Jennifer Blaine: How to Rock a Creative Life

Looking to unleash more creativity in your life and career?

Then this conversation with Jennifer Blaine is sure to rock your world! Jennifer is an in-demand, multi-hyphenate actor-comedian-solo performer-voiceover artist who has shared the stage with comedians Chris Rock and Joe Piscopo and worked with distinguished actors including Laura Linney, Joanne Woodward, and Paul Newman.

For the past 25 years, she has performed original one-woman shows that delve into social issues and, as a theater teaching artist in her hometown of Philadelphia, she has also worked with youth to create original plays on issues from bullying to civil rights. In addition to performing, Jennifer is a member of the American Counseling Association and has coached hundreds of people worldwide toward actively creating what they want in their lives.

In this heartfelt, insightful, funny, and thought-provoking chat, Jennifer reveals how she rocks a creative life — and how you can, too.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [4:08] The teacher who inspired Jennifer to raise her voice, and other sources of inspiration and courage
  • [6:54] Why Jennifer is willing to show up and stand in the unknown, and even fail onstage
  • [13:44] How Jennifer helps others bring forth their talents and follow what’s most exciting and heart-centered [19:07] Why artists’ voices should be valued and financially rewarded
  • [20:54] The sexist (and incorrect) assumption that Jennifer’s husband supports her creative life
  • [24:00] The reason Jennifer feels compelled to share women’s stories in her work
  • [26:21] Jennifer’s one tip to rock it

Links from the episode:

SHE ROCKED IT is a podcast and virtual community dedicated to raising the volume on women’s voices. We believe that when women listen to, learn from, and lift one another up, we can ALL soar to greater heights.

Episode Transcript:

SHE ROCKED IT / KAREN GROSS: Hey rockstars, thanks for tuning into the, SHE ROCKED IT podcast. It has been awesome to hear your responses to the podcast so far, if you haven’t already feel free to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or on our YouTube channel. And if you want take a screenshot, as you’re listening to this episode and share it with us on Instagram @SHEROCKEDIT, it’s been amazing to hear what you’re learning and how you’re getting inspired from these women’s stories. And today I am so excited that you’re going to get to hear from Jennifer Blaine. There is no doubt that she is going to get your creative juices flowing. She is a one-woman creative force. She is an actress. She is a comedian for the past 25 years. She has been creating one-woman shows that often delve into social issues and many times into women’s issues. (01:40) I met Jennifer at an alumni event for Wesleyan University, where we both went to college and I was instantly drawn to her creative spirit. And, uh, we’re also fellow performers. And over the years, she has mentored me and helped me get to my next level as a performer and as a creative, uh, she has shared the stage with the likes of Chris Rock, with Joe Piscopo with other, uh, distinguished actors and comedians. And in addition to her own creative practice over the years, she has coached and taught many others of all ages from high school students to adults. And I know in this conversation, you’re going to learn so much about how to inspire your own creativity while you hear how Jennifer Blaine rocks it.

JENNIFER BLAINE: So wonderful to be with you and be in conversation with you.

SHE ROCKED IT: Well, it’s always such a pleasure and honor, and always lots of laughs as well. So I’m sure we’ll have some of that today, but truly I meant what I said, which is that as I was reflecting on this conversation, I was also reflecting on the multitude of ways that you have inspired me and many others to raise our voices. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you raise your voice? I’ve touched on some, but maybe what’s given you the courage to raise your voice as a comedian, as a playwright, as an actress, as a voiceover artist. And then of course, as a teacher and coach, what’s given you the courage and the inspiration to do that for so many years?

JENNIFER BLAINE: (03:02) I think that I have a burning desire to address things and to speak about things. And I think that desperation to transform, uh, whether it’s like, um, a major issue or, um, a challenge in somebody’s life, I feel, uh, uh, profound, uh, propelling forward that I must do it. So it really doesn’t even matter if I’m terrified or I don’t know what I’m doing. I really trust that I need to do this feeling to give me courage. Um, and also I absolutely lean on people in my life. I ask for help. And I ask for contribution. I asked for ideas, I had this incredible, uh, theater artist who gave me, I needed to find a director for a project. And I actually had only had one meeting with her. And I said, I was just wondering if you know, directors and Philly. And she said, here you go. (04:08) And she sent me a list of 80 directors, just like, you know, because I asked. And so I feel like I trust that feeling. I’m I must to get, I must go after this. I must get this done. Um, but I also think that we get courage because people reflect back to us that we have something to say that really matters and that our voice matters. And for me, that really started with my teachers. So in second grade, I had this great teacher named Mrs. Watson, who was a tall black woman. I’m from New York City, right. I’m from Brooklyn [inaudible] and she was my math teacher and my music teacher and we each loved bread shoes. So I felt like we were the same in some way. And she put me on the stage and she gave me a song to sing. And she’s like, I want to hear that voice echo through this whole auditorium. And she just required that for me at seven years old. So I thought I was supposed to fill a space, you know? Um,

SHE ROCKED IT: Thank you, Mrs. Watson, thank you to these teachers who have lifted us up.

JENNIFER BLAINE: (05:24) I love Mrs. Watson, um, such an extraordinary person. Actually. They renamed my public school after her. Um, so it’s not [inaudible] anymore. It’s [inaudible] school. Um, and I think teachers through the years really have made a huge difference to me. And, um, I also think that just watching other performers, um, and other change-makers in the world have given me a lot of courage, um, and just even a window into what’s possible.

SHE ROCKED IT: (06:01) Amazing. So interesting to hear those kind of foundational blocks along your journey. And, um, as I was reflecting on today’s conversation, I also realized that you, for me model, um, a woman who has certainly raised her voice, but also someone who is a full-time creative, you are a creative force. You’re always creating and you’re raising your voice. As I mentioned, as a comedian, you’re always writing new, uh, solo works, other plays. And by the way, in, in lockdown, you just happen to write a musical. So that’s 

JENNIFER BLAINE: (06:40) Oh, musical. And I thought, this is the time to do it. I had time. I mean, I made time really is the truth, but yeah. Um, and I think, I, I know you were saying something about me being a creative force and

SHE ROCKED IT: Run with it, please. Cause this is a yeah,

JENNIFER BLAINE: But I, I just wanted to reflect back that, like, even though that’s absolutely true for me where I find myself a lot of the time is that I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to do it. I know I want to, I feel a huge, like I was saying before, like a yes or even a desperation, I, I find that being willing to stand in the unknown with facing a huge challenge, um, or huge feeling. I also think that our feelings can be so dominating and, uh, fear can paralyze us and various traumas or challenges we’ve been through can really color what we think is possible and have us forget, you know, what we really need and want. So I just show up and as much as possible in the unknown and just try and I find that that is very useful because even if it’s sucks, it’s like a starting point. And I I’m one of my favorite things to do with an audience is to try something and to really listen to what, how they’re hearing me. And, and I think some of my best moments have come from failing and, and pointing to that. Yeah. That really, that, that was a bad joke. Like how much did you hate that joke? You know, and like, what would you have done differently? And just having that sense of we’re in this together and we’re equals, and we’re going to make something right now is, is so exhilarating and joyful.

SHE ROCKED IT: (08:30) I think that’s so incredible because I feel like what you do, which is in good part comedy and doing solo performance, those are probably among the most terrifying things that I think a performer could take on and people when they think, oh my gosh, I have to get up and tell jokes or do stand up or just be alone on stage. I mean, for you to say that’s an exhilarating thing, I think is such a special and unique point of view because I would say that for most, um, to tell a joke and to have it fall flat. Wow. So, so give us a little insight into maybe others could, oh my gosh, this is utterly terrifying and potentially humiliating too. Wow. I’m going to take this on as something that could be really a breakthrough potentially?

JENNIFER BLAINE: I think a lot. Look, when I’m preparing for a solo (09:17) show, I’ll have like, I’ll know like what the beats are like, it’s going to go like this, then they should laugh. And then when you get there on stage and it goes, they laugh, they laugh prematurely. First of all, the people always laugh at me and I’m like, what, what was funny? (09:30) Like, I don’t know what I did. And so, (09:33) And so it’s, so it’s so takes you off guard and then you’re waiting for the laugh at the other place. So I feel like it’s that process of like, actually I’m here with you now. I have my set script of what I think I’m going to say and what I’m going to do and what I really want to get across. And then it also can’t matter that much in the moment, because what really matters is what landed for somebody else.

SHE ROCKED IT: (09:57) That’s so beautiful. I love being open to whatever’s actually happening. You can plan, we can plan. I know I’m a planner. I try to make sure everything is this and that. And then I realized that the good stuff is often in the unplanned. And, uh, thank you for reminding us of that through the lens of comedy, because I do feel like that’s the ultimate place for that to really, um, be kind of made manifest is the out when people laugh in a spot that you didn’t expect and what are you going to do, be mad at them about it. It’s actually kind of a wonderful revelation, like, oh, there’s humor in that moment. So amazing. Now I want to talk to you about, um, creating your life because I know as a coach, um, that’s kind of a tagline I saw on your website is helping people create their lives. (10:43) So in addition to you creating on stage and creating these amazing, um, improvised moments and comedic moments, uh, you work with people one-on-one as they sort of unfold what their lives are going to be, and maybe even step into their creativity and their fullest expressions. So let’s maybe start with, before we go into how you help others do that, let’s talk about your own life and creating your own life. Because as I mentioned, you’re really a full-time creative and I kind of feel like people get a little skeptical of folks when they say, oh, I’m an actress. Or I do voiceovers, I’m a comedian. And I know as a musician, as a writer, sometimes over the years, I’ve gotten things like, so that’s you do that? Full-time or is that a hobby? Is that a side game? What’s your day-to-day?

JENNIFER BLAINE: (11:29) Everything is full-time, right? Because I am working full time. You know, people wanted (11:33) to slice and dice what percentage? And I mean, before I had a child, I really could say, yes, it’s 50 to 75% is performing and writing and voiceovers. And yes, after child, it was more like 75% is coaching. And now I’m in this other time where it’s very hand in hand, um, I’m, I’m pursuing so many different things all the time.

SHE ROCKED IT (12:01): That’s amazing. I think you’re such a wise person and you’ve always been in my life, someone who has given me permission to just be totally real with you. And if I may just share, um, the ways along my path that you have provided breakthrough coaching for me, I remember when I was, um, starting my musical life professionally. I was a singer-songwriter, um, doing kind of coffee houses and then kind of fell in love with the cabaret scene, which had a much more theatrical, um, vibe. And I was able to really express myself even more fully. And, and I wanted to take on some comedy and I wanted to take on playing different characters on stage. And the first person I thought of to come to was you to give me that confidence and also the skills technical skills. And, and, um, you helped me with scripting. (12:54) And I just wanted to also say, you know, in addition to all the coaching, you bring all the different facets of that. Like, you really helped me step into my voice as a performer. That was probably 10, 15 years ago. So first I want to thank you for that and then more care. So cool. Truly, yeah, more recently. I think the coaching I did with you had to do with stepping into my full creativity as a businesswoman, you know, marrying the different aspects of my writing and singing and guiding people into and really helping to birth SHE ROCKED IT You just have this way of kind of synthesizing a person’s gifts and stories and all of this to help them almost see, we can’t see ourselves, we can’t turn the mirror on ourselves as easily as a brilliant person like you. Well, really you and all your gifts, you can do that. We can’t often do that to ourselves. So thank you.

JENNIFER BLAINE: (13:44) You know, I love that. I love that phrase about synthesizing to me. I think that’s absolutely right, but I think that maybe an and yes, we can’t always do it ourselves and we need other people to input. But I also think that that quality of being able to synthesize, I just love being about what’s best for the other person. I love listening that way. I love looking at all their gifts. I love being like, you know, what have you ever explored this? Have you ever done that? Because you’re amazing at this. I love cheerleading. I love championing people. I think that the synthesizing is really tracking. Like what’s, what’s most exciting. What’s most heart-centered what, what is this person maybe overlooking about themselves that is so extraordinary that maybe even made difference for me that I could just be like, Hey, you gotta remember how awesome you are and what, what you remember when you set this. Remember when you did this. And, and that’s as simple as following the energy of, I just have this other, I need to say, there’s this other thing they need to, they need to remember about themselves. 

SHE ROCKED IT: (14:57) You know, you have such a special gift for that. And I know that’s also a gift that you bring when you teach young people to, um, high school age, young people, um, you’ve empowered them to see their gifts, you know, and I know personally, I’ve, you know, know some of the young people who’ve benefited from your, your mentorship. So tell us a little bit about that too. I mean, I know that you’re working with young people in Philadelphia, so not only again, performing and coaching adults in their lives, but also people who are aspiring performers.

JENNIFER BLAINE: (15:28) Yeah. I, I don’t know why I’m going to cry. I think so it’s funny because I, I didn’t know what we talk about today had sense, but like, you know, who’s given me courage to speak. I’m like, well, teachers, and I didn’t think I’d be a teacher, but I got to do this program called showstoppers that was hosted by the Kimmel center is education department. And I was so fortunate to be the theater artist, uh, the theater arts instructor. So what happened is we took issues that were up in our community of Philadelphia and for young people. And I would ask them what was going on for them. And then I would take some storylines, put it through my imagination, spotlight, spotlight, our more actory people. Um, and I would give people as many opportunities to speak, uh, to have showstopping moments, to be funny, um, to be dramatic. (16:35) And so like our first year, it was all about how there were budget cuts, um, to the arts here. And I remember sitting in a meeting with another, uh, theater artist, uh, that was at the Kimmel, who was like, well, you know, you’re writing a play as if all the students are activists. And like, they’re not, they’re not, they don’t have to be activists. And almost like, no, they don’t need to be activists, but this is about them activating their voice to actually make a change in the world. And the arts are an extraordinary way to do that, to have a sense of humor about that show your talent off to do that is absolutely so important. If you look at this generation and what they have accomplished, they know that their voices that are going to influence policy are going to transform things in a real way. And so, um, it has been my honor to be a sounding board for them to champion their voices and to give them scripts where they get to really sink their teeth in and, you know, dazzle on the stage. And, um, some of those students, so that was from 2013 to 2018. And so some of those students are now like completed with college. Some of them have gone on to come in the top four in American idol. Some of them have recording contracts. Um, many of them have completed a performing arts college, uh, various trainings-

SHE ROCKED IT: So amazing. And, you know, I think one thing that I keep thinking about as the power of, um, a network of support and mentorship and learning the power of learning from others, and especially I think as creatives, you know, I don’t think frankly, that society often puts a lot of value on the arts. Like you were just saying the arts are often the first thing that got cut, you know, from the budget or, you know, if you say, oh, I’m going to, I’m going to go and be an actor. I’m going to be a bro. Like I would say that society, um, you know, most folks aren’t like, “go get them tiger!” (18:37) It’s like, ah, that’s a little, I don’t know. It (18:40) Might not be the most secure path or, you know, kind of like be careful, maybe want to have a backup plan. So the fact that you are modeling that you can make a life as an artist, as an artist who does many different kinds of creative, you know, expression, um, I think is just incredibly inspiring for young people and for adults who want to really, um, focus with their whole heart on their creative pursuits.

JENNIFER BLAINE: (19:07) Hallelujah. And in, uh, in our household, there have been periods of time where I am the one who is more stable and secure financially because when you’re an artist you’re actually looking for the most practical way to accomplish something the most elegant way to accomplish something you’re looking like you said, to tap into your community of resources, you’re looking to inspire and give people purpose. And all of those things bring energy, but they also bring financial reward too. And I think that’s really important for artists to remember that there’s value to, to their voices and, and to enter their creations. That actually that is monetarily rewarding. And it’s wonderful to see some of my students go on to like dance at the super bowl halftime, you know, like they’re working, they’re working. Yep.

SHE ROCKED IT: (20:13) And I’m actually really glad you brought that up because, um, I think it’s something we’ve spoken about and you know, you, you own a house, you are married, you have an amazing daughter and you’re a full-time creative person. And, um, I think that there is also probably a bit of sexism. Um, when people assume that you, as a woman, as the wife, as a creative and you have a husband, I mean, I wonder if there is a sexist undertone to, well, who’s the breadwinner of this marriage, you know, and Jennifer is doing her thing and you know, your male significant other is sharing the load.

JENNIFER BLAINE: (20:54) In fact, there was one time on Facebook that I said, Hey, um, I turned down this voiceover because it was all about, it was all about the lobby for plastic bags in Philly. (21:10) I was (21:10) sharing, I did not go for this voiceover. And someone on the threads said, well, you know, you’re fortunate that you can make choices like that. A lot of people said that a lot of people said, oh, I don’t have the option to make that kind of choice. And, and you know, that, that could have meant a lot of things, but with what one person, in particular, said, well, your husband is in finance. And so the, the implication was that he supports me. Right. And my husband was like, no, no, (21:44) no. On the thread, he was like, no, no, no. Uh, so 

SHE ROCKED IT: That’s right, husband, thumbs up.

JENNIFER BLAINE: Yeah. We’re creating together. We’re always creating together. 

SHE ROCKED IT: It’s so interesting, hearing you talk about this because what I’m realizing is that raising your voice, you know, here, we’re talking about elevating and celebrating the voices of women, raising your voice happens at home. It happens in your relationships, happens with yourself to clarify what you want happens with your partner, with your child, with your dear friends, with your family, and then it happens with the larger world. So I want to talk to you a little bit about that in terms of why is it important for women in particular to speak their truth, to raise their voices. And you’ve done a number of performances focused on the voice of women, whether it’s saying, sorry, too much. You’ve also produced a festival 5,000 women that really is intended to elevate the creativity and the voices of women. Why is it so important for women in particular to raise their voices?

JENNIFER BLAINE: (22:50) I think there’s so many things we need to transform so many. And I think that, um, when I think of female-identified people, I think we’re relational. So as soon as we start speaking, we start accruing partners, support teams, um, communities. So I think that when we speak, we remind we’re reminded that we matter that our voices matter. Um, we’re reminded that, like when we speak up where we’re actually out there, someone else can recognize themselves in us, which in turn can make them realize, oh, I need to do this. I can do this. 

SHE ROCKED IT: (23:47) And you focused on women’s voices in particular and some of your solo work. Um, why has that been an important thing for you to tackle through your solo performances?

JENNIFER BLAINE: (24:00) I’m I, well, I was, uh, a women’s studies major at Wesleyan. Um, and, and I think that are the stories that I want to hear, um, are about how a woman navigated something. Like, I think that’s what I’m drawn to. And I like those stories so much, because again, they may not, they may not directly translate to me. I just, my heart opens and I have so much, um, love for them and I just feel better. And then I think also the fact that there’s so much oppression of women, um, in so many ways, uh, I think just to hear how you break through that, like what, what are in individual ways of taking those bricks out of the wall so that you can, you know, walk through it or jump over it or whatever you do. Um, remind us of all of what’s possible. And it’s harder for women a lot of the time. So I think if we’re hearing the women’s stories of making it, then it’s like, oh, this is like, this is actually what’s possible, period.

SHE ROCKED IT: (25:23) Wow. That’s so beautifully and poetically set. I’m, I’m, I’m kind of marinating on that idea of pulling the bricks from the wall and how, when you do hear stories that resonate, it’s one less brick that holds us from using our voice and expressing ourselves fully. And I just feel like you have done that for so many people is to help them, um, knock down the wall that stands between showing up as your full creative self and then staying on the other side, which is staying small and hiding and, and closing up your voice. So thank you for doing that for me, for doing that for so many others, for continuing to do that, to share it, sharing your voice. So courageously I’ll leave everyone with this final question for you. Okay. Um, so yes we are. She rocked it and we are eager to inspire others to rocket in their careers and to show up with their full voice and their full creativity. So if you were to leave our listeners today with one tip to rocket, what would that one tip?

JENNIFER BLAINE: (26:21) I think the tip is to keep inventing yourself. And I was thinking about a performance I did of the vicissitudes of travel, which is a one-man show about a family traveling through a brain surgery. And I had really high hopes of a couple of Broadway producers, uh, interested in it. I don’t know what I wanted exactly from that, but I got them in a room. I did a whole show in New York City at a really cool, um, art studio of a friend of mine. It went great. One of those producers even was crying at the end. He said, oh my God, I, I really understand what you were doing, but that performance didn’t lead to what I thought it was going to lead to. I had a hope and a dream of what that was going to be, and it didn’t happen then in that way. (27:15) So I, there I go and I move on to writing these short films. Um, and I don’t even know what’s going to come from that project, but now I’m making films, which I never did before. So if we keep inventing ourselves and we use these delays or rejections or failures as an opportunity to look and see, well, what else do I want to say? And how else could I say this? And who else do I wanna reach? And who else do I want to inspire? And what else do I want to transform in the world? Then you actually are living in your creativity all the time. And I had this theater person say to me, once, you know, we only get our peak moments when we’re a little kids and that’s what stands out in our life. And what I believe is if we’re actually in our creativity, we actually get to keep having peak moments, huge, incredible breakthrough moments for our entire lives. And that’s the point.

SHE ROCKED IT: (28:21) Wow, Jennifer, as always, you have inspired and deeply touched me. What more could we say besides thank you, um, for sharing this incredible, um, gift of eloquence, of wisdom that you share and have shared with so many people across different ages, as you said, and they love the idea that your creativity doesn’t peak when you’re younger, that we can continue to invent ourselves, as you said so eloquently. Um, so folks, I hope that you have been just as inspired by Jennifer as I have been for many, many years now. And Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with SHE ROCKED IT today. Couldn’t be more grateful.

JENNIFER BLAINE: (29:01) Wow. Karen, thank you so much for having me. This has been such a joyful electrifying, uplifting difference, making transformational supportive, exciting, and livening centering grounding, expansive moment. And I adore you. I’m so proud of you for what you’re creating.

SHE ROCKED IT:

Thanks so much for tuning into the SHE ROCKED IT Podcast. I’m your host, Karen Gross. This episode has been produced by Tori Marchiony and Jake Segelbaum with audio engineering by Teng Chen. The SHE ROCKED IT theme song is by Karen Gross and Tim Motzer. I invite you to join us on Instagram @sherockedit and join our ROCKSTAR NETWORK at sherockedit.com. We hope you’ll add your voice to the conversation because at SHE ROCKED IT, we are dedicated to raising the volume on women’s voices.

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