Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane

Stand well back, she's coming through...

By: Jul. 23, 2020

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane

There is a breath of fresh air blowing across Manhattan and through the cabaret and concert community. It's not coming off of the water on either side of the island, it's coming from a new entity in cabaret, a new force called Hannah Jane. That is, by the way, Hannah Jane - not Hannah, not Miss Jane, it's Hannah Jane. The one-time Hannah Jane Peterson has dropped her last name and become mononymous, like Ann-Margret without the hyphen. It's as it should be because since her arrival in NYC and the clubs on Manhattan, every person who has met the sometimes shockingly talented young woman has simply called her Hannah Jane - it's almost like the Peterson part never existed.

Except when talking about her relationship with her mother...

Like one of the great duos in the annals of time, Hannah Jane and Mama Peterson have been having a heckuva wild adventure and The Peterson Girls have seen that adventure turn into a burgeoning career for the daughter and an exciting literary offering from the mother. For The Peterson Girls, all life is one big DIY day after another, and it's working out just fine for the family.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced here as received.

Name: Hannah Jane
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): On My Way
September 12, 2018, The Laurie Beechman
Most Recent Cabaret Show: Lady Legends of Broadway January 14, 2020, Birdland Theater
Website or Social Media Handles: / @hannahjanenyc

Hannah Jane, welcome to Broadway World Cabaret! I'm so excited that you're with us today. Let's start with the million-dollar question: when did you drop the Peterson from your name to become Hannah Jane, and why?

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to do this! It is an absolute pleasure!

Dropping my last name professionally has been a more recent change, but for our close friends and family I have always been Hannah Jane. Whether that be because I was being yelled at from the kitchen for not doing the dishes or meeting a family friend for the first time. If you ask my Mama she will tell you I have been Hannah Jane to her since the moment she found out she was having a girl!

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane I have always loved my middle name, I think partly because it's a family name. My great grandmother on my mom's side was Betty Jane. I never met her, but I've been told she was a very special human and that we have many things in common . Namely, my obsession (no other word is appropriate) with shoes and purses, my weird desire to wear tweed suit jackets all year long, and my uncontrollable love of gift giving. It seemed only fitting that my Mama named me after a woman who made such an impact on her life. Growing up none of my friends liked their middle names and I could never understand that because I truly love mine.

It never occured to me that I could actually go by Hannah Jane and drop my last name until my junior year of high school. KT Sullivan asked me one day what name I wanted to be known by. I didn't immediately have an answer - mostly because I never really thought I had a choice. But the more I mulled it over, the more clear it became that it just makes me happy when someone calls me 'Hannah Jane'. From that day on, I began to introduce myself as just Hannah Jane.

However, my mom and I together will always be The Peterson Girls!

You made a big splash online recently with your streaming concert to raise funds for The Legal Aid Society. Was this your first streaming performance and how did you feel it went?

Some might say that my recent live stream to raise money for The Legal Aid Society was not my first online performance as I have done a few casual impromptu lives with just my guitar. However, this was my first orchestrated live stream that was put together as an official performance with the added bonus of raising money for something I'm passionate about.

It was definitely a different feeling not having a live audience right there. Something that I fell in love with that night was watching comments, hearts and likes come up on the feed and seeing friends, family, and even strangers tuning in from hundreds of miles away. It was a whole different level of interaction that I don't think I was prepared for and it was a really cool part of the evening. Of course, it's always amazing to spend an evening singing some of my favorite love songs alongside the spectacular Jon Weber again after being away for so long.

All in all, I really enjoyed it and I was genuinely happy with how the whole evening turned out. I am so grateful to everyone who took the time to tune in and especially those that also donated. I am thrilled to say that we raised $400 for The Legal Aid Society here in New York City and I could not be more proud!

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane

You've had quite a whirlwind journey in New York and the cabaret community. Are you feeling in any way overwhelmed, or do you feel more like a fish that's been put back in the water?

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Goodness, I feel like whirlwind isn't even a big enough word to describe the last two years. At first I was most definitely overwhelmed. I was meeting talented performers left and right. But I think what really blew me away is that they actually wanted to know my story and encourage me to keep chasing my dreams. I left every conversation that first year simply stunned at the kindness of strangers that I now consider friends.

If I am being honest, I didn't even know Cabaret was a 'thing' until the Mabel Mercer Mabel's Babies Competition which took place my junior year of high school. I knew people performed in small venues, but to put a name on it was all new to me. My brain came to NYC laser focused on Broadway so I never really dipped my toe anywhere else.

Not only did these two years introduce me to a new space to do what I love, it also found me a cozy corner where I could be me. One of the challenges I faced as a young performer was that most of my peers weren't necessarily moved by the same kind of music that moves me. To find this community, filled with truly wonderful people, was a huge answer to endless prayers. To have something I didn't even know existed come into my world and bring me so much joy and help me begin to realize my dreams has been a magnificent blessing.

So, I guess you could say I am a fish who found new waters.

Your Mother has, in fact, written a book about the adventure of moving to New York and taking the cabaret world by storm - how does it feel being Mama's Muse?

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane First, let me tell you how thrilled I am to answer this question and be able to shine a little spotlight on my incredible Mama Bird. The Hot Mess Express: The Peterson Girls Adventures is one of my favorite things to talk about! First, YES, I 100% love being her Muse.

I remember the day she asked me if I would be ok with laying out the hard stuff, too. She had been working on it for a while, but felt like she was sugar coating the whole experience. She said to me, "What's the point if we don't share the hard stuff? That's what will encourage people the most."

I love that about my Mama Bird. She will never let me say 'I can't.' Even now, when I get discouraged about something she is the first one to say, "Ok, what can we do to hurdle this challenge?" Giving up is just not an option. One of her favorite sayings is, where there is a will there's a way, and that's what she wanted to share with our story.

I am so very proud of her. It takes so much courage to be so vulnerable with the ups and DOWNS of real life. Anyone can put the good out there, but she chose to put the hard stuff out there, too, so that people could draw strength from us and realize that with a little perseverance you can accomplish just about anything in this life.

This is more than a book for other dream chasers, this is a book for me. The beginning of our adventure is something I can physically hold in my hands. I can read it when I am feeling beaten down by this city and I can't wait to share this with my children and grandchildren as a testament to the adventures that life can take you on if you just dream. For that gift, I am forever grateful.

I am so proud to be my mother's daughter, her Muse, and one half of The Peterson Girls. So, yes, in short, it's the best feeling in the world to be my Mama's Muse!

You also have a budding career as a photographer - when did you discover you had this additional talent and how are you nurturing it?

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane A long time ago! I first discovered the magic of a camera when I was about 5 years old. One of my mom's close friends, Tonia Handley (Aunt Titi to me) had a love of photography and taking pictures of her kids (and me when we were with them) was her greatest joy. Photoshoots with Aunt Titi were a blast. While I was never shy in front of the camera, I eventually started to show an interest in taking pictures. I remember she would hand me her camera and challenge me to take a picture of something ordinary and make it EXTRAordinary. It was something that felt very natural for me.

Several years later, my mom and I would take our first mission trip to Africa. Once we made the decision to go I told my mom I wanted a REAL camera (which of course at 10 years old I could not afford) to take with us. My mom made me a deal, if I saved up half she would pay the other half. I remember the day we picked it up, it felt like it was made for my hand. It just fit.

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane

While I used that camera a lot before I ever set foot in NYC, it never really occurred to me that I could actually do something with my love for photography until I met Mr. Gatton - my high school photography club sponsor. He turned something I enjoyed into something I love. He taught me about lighting, composition, editing, and how to use my pictures to tell a story. And that is where it changed. Just like acting or singing - I could use the photos I took to tell a story. It was like a lightbulb went off and suddenly I had a passion for taking photos like never before.

The more photos I take, the more I love it. Thanks to quarantine I have had time to upload some of my work to a newly created website that hopefully leads to more jobs. I have taken so many pictures, launched a social media presence and designed a website so I can share my passion with the rest of the world!

I understand that you are also into crafting -- what kind of at-home DIY projects did you take up when we all went into quarantine?

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Into crafting is an understatement. Being that my mom and I are both extremely crafty, our house is one big DIY explosion most of the time. For as long as I can remember, my Grandpoppy was always the fix it guy. As soon as I was old enough to pick up a hammer he began to teach me to build, repair, and create. That hammer eventually turned into a power drill and I gained the nickname 'Barbara the Builder.'

I think the only way to describe it is to say that our little apartment went through a complete DIY renovation thanks to COVID-19. The biggest project was painting ... our entire apartment ... pink. Yes, pink. Birthday Cake to be exact. Mom and I now refer to our apartment as 'our little pink house!'

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane I wish that is where the DIY-ing stopped, but I am afraid that was only the beginning. The fun continued as we refinished our bathroom, painted every piece of furniture in the living room, built an office for my mom in the corner of her bedroom, designed and built a pot rack, painted my room and most of my furniture just to name a few. We re-built a storage closet and we also dove into reorganizing - closets, bedrooms, and the kitchen! (After all, it is NYC and every tiny storage space you have is important!)

We literally feel like we are living in a brand new apartment. I told my mom just last week, we were going to have to find someone else who is in the market for an apartment re-do because we are literally out of projects!

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane

For years there's been a rumor that the cabaret industry is dying. You represent an entire new generation of performers, young people who are here to carry on the art form and the tradition. From your point of view as the future of cabaret, what can be done to keep the artistry, artists, and industry evolving?

This is a hard question, one I have pondered since becoming part of this community. This may not be a popular answer, but I truly believe the cabaret world is going to have to evolve to find a way to attract younger performers and audience members. I am one of a small handful of younger people that I know who fully embrace what most call traditional cabaret. As with anything, if there aren't performers, or an audience to support them, the genre will eventually fade away and become part of musical history that future generations only learn about in books. It pains me to think that traditional cabaret is headed in this direction, but I fear it is.

I remember when I did my first cabaret show many of my friends asked me, "Why a cabaret show?" In their minds cabaret was full of music that their grandparents listened to. For me, not so much. I love Golden Age music. I grew up on standards and I have a deep love for Judy Garland, Barbara Cook, Rosemary Clooney and so many others. When I asked them why they have never really embraced cabaret, their responses opened up the door to one way we can help keep cabaret alive.

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane They feel like it is an all or nothing space; it's either standards or nothing. It's not that they don't like standards and jazz, but they have an equal love for the contemporary sounds of the last 20 years of Broadway. For many of them, they discovered Broadway through shows like Legally Blonde and Hairspray, not Oklahoma, South Pacific or Most Happy Fella. They don't feel they can use cabaret as a medium because it doesn't necessarily represent who they are as performers. If we can begin to create space in the cabaret community for my peers to blend standards and contemporary selections into their shows, I think more and more younger performers will embrace cabaret. Not only will this open a door for them to learn more about the standards of musical theater, but it will also give older generations a look into the music that we young performers are listening to, just as they once did during the Golden Age.

Let me say this, like them, I also love contemporary music from shows like Hamilton, Something Rotten and Waitress and my sights are still set on Broadway. I feel like we can do both which will organically bring more people into the cabaret fold and help keep that music alive. My first show is a perfect example of this working. I incorporated several songs from musicals that were running on Broadway at the time alongside some of my favorite standards and it worked beautifully. Unlike many of my peers, I have always been a risk taker when it comes to music and I am not afraid to blend genres to create a musical experience that is a true reflection of me.

I also think we can use this as a learning opportunity in schools which is where many performers start their journey. It's not just about teaching standards one day and then teaching contemporary the next day. It's about showing the lineage of how contemporary music evolved from standards which will help keep standards alive. I think it would bridge a gap that exists with a lot of younger performers who feel like standards just aren't "their primary style" of music.

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane At the end of the day, we are all just storytellers. How you tell the story is more important than the genre of song you choose. As a young performer, one of my greatest passions is to see more young performers find the beauty in cabaret and how it can help shape them into stronger storytellers and performers. Whether it be a Cole Porter song from the 1940's or a Pasek and Paul song from the late 2000's - it's all music that will tell a story that will resonate with someone.

Until we can get back in the clubs, even after, what do you think are progressive, possibly even aggressive, steps that can be taken to keep the community and industry moving?

Every performer is asking themselves that very question right now. The answer is right at our fingertips. The internet. I will tell you, some have stepped right up to the challenge and are making music online like they have been doing it their entire life and it's so fun to watch. Others of us, me included, have been a little slower coming into online performances.

For me, it has meant getting out of my own head and realizing that I don't need to be on a stage, dressed for the occasion with a live audience to deliver a performance that people will enjoy and want to watch. I can be in my living room doing what I love with an even wider audience than if I were on a stage. The world is at our fingertips right now. We are in a unique place in history where so many online platforms are available to help performers reach from our little neighborhoods all the way across the world.

While this may not be popular among some people, I also think we can begin to get back into performance spaces and do live streams with a few musicians. With a little social distancing, we can put together live shows/concerts - albeit without audiences, like sports teams are doing - and use the internet as our vehicle. I know it's not ideal to perform without a live audience, but we can't let this virus stop the music.

Right now, more than ever, our world needs music. We need healing and I think we all know that music is one of the most powerful healers that exist. It's time to stop being afraid of how something might come across behind the camera and harness the internet to continue to make music.

It must be difficult, as a young person with energy, wishes, dreams, and a career that's right on track and building momentum, to be under quarantine. How are you keeping your optimism up and your career goals active?

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane If I'm being honest, this is something I have struggled with throughout the entire Quarantine. Some days I feel so optimistic and motivated to work behind the scenes writing music, updating my website, posting videos - all in an effort to continue moving towards my dreams.

Other days I feel quite the opposite. Depressed, sad and wondering if life is ever going to be normal again. The reality is, we don't know what the immediate future of Broadway or Cabaret looks like. For me, that's so scary. I worked my whole life for this dream and to see it literally stripped from my hands just as I was old enough to really chase it rocked me to my core.

Music has always been my go to. When life is good, bad or even uncertain music is my safe space. With all this time suddenly on my hands, I tried to find other musical things I love to give my soul some satisfaction. I spent a lot of time writing and I hope to have some new music to debut later this summer. I have also spent time studying both piano and guitar, which has been a great way to feed my soul and increase my skills at the same time.

The online concert was actually conceived on a day that I was really struggling. I was yearning to perform in a way I had never experienced. Simultaneously the world was erupting and I was feeling like everything I had worked so hard for was slipping through my hands. When I don't know what else to do I sing. So I started to experiment with some music I have always wanted to sing, but never really have the time or place to sing them.

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Almost immediately, I realized that I had an opportunity to marry my desires to perform with something that could help our fractured country. I called Jon Weber and we decided it was time to come out of quarantine and spread a little love. I instantly felt better. Having something to prepare for helped lift my spirits more than anything else since this all started in March.

Like every other performer I know, I miss being on stage more than anything right now. Until it's possible again, I plan to continue focusing on learning new music, and singing my favorites to anyone online that will listen. When the doors begin to open, I am going to be ready to run to the nearest stage and pick up where we left off!

Hannah Jane, play with me for a moment -- I never heard of her before, so tell me who Judy Garland is.

A legend. Is there anything else to say about her?

She is a storyteller. She is stunning. She is graceful. She makes you feel deeply when she sings - whether it be laughter, sadness, or love. She commands every audience she stands in front of from the second she steps on the stage. You can see all the way to her soul through her eyes. She's magic. I could go on and on with so many more adjectives that describe her.

I fell in love with Judy Garland at age 4 when I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time! I shared this story at the 2019 Cabaret Convention, but it is still my most vivid memory of the first time I saw Judy light up a screen. I was sitting on the couch with my Mama on one side, my Nana on the other and my blankie in my lap. I was terrified of those flying monkeys. Every time she left the screen I asked my mom, "When is THAT girl going to come back?" It was this instantaneous connection that I still can't completely explain. I fell in love with her that day.

What's ironic is that I had not even discovered my own love of singing at this point. What's even more ironic is that as much as I loved her - it wasn't until 5th/6th grade that I really started to dive into her music - music she sang outside of that famed movie released 60 years before was born. Once I did, there has been no turning back.

Everyone knows she led a difficult life. A life that I have struggled to understand the more I learn about her. But there has only ever been one Judy - and there will never be another like her. But I can tell you this, when I step onto a stage, I can only hope to channel even a tiny amount of the star power she had. She is my legend.

Thank you so much for talking with me today HJ - I can't wait to see what you do next!

My next Facebook/Instagram live concert for August 14th at 7pm! It will be on my professional Facebook page. (Hannah Jane) and my Instagram (@hannahjanenyc)! It will be me and my vocal coach/friend Jon Audric!

I will be there!

It should be noted that, at the end of her emails, Hannah Jane has an auto-sign-off:
Let Go, and Let Judy,

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane

Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane Interview: At Home With Hannah Jane All photos provided by Hannah Jane.

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