Artist Profile: Jennifer Palumbo

This week, AFA interviewed playwright and comedienne Jenn Palumbo, to get a sneak peak inside the head of the artist.  Jenn is also the author of this years’ Audience Project Shows: How Peanut Butter Met Jelly and The Fairy Tale Academy.

Jenn, what got you interested in theatre and in comedy?  How do you bridge the two?

I’ve always leaned more towards the creative and my parents especially were huge fans of musicals, movies, plays and the arts in general. I grew up listening to mostly Chorus Line, Hair, and West Side Story, which is not necessarily the best music for children! I would listen to the soundtracks though and make up a story to fill the gaps in between songs. I remember that when I was a little older and I listened to Les Miserables a lot, I came up with this whole plot line for the entire musical. When I actually finally saw the real production, I ended up liking what I came up with better! How obnoxious is that????

I also always had a sense of humor and a HUGE love of Jim Henson and The Muppets. If you put all of that together: musicals, being silly and loving intelligent, creative children’s entertainment, it all makes sense. Well, at least to me!

That does make sense!  Speaking of intelligent and creative children’s entertainment – both the Audience Project shows have a strong fairy tale theme.  What draws you to fairy tales?

It’s both amazing (and slightly embarrassing) that at age 38, I still find Fairy Tales fascinating. There are lessons there; some are clear, some aren’t and some are dated. One of my issues with school was I always felt there had to be a better way to teach to children other than the, “read chapter one and then I’ll ask you about it tomorrow” method. I suppose in a sense, Fairy Tales are creative lessons… but not about history or geography… they are more about life. And to me almost, that’s more useful then who won which war.

There is a reason fairy tales are around for hundreds of years!  Where did you find the inspiration for How Peanut Butter Met Jelly and The Fairy Tale Academy?

My inspiration for How Peanut Butter Met Jelly (aside from how much I love the sandwich) actually had a lot to do with my older sister and I when we were little. We were usually arguing about some nonsense or another and as we got older, I think we realized that if we worked together and were each others supporters, we would be far happier! I also think in general, I wanted to show that if you put aside egos for a second, you can come up with wonderful things.

As for Fairy Tale Academy, I wanted to come up with a again, creative way to encourage reading and staying in school. I sincerely didn’t enjoy school because it just always felt so mundane and boring. I also always felt that whatever they were teaching me had nothing to do with anything. I remember sitting in my math class once and telling my teacher, “I’m never going to use this. I’m going to be a writer!” In retrospect, obviously, I was wrong. You do learn a lot from school that does come up later in surprising ways. I still wish though that school curriculums could think more out of the box when passing on this information though! Regardless, The Fairy Tale Academy was saying that if you stay in school and study, you will be thankful for it in the long run!

Please donate to the 2012 Audience Project to bring these shows to 2,500 New York City students.

Well, your plays certainly will engage AFA’s students. Who do you admire professionally?

Definitely Jim Henson. He was so imaginative and I especially loved how he was not patronizing in this entertainment of children. He never dumbed down his scripts, plot lines or jokes. As a child, I ADORED that. It raised the bar for kids vocabulary and it kept parents entertained too. He also addressed a lot of life issues and not just reading, writing, etc. For example, Oscar the Grouch is about how someone can see life differently from you but you can all live together and get along. I had the great fortune of interning at Sesame Street after I graduated and although I did not get to meet him (he had passed away several years earlier), I could feel the effect of who he was as a person, what he cared about and how he was such an earnest, caring, fun individual who was committed to making the world a better place. I only wish I could accomplish a fraction of what he did.

Jim Henson- what a great choice!  Now we’re going to ask you to make another – who is your favorite children’s book author?

That’s a hard question! There are so many exceptional writers of children’s books! I guess I’m going to have to pick Dr. Seuss. Talk about thinking outside of the box! Instead of going crazy trying to find a word the rhymed with another one, he just made up a whole new word that worked! What’s impressive is all of the readers went along with it without question. He introduced a whole other world to children and did it so consistently that it was totally believable. Green Eggs and Ham? Sure. Makes total sense. A Cat in a hat? Of course. Hop on Pop? Will do! He put no limits on himself, his world or his readers. :)

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss

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