Updated: Jan 27, 2020
Welcome back to the latest in our Get to Know series! Here we sat down with company member Jenna Houchin, who happens to be among the most multi-faceted talents we know. Her skill and experience ranges from acting, directing, graphic design, video editing, projection design, and much more! Here we discuss her inspirations, aspirations, and what defines her work.
M: Let's get this bad boy started with some warm-ups like we do all the rest, you down?
JENNA HOUCHIN: Let's do it!
M: Alright! What’s your favorite color?
JH: Yellow or black.
M: Favorite food?
JH: Avocado rolls and white pizza.
M: Favorite article of clothing?
JH: I own a lot of platform black boots and I’m obsessed with all of them.
M: Do you have any tattoos?
JH: I’d have a lot more if I didn’t act, but I have five. My most recent is a barbed wire heart on my leg.
M: Favorite weather or time of year?
JH: Late fall/very early winter.
M: Coffee or tea?
JH: I regularly drink chai tea lattes but I only drink coffee when I’m extremely stressed out.
M: What are some hobbies or interests of yours?
JH: Outside of theatre, I do a lot of writing, visual art, and photography. I also quietly attempt music, and collect vintage clothing.
M: What do you do to relax?
JH: I try to go to a lot of music or art shows to distract myself from my own work, but if I feel like being alone, I have this stupid thing where I love writing in my car while eating dinner.
M: Dream Vacation?
JH: Anywhere! I think my dream would be to go on tour with an artist or be part of a touring company so I can collaborate with artists while experiencing the world.
M: If you weren’t in theatre what would you do?
JH: Fashion and beauty merchandising/marketing, focusing on creating content for inclusive content, or being a full time photographer. In high school, though, I convinced myself that I wanted to be a heart surgeon. Not sure what that was about.
M: Who is a favorite writer of yours?
JH: All women. I think Greta Gerwig, the screenwriter for Ladybird, is someone who is really important. Musicians like Courtney Barnett and Harmony Tividad made me excited about writing again when I first discovered them.
M: Do you have a favorite actor or director?
JH: Off the top of my head, Ezra Miller is one of my favorite actors (and people, in general) because of how well he connects with people. I’m convinced it’s the main reason he connects so well with others on camera and on stage... he makes it look so easy! He is constantly pushing the limits that the entertainment industry tries to set for people, and it encourages me to try to be as authentic and open as possible at all times.
M: Who is a hero or inspiration of yours?
JH: I’m inspired by everything! I’m at such an amazing point in my life where I’m meeting so many different people, mainly artists, that are so encouraging to me and my process, and I’m inspired by the idea that collectively, we are all creating art that is a reflection of ourselves and our own realities.
Growing up, David Bowie helped me accept myself in all aspects: being comfortable in myself, how I’m changing, my sexuality, and my artistic worldview. I also used to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show on repeat, so that’s got to count for something.
M: What do you admire in people?
JH: Self awareness and realizing you are never too important to help and thank the people around you.
M: What do you despise in people?
JH: When people don’t realize how important their words are, and when people are so busy trying to get ahead that they forget that we can all collectively succeed.
M: What charms you in a person?
JH: When I’m fully charmed by a person, it usually happens in less than five minutes. It must be the open energy they give off or something. It’s also nice when someone doesn’t interrupt me. Either one of those.
M: Where are you from?
JH: Fort Wayne, Indiana.
M: What was it like growing up there?
JH: I didn’t love my life growing up due to a lack of representation of someone I could cling onto in the media or in my everyday life. That being said, I’m eternally grateful for the people I was surrounded by in the arts. They gave me that!
M: Did it impact your worldview in any way?
JH: Yes! I learned about the mindset of having “nothing to prove, only something to share,” and that’s stuck with me every single day since. Growing up in such a supportive performing arts community helped me realize that not everything in life is fun and games but so much of it actually is.
M: When did you develop an interest in theatre?
JH: I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t in dance classes, forcing my family to listen to me sing karaoke, or watching musicals on my VHS player.
M: When did you know this is what you wanted to do?
JH: I think I always knew, but I didn’t think it was a realistic career path until I was older.
M: You went to college and studied theatre. Why ISU?
JH: I went for a music education major so I could be an artistic director for show choirs in the midwest, and since ISU is known as a “teacher school”, I thought it would be a perfect match. I took a class in theatre for my minor, and almost immediately changed that to my major because I realized that that was the actual path I needed to be on.
M: How do you feel about it now that you’re in the field?
JH: I love it more and more everyday.
M: What was your favorite class?
JH: Playwriting. I tried to get out of signing up for it because I was too nervous, but then I ended up being the TA for the class the following year because it flipped some sort of weird switch in my head, and I’ve been writing almost everyday since.
M: How did your college experience shape you as a professional?
JH: It taught me how to speak the language of the theatre. I never wanted to be JUST an actor, or JUST a technician; I wanted to be able to communicate with every person on the team. The department helped me learn how to do that, and that’s extremely important to me.
M: What are the stories you gravitate to?
JH: Ones that are about people like me but are actually told with accuracy.
M: What about these stories do you connect to?
JH: I grew up playing, reading, and watching roles for women written by men that were written well, but were also a little bit off. When women get the chance to tell their stories, there are certain little details that don’t get missed, and I really appreciate being able to cling onto the small things that we forget about when reviewing our day to day experiences. It’s nice to feel less alone.
M: What is the effect you want your work to have on the audience?
JH: I want them to feel seen and heard. It’s very important to me that all people can relate to a story, not just the conventionally attractive, cis-gendered, upper-middle class America.
M: What do you like/expect/want to see as an audience member?
JH: When art really connects with me, it creates this spark that leads me to think about it over and over and eventually create the next thing that I make. I also am obsessed with projection design - it makes it a completely immersive experience for me.
M: Do you think it is easier to take part in a play closer to your experience?
JH: I think either is interesting... neither is especially easy for me. When I relate to it directly, I use it as a form of self reflection and exploration. When I don’t relate to it perfectly, I find out where exactly I differ from the experiences the character has been through, and I try to discover what led them to act this certain way. It’s all about how I connect to the story.
M: What is it about the live theatre that draws you in?
JH: As a playwright, you are writing a role that has the potential to be played over and over again, by a hundred different people from all walks of life. In screenwriting, it’s usually just the one person who has the role. The theatre role has the opportunity to live on and to resonate with so many different people, whether they are the actor, the director, or the audience member, that all bring something different to it. It will never be the same once it leaves the page of your notebook, and whether it’s a temporary thing or a legitimately life changing experience, the idea that I might be able to write something that means something to someone is extremely intriguing and scary.
M: What makes a good scene partner?
JH: When you have the trust that you’re not alone out there. Also them having patience and being a generally good person helps.
M: What kind of roles do you prefer?
JH: Women that unapologetically control the room and lay their emotions out on the table for us to see. Being a very emotional person in everyday life is sometimes (sadly) looked down upon, so to be able to yell, scream and cry AND be phrased for it is a good feeling.
M: Largest audience you ever performed in front of? How did it feel?
JH: I think it was probably in high school, which is such a pure thought. For show choir nationals, we performed at the Lincoln Center in New York, and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville - both were great, and I’m still very close with a lot of the people from it. It was my first theatre family and they will always have a special place in my heart.
M: How would you describe your artistic style?
JH: I don’t really know yet! Absurd and abstract, I suppose, but I bet everyone says that. I tend to work out a lot of self discovery through my work.
M: Talk about what you're working on now. Any personal projects?
JH: Soon enough, I’ll be acting in my last show at Indiana State University, Macbeth. I’ve also been lucky enough to collaborate with people in various photography and videography projects recently, which is a huge passion of mine, and also have time to work on a personal art collection that combines both my interest in mixed media, and my interest in writing.
M: In which area would you like to improve as an artist?
JH: All areas, all of the time. I’m continuously trying to improve my ability to communicate through all aspects of art and theatre, focusing on my connection to capturing the human experience and making it the most authentic that I can. Theatre people are amazing problem solvers and notice small details that I still brush over sometimes. So all of that.
M: Of all the plays you have been involved with in the past, which is your favorite?
JH: I think my favorite project is always the one I’m about to start next because the second I finish one thing, I’m ready to make more.
M: A hundred years from now, what would you like to be remembered for?
JH: In risk of sounding pretentious, sometimes when I read writing, I get so excited that I read it out loud, and I keep a piece of it with me forever, carrying it forward with me, letting it contribute to my artistic worldview, etc. I think it would be really nice and comforting to know that something I put out into the world helped aid someone else to create their own work, because so many incredible people have done that for me.
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