Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater

"This voice kept saying to me, in the quiet, when I would wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night, 'What if you told the truth?'"

By: May. 11, 2023

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater

Jessica Hendy has a long and successful history as an actress, having worked on Broadway, in regional theaters, and on the nightclub stages of New York City, as well as the symphony stages of the world. Jessica Hendy is a working actress, just making her way in the world and in the industry. And, now, Jessica Hendy is a produced playwright, a career path for which she did not plan, and one that still surprises her, some days a little, some days a lot.

WALKING WITH BUBBLES is Jessica Hendy's new play (her first play), currently playing at the AMT Theater on 45th Street in beautiful Hell's Kitchen, NYC. The play, a solo show, is about Jessica's real-life experiences as a wife and mother navigating the difficult world of having a spouse who has mental illness. In this incredibly personal tale, Jessica details the journey of meeting and marrying a man, and then learning of his condition. She shares the fear, the hard work, and the differences caused by relocation and by the birth of a child. When mental illness repeatedly threatens her happiness and safety, and that of her son, whom she nicknames "Bubbles," Jessica Hendy takes matters into her own hands. It is a raw, real, honest, and, ultimately, uplifting tale of tenacity, a story of survival, and it is executed to perfection, with Jessica Hendy playing herself, even though the play has been constructed in a manner that makes it possible for any actress to assume the role.

With her own words acting as script and a magnificent musical score by Brianna Kothari Barnes, Jessica has been capturing the hearts of a dedicated audience, some of whom have returned for repeat viewings of a show that is destined to become a favorite in the legend of musical theater performers and audiences alike - and not just solo musical theater, musical theater, period. Thanks to producing power couple Tom and Michael D'Angora and director Richard Hess, Jessica Hendy has taken a broader step into the world of storytelling, and her own, personal, life as an artist. Speaking personally, as a person who has battled depression for fifty years (and a lover of musical theater for fifty-five years), this writer could not recommend the WALKING WITH BUBBLES journey more. After seeing a recent performance, I emailed Jessica, with whom I have become friendly, after numerous shows at my usual beat, 54 Below, and asked if we could talk about the journey from actress and club singer to Drama Desk nominated solo show creator. Thankfully, she said yes.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Photos by Stephen Mosher; Visit the Stephen Mosher website HERE.

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater Jessica Hendy, welcome to Broadway World.

Thank You.

How are you?

I'm great.

You should be great. Okay, so, I have either seen or photographed or reviewed probably as many as a dozen shows that you've been in.


Usually, Scott Coulter shows.


Or the CCM show. (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music)


Or the Disco Show. But today we're not here to talk about cabaret. We're here to talk about Walking With Bubbles.

Thank you.

I think I'm gonna cry.

It's okay. I might cry too.

This is your debut as a playwright, is that right?

Yes. And thank you for calling me a playwright. That makes me cry.

You're a playwright.

I am now. Yeah.

Say it again.

I'm a playwright. Holy Wow.

Tell me, in a high-concept sentence or two, how did you decide to write a play about this very personal topic?

It started as a series of essays about what it was like to be a single mom in a big city. And I thought I was being really sassy and cool, and I was gonna write this series of essays of like - how does a woman handle New York City with a small child? So I wrote about all kinds of things, and I wrote about 10 essays, and after a couple of months, I read them all at once and I was like, oh my god, this woman is a total bitch. And it was me. I was like, okay, I'm not a writer, that was a good exercise, as an artist, try different things, exercise the muscle, do something you've never done before - but clearly this is not what I should be doing. Then I had this little voice inside of me saying, "What if you told the truth?"

The truth is so important.

I was like, no, absolutely not. Because I was living a double life. I was just back in the city and I was having to rekindle professional relationships with casting directors who I had moved away from the city a decade before, who had moved on with all of the amazingly talented women that stayed in New York City: there was no way I was going to be open about what was really going on in my life. But this voice kept saying to me, in the quiet, when I would wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night, "What if you told the truth?" "Tell the truth." And one morning I woke up and I sat up and I was like, "Fine." I said it out loud and I started writing what happened, and that's how it came about.

I wrote a memoir. I did not intend to write a show. I wrote a book. I wrote an almost 300 page manuscript. And then I couldn't get a literary agent. I have hundreds of rejections. So I thought, okay, I'm a singer. I'm going to do a cabaret at 54 Below with all songs that inspired me to tell little snippets from this book, and maybe I'll get a hook that way. Once I sat down and looked at this manuscript, I realized this is not a cabaret. What if I mined this manuscript and found a theatrical arc and told the truth in a theatrical way that is able to transcend writing on a page, but had a theatrical experience for everyone. That's how it happened.

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater

No background in writing?

No, I was a terrible student. My parents are still amazed that this is even happening.

Did you read a couple of online courses or watch a couple of YouTube tutorials on writing a play, on the structure of a script? Or did you just fly by the scene of your pants?

If I'm being completely honest, I did not. I've read a lot of plays. I've read a lot of books. I've been in a lot of plays. I've been in a ton of musicals. But I didn't buy a how-to and I didn't take a course. I just know how to tell a story. I think that is one of my talents. Whether it's a three- minute song or a two and a half hour show that I'm a character in... I've been in a lot of fantastic readings of new works, and I've been in a lot of terrible ones, so I know what doesn't work. I just thought, how do I find the best way to tell the story? And it's been through so many incarnations.

I've killed a lot of darlings - I want this to be the best it can be. So I just revised, revised, revised, revised. The first version, it was a Multicharacter show, and I gave it to my inner circle, and every single person said, "Get rid of that other character. It's a one person show." And I was like, oh, no, no, no, I can't do that, and everyone was like, "Yes, you can. You've written a one-person show."

You have to have people that will tell you the truth.

You do.

Were you scared?

I'm still scared!


Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater When Walking With Bubbles takes place, the timeline of the show, there have been years from the end of the show to where I am today. So I have some distance to what actually happens in the show, but it's still revealing and puts me in a very vulnerable position because I am telling the truth: I don't always make the right decisions during that time, you know? And I have to accept part of the responsibility for the actual continuation of the toxic situation that I continued to put myself and my son in, until I had my own come to Jesus moment, like, "Are you gonna change or are you gonna live like this forever?" So, yeah, it's scary.

Yet you do it.


Because there is value in your story.

I believe so. And I believe that, without sounding self-righteous or cheesy, I believe this is my purpose.

Why is that self-righteous or cheesy?

Because I was raised Catholic and you're only allowed to succeed so much in life.


Or because I'm an actor and you're not supposed to have a big ego. I don't know, but I do believe that this is my purpose.

But what if this is what everything else you've done has been leading up to?

I believe that.

What if everything that you did up until this point was to prepare you for being strong enough to say, "Here is my truth" without fear of judgment?

I think I'll always have fear of judgment, but you are a hundred percent right. I don't think I was ready until now to really live in the full stretch of the gifts I've been given. I really feel like I'm using them all, I think all of the things throughout my career that I didn't get, all the shows that I didn't get, all the things that I came really close to, has helped me to write this show and to choose myself, and to stop waiting for another show to come by that I can fit into. I can write myself, and I'm really proud of the fact that I've written a really good role for women over the age of 40.

Would you be interested in seeing other women play you?

I can't wait!

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater

Would you travel to other cities to see women play you?

Yes. And also, in my dream of dreams, Brianna, my writing partner, who wrote all the music and lyrics, I want to have a second option score. I don't want women whose voices have changed... I've been very blessed with my singing voice but, as you get older, some women don't have the notes that I'm singing. I say that with no ego, it happens. I wanna give an option for lower keys. Because it's important to me to have older women, at least 40, play this role.

How did you find Brianna?

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater She went to CCM. I could be her mother - I'd be a very young mother, but I could be her mother. I just know her from the CCM network and before the Pandemic, she asked me to be in a concert of her original music, and I did a song. So I heard a lot of her catalog during that concert, and I was like, "Wow, she's really, really, really good." At that time I was working with a different set of composers and that did not work out, and after the pandemic, CCM did a night at 54 Below for the class that didn't have a showcase - I performed, and Brianna closed the show with one of her original songs I had never heard before. She brought the house down, the song was so good - I wrote her the next morning and asked her if I could buy her breakfast. I said, "I don't know if you are interested, I don't know if you even do this, but here's my script. Would you mind reading it and consider writing for it? But only say yes if you're inspired. I only want someone to work together if they're inspired." She wrote me the next day, or two days later, and just said, "I have to write this show." She's the best collaborator. I'm so lucky that I got her first. The world is going to all want her.

The songs are wonderful.

Thank you.

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater The melodies are so good. The lyrics are so smart. They're so clever.

She's fantastic.

What was the first song she brought you for Walking With Bubbles?

The first song she brought me was the last song.


She would send me little voice memos and every single time she would send one, I always made sure that I didn't listen to it unless Beckett was present because it was very important to me that he is part of this process because this is his story too. So the first time I pressed play and we listened to that voice memo, I burst into tears. She found the soul, she found the heartbeat of this show, and she is giving it the voice that I was dreaming that it could have, and I wouldn't change a thing. We work really well together, and she's absolutely the best.

Put me in the picture of Beckett's participation in this story.

When I was writing the book, before it was a show - there's so much that is not in the show that is in my manuscript, I couldn't even do the really crazy (stuff) because people just wouldn't believe that that actually happened. He didn't remember a lot of it, nor did he know a lot of it because he was so little. I protected him. I was very adamant to allow him to have a relationship with his dad for as long as he wanted to have one because I knew that if I stopped that and cut him off that I was running the risk of him being a teenager and accusing me of keeping him away from his father.

So I had to find, and it was really hard, but I had to find a safe way to allow him to have a relationship with his dad. There were a lot of things that happened that I would just swoop in and keep Beckett safe. So I would have Beckett read something and I would say, "Is that okay?" And he would say, "That happened?" So, in a way, it's been a history lesson for him - so it's been healing for him to understand things that he didn't understand. I always made sure he was okay with it because he is not in show business, we've sort of practiced talking points; we made a pact that we aren't talking about his dad, where he is now or how he's doing now, out of protection to Beckett - this is a show and it's not a reality TV show. I'm very open about what happened, but anyone that has dealt with untreated mental illness will know that it doesn't get better. It just keeps changing until someone gets treated, and it's an ongoing situation. Beckett has a great therapist and he's the greatest kid. I couldn't do the show without him.

So it's been an open process.

It has to be.

It has been, in a manner of speaking, a collaboration.


Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater

You've been running now for three weeks? Four weeks?

Since April 10th. We opened and we had two weeks of previews.

What kind of response are you getting from the audience? Do you hear from people?

I do. It's so heartwarming. I always come out after and say hello to anyone who stays. I've had a lot of people come up to me and say, "You're telling my story," and "I've never seen my story told in this way," and "I'm coming back and I'm bringing my mom," or "I'm coming back and bringing my sister-in-law," it's astonishing to me how many peoples' stories I am telling, which is a huge affirmation to me that I'm doing the right thing because this is a story that needs to be told, that mental illness affects people who love people with mental illness. And that people who suffer from mental illness, they aren't monsters and they're not bad people - it's just a really sticky, confusing, and sometimes dangerous situation that you have to navigate carefully, and it takes a toll on everyone.

Will you keep writing?

I want to - I don't know what I would write next, but I've actually started thinking I'd be a good script doctor.


I just hope that we can get the traction we need so that Walking With Bubbles can keep going.

Tell me about that. How are sales? How's it going?

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater I mean, you know, we're a small off-Broadway show. It's all hands on deck for all of us. And I'm happy that we're starting this way, we're not overreaching, because I'm nobody and the story isn't like some big star doing it, so I'm glad we're starting small, but it's hard to get butts in seats, frankly. It's really, really hard. And so any spotlight we're given is just gold to us.

Well, someone must be seeing you. Didn't you get a Drama Desk nomination?

I did.

Okay. So somebody has seen this play!


How do you feel, having a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance?

I haven't seen Jodie Comer's Prima Facie - the fact that I'm even put into a category with her - I'm so happy. And also Anthony Rapp, oh my god, I saw Without You, I cried through the whole thing. He is so amazing. His voice sounds exactly the same. I hope I get to meet him. I might cry if I meet him. I'm serious.

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater

Your theater is nice and intimate.

Isn't it?

Are you aware that there are people out there crying and gasping?

Yes, I am. At the beginning, I thought, oh my god, everybody hates this show. And I thought, oh well, they're stuck with me for the next hundred minutes. What I realized is the silence through, literally, the whole first part of the show is people are sort of like, "I can't believe what is happening on stage right now." Because, at the end, when I see all these white tissues coming up and I can like hear people actually weeping, I'm like, "Okay, I did my job."

It's very rare, in my experience, for an audience to be as quiet and attentive as yours was on Saturday.

They're like that every time. And my director, Richard Hess, who is freaking brilliant, he had to keep reminding me, "Jess, they're listening. They are hanging on every word you're saying." And I'm really proud of it.

You've played a lot of characters as an actor.


And then you do nightclub work, where you're just out there as, as Jessica Hendy, where you can see the audience, you relate to the audience.


Now, you're in a small, intimate space, which is like being in a cabaret. You're playing a character, but you're playing yourself. Is there any kind of a divide where you know the audience is there, but you are not allowed to actually relate to them, the way you would at 54 Below?

Richard pushed me a lot in rehearsal to really not fake eye contact. Make eye contact because it's that kind of show, but not in a confrontational way. I break the fourth wall and, he's like, "Don't look at someone's shoulder. Look 'em in the eye." I think that's one of the ways that the show succeeds - if I can tell the story as if you are in the park with me, and I'm telling you this in the park - I do wanna make that human connection. Because this show is all about communication.

Where does the Bubbles come from?

Ever since Beckett was a newborn, it was just Bubbles. I still call him Bubbles. He's my Bubbles. And in writing the show, now, we realize that it has such a double meaning cause it is Beckett's nickname, but it's also like... Walking With Bubbles. Bubbles can lift you up. Bubbles are so full of joy. But when you're in a scary situation, if the bubble pops, then it's just chaos. There are so many ways you can look at it. But he's been my Bubbles. He'll always be my Bubbles. People have asked if they can call him Bubbles and he has said "You can call me Bubbles, but I only answer to my mom calling me Bubbles."

Jessica, thank you for this wonderful visit and chat.

Thank you. I love you. Thank you for visiting with me today. I loved it.

Learn all about WALKING WITH BUBBLES, including the show schedule and ticket information on the show website HERE. The show is currently scheduled to run through June 18th and it is WORTH. SEEING.

WALKING WITH BUBBLES is on Facebook HERE and Instagram HERE.

Interview: Jessica Hendy of WALKING WITH BUBBLES at AMT Theater



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