Spotlight On
Jennifer Piech

by Ed Feldman

Certainly, audience members walk into a theatre with expectations. Whatever those expectations may be, they are looking for a full theatre experience. Integral and significant to that experience are the talents and contributions of the performers. As an audience member, you want to be able to close your eyes and be captivated by the emotions that musical theatre can bring. It will come as no surprise to those that see Jennifer Piech that she is a consummate actress who meets or exceeds all expectations. She becomes a reason to see a show.

Within this talented actress is someone who genuinely loves what she does. Jennifer enjoys immersing herself in "another world" and, in doing so, provides a real treat for audiences. She also does not forget that, while the journey can be difficult, it is full of wonderful challenges that should "feed your soul and make you grow". Whether at the beginning of her career in such shows as Sugar Babies or The Hired Man or more currently in Titanic, Jennifer has maintained a steadfast determination to be the best she can be and to work at her craft. She has a positive perspective which she attributes to a healthy upbringing where she was made to feel that she was special and unique and didn't need to be "perfect all the time." Jennifer's portrayal of Kate McGowen in Titanic is true perfection, though, and should not be missed.

Titanic marks Jennifer's Broadway debut. She has toured nationally and internationally. Off-Broadway: Lust (Alithea Pinchwife), John Houseman Theatre; York Theatre; Theatre Off-Park. Extensive regional including Ford's Theatre (Elmer Gantry), Walnut Street Theatre (She Stoops to Conquer - Kate), Philadelphia Rep (The Comedy of Errors - Luciana), Cincinnati Playhouse (Smoke on the Mountain - Denise), Meadowbrook Theatre, Arkansas Rep, Portland Symphony Orchestra, soloist. TV: "Dellaventura" (guest lead) with Danny Aiello.

EF - Let's go back in time. Where are you from originally? Tell us about your family.

JP - Well, I grew up in a little town called Cinnaminson, New Jersey. It is actually an old Indian name. It is in south central Jersey, not far from Philly. I was born and raised there. I went to grade school and part of middle school there until my father got transferred to Atlanta. He worked for IBM (also known as I've Been Moved). We lived in Atlanta for two and half years and then moved back to the same town in New Jersey where I went to high school. I later attended college at William and Mary.

EF - Do you have any brothers or sisters?

JP - I have one older sister who was a grade school teacher for about 10 years. She is now a full time mommy. It is great. I'm experiencing motherhood vicariously.

EF - Nobody else has the acting bug?

JP - No. Nobody in the family really knows anything about the industry. Well, my mom and sister are teachers so I guess, in a way, they are performing in front of a classroom of kids. My father is in management personnel. He trains and does a lot of seminars. He is really good in front of a crowd. They are not performers, nor actors, nor singers, though we all sang in the church choir.

EF - Are your parents still in Jersey?

JP - Yes, they are. I was just there recently. My high school music teacher - who is retiring after 25 years - had a farewell concert in her honor. All the kids did a medley of Titanic songs. I came down and sang my part in "Lady's Maid". It was great.

EF - Since the acting field can be very difficult, were your folks ever concerned with your decision to go into this area?

JP - Oh yeah, I think it was definitely against their better judgment. I remember my mom saying "I don't know anything about this business so I don't know how daddy and I can help you, but we are behind you."

EF - So, there was always support?

JP - In college I worked for IBM for one summer. I thought this wasn't for me. The following summer I did my first summer stock. I remember my mother drove me out to a dumpy theatre in the Poconos, where I lived in this little cabin with nine girls in bunkbeds. I'm sure she thought that this experience would make me rule this career option out. Actually, I loved it even though there was very little money - not even enough to live on, though they gave us room and board.

EF - What shows were you involved with there?

JP - We did a bunch of shows - 42nd Street, Forum, Sugar Babies, and They're Playing Our Song.

EF - Did you study acting at William and Mary?

JP - I got my BA in theatre. It was a liberal arts college, so you are well rounded in all areas. I knew coming out of there I wanted to study even more. I studied subsequent to that, and then here in New York I studied with Fred Kareman.

EF - When did you graduate from William and Mary?

JP - In 1989.

EF - Was your family ever theatre-oriented? Did you see a lot of shows growing up?

JP - We did. Philadelphia was so close. I remember going to the Walnut Street a couple of times. I've actually worked there since then. When I first graduated from college, I got an internship there. I understudied all the shows, taught classes to children, and participated in an educational outreach program. I was cast in my first big show at the main stage there as an intern. That was my introduction into professional Equity theatre.

EF - What was the show you were in?

JP - The first show was The Hired Man. I got cast as the second female lead. I played the daughter. It still is one of my most memorable theatre experiences. Howard Goodall wrote the music based on the book of the same name. It is a love triangle. It revolved around coal miners and farming people. The friends I made there helped me transition to New York.

EF - Really, in what way?

JP - Well, I lived on one girl's sofa for about 9 months. That seems to be the way a lot of people do it. They taught me the ropes of how to pick up certain trade papers and look out for auditions.

EF - With all the ups and downs that are so indicative of the entertainment business and sleeping on a sofa for 9 months, did you have any regrets?

JP - No. I knew I was going to have to pay my dues, make the rounds and build my network slowly. In the meantime, while you are building networks and doing shows, you are getting experience. I learned from anybody and everybody. I worked quite extensively in the regional theatre. I did a lot of stock and regional stuff in DC and Philly, Maine, Detroit. I actually met my husband at the Cincinnati Playhouse in Detroit.

EF - Do you view acting as a job?

JP - I view it as the best job ever. I feel so lucky to be doing what I love to do and get paid for it.

EF - If you couldn't act, what else would you do?

JP - (long pause) - I don't know. That is a really good question. I don't like to go there, I guess. Maybe something in business, since I think I would be good at that. I am a good people-person.

EF - Was there something or someone that influenced your decision to go into acting?

JP - I really didn't know or realize it was a career option. I loved it in high school. My sophomore year I realized how much fun it was and that I wanted to keep on doing it. I didn't know it would be a career option. I went to William and Mary, and they had a strong theatre program. I figured I'd do it on the side. Sometime during college, perhaps during summer stock, I realized I could do this as a job. I thought I was pretty good, though I knew I had a lot to learn. I was getting a lot of encouragement, and knew I wanted to pursue it. I don't know if there was one person. If I had to put a finger on it, it would be the high school teachers. They made it fun and exciting and gave me a lot of knowledge.

EF - What were your dreams when you were a kid?

JP - I don't know. You know, I can't say that I did that, if I dreamt of being somebody. My mom is a teacher and my dad is in business, and, between the two, I thought I would like business.

EF - Outside of career choices, were you thinking of a house with a picket fence and kids running around?

JP - Well, I always thought that I would get married and have children someday. I've been married now three years. We do think that a child or children are in our future, but not quite yet. Then you think, is it even possible in this business? I don't know. So many people in the show have children that it is very inspiring. It is challenging, but possible.