Introduce yourself! Who are you?
My name is Jessica. I am an artist and communicator — and I’ve been lucky enough to do this on stages across the world. I spent a season dancing and singing with touring broadway shows. I’ve been in some incredible venues, playing my own music—the Blue Note, Gramercy Theater, and The Sage, Gateshead, to name some of my favorites. I just finished writing a book that will be published soon. I’m grateful to be a wife to an incredible person—TJ; we live in Boston with our young daughters, Charlee and Willa, and our pup Luna.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is to keep a sense of humor. I’ve been through some deep grief (we lost our son at 35 weeks two years ago; before that I survived a disastrous first marriage), and the ability to find humor—still!—was and is a lifeline. Even at our son’s funeral, my husband and I were able to catch each other’s eyes over something that was said that we both knew the other found funny and, through our tears, stifled laughter. That laughter reminded me that we are still us—-hurting, yes, but still us. There is tremendous comfort in realizing that the pain we experience doesn’t actually end you—and humor plays a part in this realization. Sorry to get so deep in the second question—I guess now we’re in it!
What would you say to 16 year old you?
Keep writing and noticing everything. Also, it’s a good thing you decided to always say yes whenever someone asks you to share your talents—that’s opened some pretty great doors. And ps, eventually you need more than a training bra, so STOP STRESSING
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
Oh my goodness, who HASN’T? I’ve been auditioning since I was a teenager and have received so many NO’s, I’ve lost count. But all of those rejections helps me to cherish the hard-won YES that finally comes. When I went in for the Broadway show, A Chorus Line, the production team saw me maybe five times before telling me I have the gig, either in NYC or the 1st Nat’l Tour—whichever one happens first. Then a month passes and they call me in AGAIN, saying I don’t actually have the job and can they see me again. I’m devastated and then just mad. I go in and see other girls who look like me, vying for the same role, and I can’t believe I’m here again: no guarantees in terms of job stability and having to prove myself. Again. My train is late, I am late, I get my period there; it’s kind of awful. The audition feels like a Hail Mary and by now I am numb and have detached myself from the outcome. I dance and sing with nothing to lose and there’s a power in this kind of thing. Because that day I get the call: You have the job. I can’t help but be sarcastic just a little bit; I ask if I have it for real this time. They say yes. Rejection is an important part of growth, just like every growing thing gets pruned. Don’t let it define you; do let it fuel you.
What message do you think every woman should hear?
I grew up with parents who have an egalitarian marriage. I heard the same message as my brothers: be kind, have faith, forgive, have a sense of humor, fall in love with books, be mindful of the story your life tells. I’m not sure women and men need to hear different general messages, unless you’re talking specifics, like what to do when you get your period for the first time (which is a very important message and involves more than simply carrying your own entire roll of toilet paper in your purse for an entire week, which is what I did at thirteen!). I’ve never doubted that I can do whatever my brothers do—and feel shocked when I run across people who doubt this.
What do you love most about yourself?
My ability to tell my story through words, music, art, dialogue, whatever. I do this over and over again and it saves me over and over again—especially when pain would otherwise drown me, I think. I’m grateful for this ability to tell my story, because it takes me from victim (“these are the things that have happened to me!”) to empowered person with a complex life—like just about everyone else (“it is my honor to choose the words and medium to share my life with you!”).
How do you manage your work-life balance?
I suspect actual, perfect balance might be a unicorn. I’ve found that different seasons ignite different parts of me, and I simply try to pay attention. When I am writing a book, this is my main focus, and everything else blurs (except for my family; but we also are lucky enough to have my sister to help with the wonderful load of raising kids, which is no light thing, I realize). Right now, I am prepping for two shows this summer, so all of my spare time goes to creating these shows and memorizing my music. I’m usually with the girls throughout the day and work on my own craft at night, once they’re asleep. This time is essential to my well-being as a human and an artist.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
Read, write, and pray. Also, keep a gratitude journal—this helps my focus as I glean the day for the good that is always here, but sometimes easy to miss.
Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
I knew I was an artist, and this has presented differently through the seasons. I started out performing 8 shows a week, singing and dancing. Then I was doing mostly music. Then I had babies and I do a lot of writing and perform upon occasion. I am grateful for all of it. And, no, I didn’t know exactly what it would look like when I started. Also, no, I still don’t!
Were you scared to start the process?
No. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been scared to create. Sometimes I wonder afterward if it’s any good, but I have to do it. I’m compelled to. It’s either write or be unwell, I think, for me.