You learn you have been cast in a show. Fantastic! You don’t suck after all, someone wants you to act in their show! They didn’t think your choices in that audition were stupid. See, I tried to tell you that, but you were too busy repeatedly slamming your head into your bedroom wall to hear me. You did it… again. You do it quite often actually, now that I think about it. Why do you keep doubting yourself? That’s not rhetorical, I want to know… We’ll come back to that later. Anyway, now you get the full script (ooooh), you get a schedule (nice), and you get to meet the other actors. Yay!… yay? yeah?… If one of those actors happens to be Jennifer Summerfield, then yes, indeed!
I had been living in Philadelphia for a year or two when I first saw Jennifer Summerfield on stage, and, I’m not exaggerating when I say this, my first thought was, “How have I never heard of this woman? Why is she not famous? I want her to be cast in all the things! Everything!” Jennifer Summerfield is:
A Real Life Professional
Someone I admire.
I really can’t say more about her. If you haven’t, you should see her for yourself. If you have, you should see her again. It doesn’t matter when you are reading this, I’m sure she’s in something right now, because she is always working. I have been lucky enough to work with her a few times over the years, so, I used this privilege to sit down and talk with her in the only place I knew I could find her… inside the green room.
Jennifer Summerfield, you are special, I first saw you in Josh Mcllvain’s Carter’s Play, back when I was as green as a granny smith. You gave me goosebumps. As a matter of fact, I think I first saw you in one of the rehearsal’s leading up to the production and mistook one of your scenes for reality; I thought I was witness to a private conversation.
When you’re performing, how does it feel? Is Jennifer completely abandoned? Is there a unique feeling of energy radiating though your body?
Part of my training was to focus entirely on my acting partner so that every response would be a truthful reaction to what the other actor said, or more importantly, did. So often the most interesting things happen under the surface, behind the words. If you concentrate too much on what is being said, you miss the subtext, and your response is too often a canned, preconceived response based on what you think the words mean. One of the results of this is that I’m able to forget myself and connect as completely as possible with the other actors on stage, making stagefright easier to handle and making the scenes I’m in a true collaboration. I realized I wanted to pursue theatre professionally after doing a scene with a French actor and realizing how little the words mattered, that the connection we’d found on stage was akin to flying on a trapeze with someone you knew would catch you. It’s the most exciting feeling in the world! It makes you realize how rare it is to truly connect with someone in life, to really look them in the eye and know they’re looking at you right back. It only happens in moments of extreme passion, when people are falling in love or when they’re saying horrible things to each other.
I cannot imagine the number of plays you have taken on as a performer. When I was in college, one of my professors suggested to me, “If it’s not interesting to you, why do it? You’re performing a disservice to yourself and the world.” (referring to both choices as an actor and roles). As a seasoned actor, when considering plays and characters, what is interesting to you?
I love characters who do the inexplicable… who say the unforgivable thing or destroy the beautiful object for seemingly no reason. When I’m given the job of figuring out the motivations of a complicated character, it’s such a gift. I also love language; I love being allowed to say the circuitous, strange things people don’t seem to have time for in life.
I’m so grateful to have had the privilege to work with you, twice, at that! You are so very present, not just as an actor, but as a human being. When I was around you, I felt compelled to stop and pay you my undivided attention, because unlike most people, you were there. Do you ever feel the absent mindedness of others creates an obstacle for you, as an actor, considering both those you work with artistically and audiences?
There are certainly people who don’t take the job seriously, who view the rehearsal process as a sort of joke. We’ve all been late on occasion, or ill prepared, but when someone is consistently late and laughs about it, or makes a joke out of not knowing their lines, it’s a detriment to the rehearsal process. Sadly, it can bring the entire production down a level when there’s someone who is not fully committed to being there. When it’s a distracted audience, the energy of the room becomes chaotic, and, as an actor, I feel I have to work harder to maintain the integrity of the production.
Okay, from now on, when I’m at the first read through for a play or film, when we all go around in a circle and say something about ourselves, I’m going to recite what you just said, because it’s TheTruth.com… okay maybe I won’t do that, but I’ll make it the quote in my email signature? I don’t know, but I will find a way to use that!
I have this habit of acting out fantasy scenarios with uninformed parties. For instance, last year I was at a party talking to a young man I didn’t know very well, maybe we had spoken 2 or 3 times before. While we were speaking, a woman walked over and said hello to him. Enter fantasy world. I then turned to him and said,, “Who is this? Is this who you’ve been spending your time with instead of coming home and playing with your children?” I turned to her and said, “Did he tell you he was happily married when is started?”
Anyway, these poor individuals usually end up confused and embarrassed, but surprisingly, they try to navigate the situation. Do you have any interesting life habits rooted in acting or improvising?
Nothing as exciting as that! I do, however, regularly go to museums by myself and pretend I live in them, making sure to catch sight of myself in the antique mirrors so I can imagine they’re reflecting back my life in the room 200 years ago.
Wow! That sounds like so much fun. I would have never thought to do something like that.
What excites you about life?
I’m always excited by the idea of travel and seeing different cultures. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone anywhere exciting, but I’m really excited about one day going to Russia and traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I’m always excited about the idea of the next thing, the next project, the next collaborator.
My mom says I’m always excited about my next boyfriend….. and that’s why I can’t keep one. I should probably save this for my next group therapy session.
Can you talk about your cats?
When I moved into our house, Kyle had four cats and I had one. I always call Hennepin my “single lady cat,” because I got her when she was a kitten and I was living in Manhattan, in a one-bedroom apartment on a cliff overlooking Broadway. I named her Hennepin after an explorer who traveled with LaSalle. I read a book that said he died in “well-deserved obscurity,” so I thought it only right that the name live on (although I have since learned that all kinds of places are named after Hennepin in the West.) Now we have Roswell, who’s an internet celebrity and diabetic, and Lady Brack, who showed up on our doorstep with three kittens last year. They all hate each other passionately but love us.
What is the greatest struggle you have overcome in your life?
My shyness is an ongoing struggle that I have to constantly fight against and overcome. There’s not a single day when I don’t feel fear and anxiety, and I am constantly fighting the urge to give up and stay home. I hope one day to say I’ve completely overcome it, but I’ve a feeling it will be a life-long process.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself doing more of my own projects and creating one-person shows so that I’m not so dependent on other people’s ideas and schedules. It was a huge struggle producing “Hedda Gabler” in December, but I’m so glad we did it. It was a great learning experience, and I’d like to take what I learned from it and apply it to future projects. I see myself traveling more with my shows, doing arts exchanges in other cities. That would be hugely exciting for me.
What is love?
Love is respect; respecting your space, your words, your needs.
In that case, I respect you.
Catch Jennifer Summerfield in Sense and Sensibility at People’s Light Feb 10-March 20 2016!
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