t have otherwise.
G – Critique/Feedback comes up in the arts, what is your relationship to it?
J – I’d love to be say, “I love feedback, it’s great, it’s amazing, I have no problem with it and crave it” but I will tell you, criticism is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life, it’s only in the process of preparing this TEDX speech (in the last 2 years) I’m getting better at hearing it and applying it.
G – Can you tell me about that work, what it’s about, what it means to you?
J – Sure, It’s about communication. I see TED as applying a mix of artistic skills. I am going to try hard not to get emotional here and likely fail miserably, which is fitting, because when you think about something as important as a TED talk, you SHOULD get emotional, you SHOULD be invested. My Ted Talk is about communication, and when I think about communication, I think about my daughter. She’s been struggling to communicate with us. I think about the visions I had for her and me talking and talking which is still in the future, and it’s not now. I am REALLY struggling with the “not now” part of that. I figured that at almost 3 years old, she’d be talking a mile a minute now and she isn’t, that’s the reality. I mean you always have expectations around your kid, and I have come to realize, she DOES communicate, with her eyes, hands, and sign language. It just looks different from what I envisioned. Something I’ve said since she was born was that she was born with her own timeline. It’s a good lesson that everyone has their own timeline. I think it will make it so much richer when we do have those conversations in the future. I didn’t want to be a mother for a long time because of my traumatic childhood, but now, I cant imagine my life without her and being a Mom is so wonderful and awesome and hard and awesome and hard and awesome and it’s exactly different every day. Circling back to communication, …In society I think we’re lacking in communication. There are digital detox camps. It’s an acceptable addiction. People don’t look at each other in restaurants, they’re in their phones, and understand though I’m speaking about this, I really struggle with this personally. We’ve substituted digital connections for real connections.
G – Okay Jennifer, time for the speed round: Greatest artistic strength? Greatest Challenge? Favorite Artist? And, lastly, any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
J – My greatest artistic strength is my willingness to learn. Something I want to do better is dancing. Being a strong triple threat. And, aw woman, my favorite artist is…most consistently, Kermit the Frog. The heart of Kermit is what I connect to. He’s the one to pass on good news or to prop up those who need it. Jim Henson said Kermit was the best parts of him. He’s an incredible character because he is more than felt – Kermit is an amazing idea brought to life.
G- Final thoughts?
The final words I want to share…that I hope my legacy as an artist, mother, and friend is that we all have a story to share. My blog title is “Nobody has a voice like you”, truly truly you should use YOUR voice. Your words have value and the thing you say or write could touch someone to make their own art.
What can you share today that might inspire artistry in someone else?
Think About It.