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Jill Schoelen

Jill S.jpg

I’m thrilled to be with you! So tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.


Alright, so let me go backward, if I can start backwards, historically speaking. I started in the entertainment business very, very young. I think I was around 14 when an agent saw me sing that led to getting an agent. I started in singing and dancing in commercials in the late 70s and then got my first theatrical job probably in 1980 in my senior year in high school. 


I was doing commercials prior to that and then from there broke into films. I think I did my first film, DC Cab, when I was 19. And then I took a long hiatus, the day I found out I was pregnant with my son. I left the business for a long time and I got back into the business when I had recently divorced. So I’m doing a musical now, writing songs and hopefully producing it, and also writing my book. In the last couple of years, I did some teaching for my friend, Tony, one of my mentors who passed away.

I understand the show that you’re working on, the goal is to go on Broadway.


I really see it on Broadway and on film. I’m hopeful it would go that direction but I think it would be fantastic for Broadway. People need to see it. Or I would like to believe that.


Who or what inspires you to create the art that you’ve developed?

Wow, that’s a loaded question because of my age. If I were 21, it would probably be one person, but at this age, at 59, there have been a lot of influences. But my very first influence, and I must say not just her but the movie that made her famous, is Judy Garland and the Wizard of Oz. To me, everything goes back to the Wizard of Oz. The lessons learned, the humanity, her journey on the yellow brick is like all of our journeys in life. And she had to learn the central lesson, which is,that  what she was looking for she had all along. And we just don’t know that. She had to learn to own it. And then when she did, she got home in 2 seconds. 


Over the years, it was my mentors Gene Bua and Toni Bua, but Gene with his teachings about acting. It was acting for life. That when you apply the same techniques that he was teaching us about acting, it really applied to life. I have a lot of filmmakers, actors and all kinds of artists that I look up to now. I have to say one of my bigger influences was Steven Spielberg. I know that sounds maybe trite because it seems so evident, but it’s not. He earned where he got to. He did it because he’s good and he knows what he’s doing. [laughs]


At what moment did you realize that this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

When I took my first breath? [laughs] No, I mean it’s so funny because I spent some time with a cousin of mine last year. She lived with our family and we shared a bedroom. She was between my age and my mother’s age. When I was a little girl, she was my memory for a lot of things about my childhood. 


I remember getting up on the coffee table when I was about 7 and belting out ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ from Jesus Christ Superstar. But she said, “Oh no, it was long before that. As long as anyone can remember.” She said, “I have vivid memories of you at home and always coming up with show ideas and plays and skits and you would work on them all day long, and then gather whatever family members were around and sit them down and perform them.”


I guess that was me as a very young, small child. Forever. Is forever a good answer?


What was a moment in your creative process when you were just stuck and how did you overcome it?


I made a lot of movies so on occasion I couldn’t stick. There’s always those moments where it’s like being a basketball player and you just can’t get it in the hoop. It’s not your day, for whatever reason. Or you make less points than you normally do. 


But overall, when I get stuck, I’m a firm believer in inspiration. Which means to breathe in. I start breathing and I work on my energy because it’s my personal belief system that everything is energy. SoI shift my attention. How do I clear my energy? Because I’m blocking it, so I just clear the way. I move the energy. I move it creatively by breathing and by physically moving. When you’re a performer, it doesn’t really matter much what you’re performing. Whether it’s a score, singing, acting, painting, whatever you’re doing on a performance level requires you to be in performance energy. No top athlete is going to go out there, not having warmed up their body, so same thing.


What is one of your dream projects?


That’s another really good question and another really huge question. For me this project that I’m working on right now, with its working title of Pepper Street, which is not the Pepper Street that I did many years ago when the lead role was created for me. The musical I’m working on is the baby of that. It has the DNA of that original one. That was my favorite role that I ever played, playing Spirit in Pepper Street. So this new incarnation of it.. That is my dream. I’d love to make another couple records. I’ve only made one. I would love to do that because there’s nothing like being in the recording studio. It’s just a fantastic experience.


What parting words or advice can you share with emerging artists?


If I spoke to artists in my field, actors and singers, is that you always have to be authentic to the experience that you’re having as an artist. There is a reality, though - you are work for-hire. Unless it’s your project, you’re the waiter. You’re serving what they made. It’s their words. It’s your job to serve it and make the stuff look good, and give a fantastic experience to the person that bought it. So we have to be so tied to being authentic to that experience and what we serve up. 


But it’s a tricky business to really get that you’re working for someone, so how do you accomplish that? You have to find the authenticity and the marriage of being true to yourself and the experience of whatever we’re doing in art.  It is somebody else’s project and you have to do both. I think that sometimes, as artists, it’s easy to talk about artistry and we think it’s not ego, but it’s really ego. The star basketball player does not own the basketball team. It’s often the same for an artist.


Last question. Where do you see yourself in the next 3 years?


I hope… selling and producing my shows. I’d like to get my book out there and would love to do some motivational speaking on the nature of my book, which has to do with self-esteem.. Speaking to the issues that are in the show, issues of humanity, the main one being that it deals with teenage suicide and why somebody feels the need to do that. 


So that ties into part of the causes of ArtCee. Youth at risk and suicide prevention is an important cause related to this business.


There are few things in my life that I’ve gotten the personal reward that you get internally when you help people navigate what they’re feeling. It’s really astonishing how many people and artists are not in touch with what they feel. And if they know what the feeling is, they don’t know how to marry it to the behavior. 


They’re like two separate things. This is why kids get trapped. Not just kids. You know, people get caught up in their feelings and how to navigate in relation to their own humanity and the humanity of others. So they navigate it to a solution... you know, permanent solutions to temporary problems. 


I think there’s a better way to say it. I think we can help them to see more opportunities and more choices for themselves. That can happen by getting them in touch with this. They learn to speak up about all that’s going on inside.  

Interviewed by: Susan Rosenthal,

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