Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spotlight On...Jennifer Little

Name: Jennifer Little

Hometown: Okemos, Michigan (nope - no one's ever heard of it!)

Education: Masters in Applied Theatre from City University of New York; Bachelors in Music from San Jose State University

Favorite Credits: Performing? Johanna in Sweeney Todd; Emma in Emma; Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera. Directing? Financial Slavery, Project Katrina, Glennsdale

Why theater?: Wow. How much space do we have? I am in theatre because it is home. I love the inclusivity of it. I love the fact that it is about the craft and not the politics (usually). I love love love the process of digging inside stories and then figuring how to tell them in meaningful ways. I love the fact that theatre is us. Our society, our stories, good, bad, pretty, ugly, heroic and cowardly. It helps us to have hope and critically analyze what we can do better.

Tell us about Financial Slavery: The College Debt Sentence: This show came from the hearts of our artists. All of them are young (18-25) and have either recently graduated college or are in college. We started with a spoken word piece, entitled Financial Slavery by Alyea Pierce, our amazing playwright. It was so powerful, that it compelled us to talk more about what student loan debt FEELS like. What it LOOKS like. The stories that came pouring out from our community were devastating. And the language that accompanied those stories - "selling their souls" "hopeless" "nightmares" inspired us to take this journey. I am of a different generation and was ignorant of just how difficult the country has made the American Dream of college and a better future. We started doing research and some fundraising to create the piece and once that happened, stories started pouring in from across the country. Parents wrote us, grandparents, and of course students. So the piece follows three fictional students inspired by real stories. We watch them struggle with the college dream and different paths. We also get brief snapshots of stories from around the country. We then invite the audience directly into the storytelling in order to let them have an opportunity to tell their story or voice their opinion or offer their ideas. (Not to worry - no one is compelled to participate). The piece is comprised of spoken word, dance, and story.

What inspired you to direct Financial Slavery: The College Debt Sentence?: I am an adjunct professor at two colleges. Hearing these stories, gaining a better understanding of the challenges our young people face inspires me. These artists are some of the most committed that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. They are talented, passionate and make me better by being part of the collaboration. And it is a collaboration. The piece is collaboratively written and directed. That environment speaks to me.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love socially important theatre. Something with a message. I saw Hamilton and was inspired. Not just by the writing, although obviously Lin Manual Miranda is a genius, but by the messages within. The power of immigrants, the question of "who writes our stories"? What is America? What does that mean? This is the type of theatre that speaks to me. Lin Manuel Miranda. Stephen Sondheim. Anna Devereaux.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Lin Manuel Miranda (in a heartbeat).

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  At the Fringe - I would recommend Zuccatti Park, a piece about economic disparity. Black and Blue, a play about the black community and police. And Akadina Project, a new reworking of Chekhov's The Seagull. In general, I would recommend Hamilton. I would also say The Humans.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I would probably be played by Meredith Baxter Birney and the movie would be called "Love, Theater and the Search for Peace."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would go back and see the original Pippin.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I am a total bookaholic. When I say total - I am crazy, if I didn't own a Kindle, I'd be sleeping on books. My husband says I need a 12 step program for my reading compulsion.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I don't know. I have tried other choices throughout my life. Public Relations - I always return home - to theatre.

What’s up next?:  I will be next directing a musical for The College of New Jersey. We are collaborating with the School of Deaf and Hard of Hearing to do a musical with both deaf and hearing performers. We will be utilizing American Sign Language. I am really excited about this, as I have never attempted this collaboration before but as Spring Awakening just showed us, it can work brilliantly. That will play in November in New Jersey.

For more on Financial Slavery: The College Debt Sentence, visit