Meet my friend, Jennifer Pilong - singer/songwriter, actress/playwright. When I decided to venture into this interview experiment Jenny was the first person who came to mind. In fact, the person and the idea basically came together. Now, I know MANY talented and creative people but Jenny seems to be dedicated to the creative process itself. As she says, "I have a real fifth chakra thing going on!" She has her hands deeply in so many mediums I was curious to know how she balances it all.
I first met Jenny in her incarnation as an actress. She is a card carrying Equity member who has been performing professionally since she was 17 years old and whose theatre credits are too numerous to mention here. Just believe me when I tell you she's a powerful and organic performer.
On the other side of the stage Jenny has musically directed some theme park shows, written a Christmas show which was performed at the Scottish Rite Theatre in Collingswood, NJ and Snug Harbor, NY. She also co-wrote the musical Fruitflies which was part of the Philly Fringe Festival and PGLTF. Most recently she wrote Ripples, a beautiful play about how the ripples we create can make a huge difference. Ripples had a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre this spring and after a few revisions, Jenny is now in the process of submitting it to other theatres and festivals.
Jenny-the-singer is also very busy. Jenny and her song writing partner, Stephen Kocher, make up the singer/songwriter duo, Jenny & Me. They are, as she says, "two happy kids with a penchant for sad songs." She also lends her powerful voice to Hotsy Totsy, "a three gal band that sings killer three part harmony in a style reminiscent of the Andrew Sisters."
As if all that isn't enough, Jenny also designs jewelry, paints, is a "bonafide fancer (that's a fake dancer)" and has recently started the lovely blog, Tiny Stone Big Ripples.
Jenny and I met for coffee last week and had a wonderful conversation. Here's some of what we covered :
Me: Jenny, you are involved in so many creative endeavors. Is there one that you consider your main discipline or are they all equal in your mind?
JP: I think they're starting to become equal. In the beginning, it was singing that I felt most comfortable with but then I got to AMDA (the American Musical and Dramatic Academy) and I realized that it doesn't matter if there's nothing behind the voice. One of my teachers said, "It's nice but it's vanilla pudding." At first I thought, "What do you mean, I just hit a high b-flat!!!" But after my initial impulse I immediately got it. I started putting the intention into my singing and that led naturally to the acting.
I've also always written but never with any discipline or intention until I became an adult.
Me: That leads me to another one of my questions. Did any of your talents come as a surprise to you?
JP: No. I was always drawn to anything creative. If we would have had more fat cabbage when I was growing up I would have taken any kind of dance class, painting class, ANY kind of artistic class I could get my hands on.
Me: Do you ever feel that because you are involved in so many different areas that one suffers while you concentrate on another.
JP: I used to. I always used to say, "If I'd just focus on one of them I could probably be really successful at it." And so, I had to make some decisions. I closed my on-line jewelry shop and sold off my inventory because I decided that the jewelry was just going to be for fun and just for me. I had to decide what I really wanted to make a living doing and I really want to make a living with something like Ripples. I want to write plays that make an impact and be an actress/singer. The acting/singing/writing all seems to work together for me.
Me: Has the fact that you've decided that some endeavors are for fun and some are how you make your living changed your approach to any of them?
JP: No, not really because I still love them all!! I guess the singing/writing/acting thing is just what resonates most strongly for me. I have a real fifth chakra thing going on. There's something about putting forth my truth...!!
Me: Is your creative process the same for everything? For instance when you're working on your jewelry, do you sit down and just start stringing beads together?
Me: And when you write, do you just sit down and start stringing words together?
Me: So, it's basically the same process?
JP: Kinda. For instance with Ripples, about ten years ago I said, "I want to write this show and I think it's going to be about 'this'." But, I didn't have the focus then. I wrote out the concept, some character sketches and a couple of scenes but that was it. I didn't touch it again until, well, just last year. But, when I started working on it again I scrapped just about everything except the core of the original concept and most of the characters. Then, I just started writing. I write long hand which helps free things up for me. I have this thing about how my writing can't be seen until it's perfect. (Laughing) I'm working on that! But, there's something about the long hand that frees you from that because who's going to read my chicken scratch. I can barely read it. So, I can write and even if I think, "this is crap" who cares because by the time I get it to the keyboard it's going to change.
Me: You mentioned that when this concept initially came to you, you were younger and didn't have the discipline needed to finish it. Did you have to deliberately create a writing routine for yourself?
JP: Well, I started again last summer... and the Phillies games came on at 7:00pm...so, I would make myself sit down at 4:00pm and say, "You don't have to write the whole time but you don't have the Phillies until 7:00...! So, I'd put on Annie Lennox or something cool and relaxing and I'd just write. Sometimes it was godawful hard, like extracting a tooth and sometimes it was easy. I also gave myself deadlines like, "I want Act 1 finished by here, the edits done by here. I find I work better that way even if they are self imposed deadlines. Otherwise...
Me: You may not bring the project to fruition?
Me: So, now Ripples is in a transition phase, recently re-edited and ready to submit. How do you flow to the next project? Does something catch your eye, do projects seem to just come into your life or do you deliberately say, "Basta, I'm done with this" and then seek out something new?
JP: All of the above. For instance Sadie (Jenny's six year old friend) was over the other day. She was sitting at the piano and she was singing and making up songs. She looked up at me and said, "It's better if you close your eyes." She had no worry about whether anyone would think it was stupid. She was just in it! The whole day was like that. The next day I wrote a song.
(the song, by the way, is Circles which is wonderful and which you can listen to here)
ME: Do you ever get stuck?
Me: How do you get unstuck?
JP: I find that spiders show up in the house when I'm stuck or when I need to get moving on something. Or, I'll dream about spiders, which are about creation and weaving. So, when the spiders start showing up I know it's time to get moving. I also write everyday but it's just writing...
Me: Like what Julia Cameron would call "Morning Pages?"
JP: Yes, just free flowing to get all the crap out. Sometimes, I walk or meditate or have a six year old over.
Me: What feeds you creatively?
JP: Louie, Louie and I together..
JP: We are pretty much always in collaboration.
Me: Are you good about taking care of yourself when you're really immersed in a project?
JP: I'm better. I'm starting to recognize that those little things can get me stuck if I don't take care of them. I can't work until the checkbook is balanced or the apartment is clean but again - Louie! If I'm really immersed in a project then he's got those things covered and he brings me sandwiches. And vice versa, I do it for him.
Me: OK, this question is mostly just for me because we both operate in the world differently than most people. Our schedules are much different than those of the rest of the world. I find I need to follow my natural rhythm, in fact, if I don't it can be one of the things that blocks me.
JP: (agreeing) YES!
Me: And, it seems to me that you're totally OK with the way your rhythm falls.
Me: So, if you get up at 2:00 in the afternoon, you're OK with that?
JP: Yeah! Louie says, "Don't TELL people that" and I say, "Why not, it's AWESOME!!" But, I've been this way all my life.
ME: Me,too, but I always feel guilty. Everyday I get up and say, "OK, tonight I'm going to bed early and I'm going to get up early."
JP: I have NEVER felt guilty. I've never felt I have to be a certain way. I think it's easier to just go with the flow and adjust as you need to.
Me: Are there any other ways that you have to adapt because the world works one way and you function differently?
JP: Well, it sucks that things close just when I'm ready to start something!
Me: What's next for you?
JP: Well. I'd like to do a full recording of Jenny & Me, I've been hitting the audition scene again and I'm getting ready to submit Ripples.
This is where the "interview" morphed into a full on conversation about where to submit the play, working styles, former roommates, SYTYCD, the Tonys, energy medicine and well - you get the picture. So, imagine yourself sipping the beverage of your choice, relaxing, and enjoying the laughter and vibrant energy of Jennifer Pilong. Let the vibration of her mantra, "I am a creative being here to bring peace, joy, healing and harmony to Mother Earth and all of her inhabitants" ripple over you!