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An Interview with Jenna Leigh Green of 'Bare'


I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jenna Leigh Green, known to many in the general public from her TV and film work, but she's most known these days, especially to New York theater audiences as Ivy, star of the Off-Broadway hit, "Bare: A Pop Opera." Just two weeks remain to catch the audience acclaimed, and critically heralded show.

"I like to think of it as the middle of Iowa" Jenna recalls about her hometown of Simi Valley, California (45 minutes north of Hollywood for the geographically curious), "because it's got a sleepy, small-town mentality in that no one really leaves, and there are few reasons to go visit. We still don't even have a mall there, so growing up the local movie theater was the height of entertainment." Her family still lives there, including Jenna's two sisters, so she still goes back to visit, but the most recent family trips have involved all of them traveling this way, to see her performance in Bare.

"It was my sisters' first trip here to New York, so they loved it and we did all of the touristy stuff, even taking one of those double-decker tour buses. It was great for me too, because I've been in New York a bunch of times, but always for work or to see shows and stuff so this was the first time that I had an opportunity to go around and relax." Her family all loved the show here, and for those wondering how they'd be affected by her character here, her parents are long time veterans and big fans, having seen the show in LA 16 times.

Everyone in the theater world seems to be able to trace their love of the stage back to childhood experiences, and usually to the first shows that they've seen. In Jenna's case, a community production of Peter Pan was the first show that she saw, but what made a bigger impression on her were the LA companies of Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables. "Phantom was the first really big show that I saw, and then Les Mis which was just incredible and to this day is one of my all time favorite shows."

"There's nothing else in the world like having the audience there, and getting the instant feedback if your joke lands, if you've performed a song well, or if you hit an emotional core with someone"

A shy child, Jenna was encouraged to go into acting by her parents. "I'm a twin, and they say that when you are a twin that one person takes a much more dominant role, and the other one kind of stays in the background... I was always the one that kind of stayed in the background. My mother encouraged performing and theater because she thought that it was something that I'd be good at and that it could help to break me out of my shell." Unlike other singers though, she wasn't one of those singing from the moment she was born. "I think that I was probably 12 or so before anyone knew that I had any ability to sing so I definitely wasn't 'singing before I spoke.' I never thought about doing anything though career-wise other than acting, so let's all knock on wood and hope that this works out!"

On the subject of acting, Jenna's been doing it as long as she can remember, with her first experiences on stage taking place in yearly Christmas shows at Church, followed by playing Cinderella in Junior High School. "My first real part though was the Diary of Anne Frank when I was about 14," which Jenna remembers as being an amazing experience. "I was so young, and completely wide-eyed that I was open to anything that anyone wanted to tell me, which helped me to learn so much doing that show."

A veteran of television, including Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and notable guest appearances on shows like ER, and Dharma and Greg as well as film work, she's no stranger to the challenges that each medium of entertainment presents. "It's a hard choice picking what to do when opportunities come your way, and people are kidding themselves if they think that everything everyone does is just for the passion of doing it. As much as I love the stage, it'd be silly to not explore the roles that have come my way in television and in film. The biggest struggles for me with those two mediums are that with them, nothing is filmed in order, so you have to do a lot of preparation as to where your character is coming and going. Often you film the beginning of something, and then don't get to finish it until 2 weeks later, but it has to flow as if it was all one scene."

Stage work is her favorite amongst the three though, and every time she gets to do something in theater, it's like coming home again. "There's nothing else in the world like having the audience there, and getting the instant feedback if your joke lands, if you've performed a song well, or if you hit an emotional core with someone. Theater has its own set of risks too, because there isn't any stopping and starting either, so if you mess yourself up, you also need to find a way out of it."

Bare has been evolving since the late 90s, and one of the few constants with the show has been Jenna starring in it as Ivy. "It's crazy to me when I think back to the first rough stage concert reading that we did back in the summer of 1999, because it's a completely different show right now." Her landing the role in Bare was a rare case of the fates lining up in her favor. "Mandy Gonzalez (AIDA, Dance of the Vampires) actually did the original demos for the show, and was supposed to do the reading but had a scheduling conflict so she had to back out. A friend of mine had gone to college with Jon (Hartmere) and Damon (Intrabartolo) and they mentioned what they were doing, and that they were looking for a girl and my friend threw my name out there. I went in and sang for them and here I still am!"

The show has evolved from its LA roots in a variety of ways, both as the creative team has grown artistically, and as they've presented the show to live audiences on both coasts. "From the concert readings, and through the LA show, the NY theater workshop reading, the Zipper Theater reading, and where we are now, the show has changed tremendously. One thing that hasn't changed a bit though is that the heart of the piece is still the same, and the story that we're telling is the same amazing story. I think that they've grown as writers, and Kristin as the director keeps coming up with these amazing ideas to improve things."

Jenna is rare among actors, in that she doesn't have aspirations herself to direct or to produce, so she's just been happy to be along for the ride. "I just love acting and performing, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't often have that initial spark or idea, so I need to work with the director, and with the composer. As soon as the idea is planted in my brain though, I run with it, but I love the process of working with the production team to explore avenues that I haven't thought of. A lot of the changes that have been made never would have occurred to me, but every time I get new script pages, I think 'wow, this is even better than what we had before!'"

"I feel like people are really being affected by this show, because anyone can find at least one character that they relate to..."

The appeal of playing Ivy is one thing that hasn't changed at all since day one, which is what has kept her attached to the project for so long. She's grown along with the show though, as a stage actress making the transition from Los Angeles to New York. "In Los Angeles, we only did 4 or 5 shows a week, compared with the 8 here in New York. I don't want to speak for everyone, but I think for a lot of people in Los Angeles, theater is just something that's sort of a hobby because unless you're willing to travel to a lot of the outside, and regional theaters, you're not making any money. The problem with those theaters though, is that they don't have the capability to hire understudies so it's tough to commit to a show, when you know that you'll be auditioning for TV and films at the same time."

One of the highlights of doing the show in New York, has been working with the much heralded group of performers that surrounds Jenna on the stage. "The amazingly talented cast here has forced me to create a new character, because I can't be the same girl that I was in LA. My Ivy now relates to John Hill's Jason, and to Michael Arden's Peter, and to Natalie Joy Johnson's Nadia so much differently. My relationships with them are all different on and off stage, so I've had to create a 'new' character which is great, because it allows it to not be stale and it makes the whole process even more exciting."

Keeping the part fresh each week has been less of a challenge for the Bare performers than in many shows because of the closeness of the cast. Everyone sharing the same dressing room (with guys and girls separated by a curtain) allow them all to bring their days to work with them, and to feed off of one another with the energy that closeness creates. "Towards the end of Act 2 there's a number called 'Promise,' which is basically a confrontation between the 5 main characters, and we approach it differently each night. There are nights when I come into it angry, and there are nights when I come into it just emotionally defenseless, with nothing left. John (Hill) is amazing to work with, because we always know where one another is going. We play very well off each other, and we can tell if we're being feisty, or bratty, and playing that off of each other every night is always very intense."

"If you come in with an open mind, and watch all of these kids tell their story to this amazing music, then you're going to be affected by it."

Staying in shape for the role has been another obstacle in New York with the combination of intense all-day rehearsals throughout the preview period and the "closeness" of the characters on stage. The result - colds have been jumping around the cast. Aside from having a lineup of good doctors, "I try not to talk too much during the daytime, staying in and laying low, because I do tend to talk too much when I'm out! I'm also big into yoga, because the core of singing is breathing, and you work on that through yoga. It's also great for stretching and relaxing your body, which helps day in and day out." She's not living the complete life of a hermit though, having "found some pretty cool bars around the city, but I'm keeping everything in moderation!"

The best part of the Bare experience though for many in the cast has been the reactions from its fans, and the response has been incredible, which I can personally attest to from having the experience of seeing the show twice. "I'll admit that I was a little scared," Jenna recalled, "because people always say that there's such a difference between Los Angeles and New York audiences; that they were going to be kind of jaded here, and wouldn't like the sentementality of the show, but I haven't found that to be the slightest bit true. Our audiences have been amazing...and full which is even more awesome! We've had a lot of standing room only crowds, and waiting lists for people to get in which is so great to see."

It's not just first timers coming to see the show via its positive word of mouth, but it's attracting lots of repeat visitors as well, a good sign for its future success. "Every time I talk to people after the show, more often than not they're saying 'it's my 2nd time, my 3rd time, my 4th time, that they brought all their friends, that they're telling everyone at school, and other great things like that. I feel like people are really being affected by this show, because anyone can find at least one character that they relate to and if they don't, they remember what it was like to be in high school, and to see those people so they can relate in that sense. I don't think that any of the characters are clichéd, like 'that's your typical so and so' because the characters all have so many different levels to them."

Her final thoughts on the audience and experiences? "You have to be willing to open yourself up, and to sit in the audience and be taken on this journey. If you come in with an open mind, and watch all of these kids tell their story to this amazing music, then you're going to be affected by it."

The cast of Bare recorded a sampler CD this week that'll be available shortly. Keep your eyes on for more information as it becomes available.

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From This Author Robert Diamond