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29 – Jenn Gambatese: Acceptance & Hope from a Broadway Mom

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0:00 Jenn
Doing nothing, as you said in one of your dualities, you said doing versus being - that's an eternal journey for most of us to discover because “we have to do, to prove our worth, and to get the things we think we want.” And like, none of that is true.
So doing all the different inner work that I've been doing and reframing this for myself has been really freeing. Really, really freeing, because I'm like, “Oh, I don't have to do to prove that I'm good and worthy and valuable. I just have to connect.” I just have to talk to people like you and to other friends and just be present and the rest will sort of take care of itself.

0:54 Tony
Hello, it's Tony Howell and I want to welcome you to the podcast. In this month's conversation, we speak with Jenn Gambatese who just returned to Broadway as Miranda Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. Though you'll recognize her from School of Rock, Wicked, Tarzan, All Shook Up, and more. While Mrs. Doubtfire just closed, we've recorded this conversation prior to that news. And you're also going to hear Jen's wisdom on the life of an artist, sustaining a career, and much more.
However, I think the larger themes in this conversation are universal: acceptance and hope. So a bit of a disclaimer. People are understandably very upset right now about many things, but particularly events happening in the US, Europe, and even on Broadway. You're going to hear an alternative approach to handling the chaos of current events that might make you personally activated, or triggered.
There’s another recurring theme in here about finding oneness in dualities, or non-binary thinking—embracing the middle ground. I invite you to listen to the end and try on this different perspective. Even if only temporarily.
Thank you so much for listening and for using your work to change the world. Enjoy!
Jenn Gambatese! Welcome to the podcast. I'm so excited to chat.

2:31 Jenn
Tony Howell! Thanks for having me.

2:34 Tony
Oh, it's an honor. Truly, truly. So you're literally back on Broadway—just finished the show, have a show tonight. You're in Doubtfire right now after a pandemic interrupted it twice. So my question for you is, how does it feel to be back? Is Broadway back?

2:52 Jenn
Yeah, Broadway is definitely back. I think I might be having the number wrong, but I think there's like 35 shows playing on Broadway right now, plays and musicals. So Broadway is back, baby! And it feels great.
It feels… personally for our show, it just feels like such a relief, you know? Because the second pause was really unexpected with Omicron and everything and was really quite a gamble on our producers part. It had never been done before. Where he was quite wonderful, where he talked about, you know, well, how did he say it?
“You know, the pandemic happened. And we tried to put systems in place to land safely, like in a field. If you can't make it to the runway…” And you know, understandably because there's lots of unions involved, and it's a big conversation… “that safety net didn't quite get built. So now we're in the air. And we're not going to make it to the airport. So I can land us in this field, if we…”
That was a conversation he had with our landlord, which is Roundabout actually, who believes in the show. And so, yeah, there's been articles and other podcasts about that journey specifically, but it was a kind of a Hail Mary. So it feels great to be back.

4:09 Tony
Well, I'm excited to see you back on Broadway. You're one of my favorite actors ever.

4:15 Jenn
You're sweet.

4:16 Tony
So you're a mom on stage, but also offstage. You have two beautiful daughters. And I don't know but I my guess is that Jenn Gambatese is a little bit of a mom backstage at Doubtfire.

4:29 Jenn
That’s an educated guess I would say.

4:33 Tony
How are you and Miranda the same, and then how are you different?

4:39 Jenn
Well, let's see. You know, I would say that Miranda is a version of Jenn Gambatese from a while ago, where she's very much sort of in the practice of effort and struggle and control — emphasis on the control.
She's really trying to control everything to feel better, and she feels like she's doing it all on her own. And she is a little! That's his journey of learning where he could have maybe stepped up and in helpful ways.
But Jenn Gambatese, me today, is sort of realizing the sort of folly of that and the power of accepting things just the way they are. And from there, moving towards what I prefer. So that's big! I think Miranda's a labeler and everything has to be in the right place. And I did that for a long time. And now, things are a little more relaxed and gentle. You know, just allowing for me in my life.

5:46 Tony
I can see the journey. It's like everything was meticulously labeled, and now the pantry is just a little free for all.

5:53 Jenn
Yeah, and I still have my preferences, right? I have a little more peace when things are tidy, but they don't have to be. And I think Miranda is still very much in perfectionism, which is really different!
Perfection -ism, is very different from seeing all things as sort of from the higher perspective perfect. You know, even the things that are challenging and painful and not our preference. Like it's still perfect, because it's happening. And there's something to be learned from.

6:29 Tony
And speaking of acceptance, and things to learn from, we know that theatre is one of the most glorious ways to bring people together. And we also know that “Sometimes people leave you.”
So in Doubtfire, you lost the great Doreen Montalvo. We recently lost Stephen Sondheim, the theater you're performing inside right now. And on a less fatal note, you have some new children with you in Doubtfire.
So I know you are a very spiritual person, you are always a light in dark times. So for the kids and the grown ups that are involved or wanting to be involved in show business, what can you pass on about making the most of the time, “In Whatever Time We Have”?

7:15 Jenn
Yeah. These are beautiful statements, and a wonderful question. When I first started in this business, there was a saying, I don't even remember who first said it to me, but you probably know it, too. “Just remember when you're out there: this is somebody's first show they're ever seeing, and this is somebody's last show they're ever seeing.”
There's something about being aware of that that really brings you into the present moment of like, this is special, this is sacred.
In our show, you know Doreen's unexpected passing was… it also happened in the Fall, the first COVID Fall, I mean. Now, you know, you kind of go from season to season. So, and it was, you know, this massive stroke that, you know, nobody expected. And she was and is, I will say is, because Doreen is very much still a part of our show family. We talk about her all the time. She has like a special area. It was an idea I had. We wanted to acknowledge the anniversary of her passing. I said, “Well, what if we made like a shadow box with one of her costumes?” And boy, they outdid themselves.
It's her favorite jacket, and her favorite pair of pumps that are on top of it. And we have post-it notes — people leave notes to her. My opening night gift for the company was wind chimes. You know, “Chiming in to say how grateful I am for you.” So I had a set of times for Doreen, and it's right by her box and people ring the bell a lot. And we all feel her a lot still with us.”
So I think to answer your question, I would tell people not to be afraid to open themselves to continuing their relationships with people when they do depart from the woods. You know, my belief is that they're returning to where we all come from. The woods, our time here, is the short part. The outskirts of the woods, whatever that is in the non-physical, that's the eternal part. And that's where we all come from, where we're all all going to sort of return to.
So I feel like our people are our people (Oh, that's a good that's a good pre show warm up!), our people are our people always, so making the most of our time while we have it here, in this you know earth school playground is about sort of enjoying the things that are only possible here, right? Like, oh, I'm looking at this pastrami sandwich

10:07 Tony
Her dinner is ready to go!

10:09 Jenn
I do! My matzo ball soup. I'm like a Jew in my heart. But you know, did you ever see that Pixar movie Soul? Oh my gosh, Tony! You have to see it! But it's so great, because the little number 22, this soul. Oh god, it's so funny, voiced by Tina Fey. And she has this moment with like, you can't taste in the non-physical, where our souls go. That's the things that are here, are like our senses. Our physical senses have no taste, and smell, and touch. And I would say making the most of our time here is really like leaning into that because it's pretty special. You know?

10:48 Tony
Amen. Well, speaking of making things pretty special and making the most of the time, I already mentioned it, but you do that. One of the things I adore about you is how much you do that on stage — that you are fully present and in the moment, and an actor with integrity and generosity. So thank you for that.

11:07 Jenn
Well, thank you.

11:09 Tony
Of course! Let's talk about some of those shiny peak moments: riding in on a bubble and such on the Wicked tour, or starring in Original Broadway Companies. But I want to actually pivot from that, Jenn, because those are the peak moments. And so that's what you talk about in a lot of other interviews.
But for the artist that is in between some of those peak moments. How do they handle that? And this is something you and I have had private conversations about, but these are the dualities, I want you to kind of talk to us about balancing:
work with life.
hustle with self-care.
doing versus being. (Which I was reminded from you, and then…)
glamor and grit.
because we got the sparkle of Broadway, but we know what what it looks like backstage? Yeah, how do we balance all of that as a whole artist?

12:01 Jenn
Gosh, this is so such great questions. And I love the word that you use: duality. And then you sort of delineated these specific ones. But I think where I'm at in my life is sort of a new awareness of those dualities, and sort of stepping outside of the duality and seeing the oneness of each of those things you talked about. So let's see if I can follow my own thread of thought here.
So when you talk about the two polarized dualities, right, sometimes there's an emphasis on one as good, or preferable, and the other as you know, not preferable or bad. So like, let's take the one of like, the peak shiny moments, that those are the good things, you know, sort of that mental construct of seeing it as that. Not to say not to enjoy those things, but as sort of labeling it as the peak, we are creating the duality for us are saying, like, that's the good thing. And the fallow times are the like, boring, bad thing, right? But that's just our perception of it.
So I think in the past, yeah, I would be like hustling, that was a word that you use, hustling to effort and struggle and control to create more of the things I preferred and the “good things”, and then… I'd be missing my life. That was actually happening in the in-betweens, in the just being of it all.
So my sort of path right now is kind of stepping outside of, you know, the duality at all. You know, just seeing it all as, as perfect right now, like I said before, so that's been very freeing. Because, you know, in the past, for a long time, decades, really, I would call it the fallow periods. And I would say to fellow friends and artists, friends, you know, yeah, don't forget the field you can't keep planting in it and expect good crop to grow. The soil has to rest and has to sort of do nothing. You know, that's hard. I think, doing nothing.
As you said in one of your dualities, you said doing versus being - that's an eternal journey for most of us to discover because “we have to do, to prove our worth, and to get the things we think we want.” And like, none of that is true.
So doing all the different inner work that I've been doing and reframing this for myself has been really freeing. Really, really freeing, because I'm like, “Oh, I don't have to do to prove that I'm good and worthy and valuable. I just have to connect.” I just have to talk to people like you and to other friends and just be present and the rest will sort of take care of itself.
So that was really super long winded and maybe esoteric, but I hope that…

15:20 Tony
No, I love it! Like, I always feel like I garner wisdom from you.

15:27 Jenn
Well, thank you. And yes, so the glamor and the grit. That's an interesting one for me, because I still have some, I don't know, maybe like old limiting beliefs or judgments about the glamor, because I'm at my sort of center, I'm not that like. I'm just, I don't know, like, camper girl. Like not that…

15:48 Tony
Girl from Cleveland, Ohio! An outdoorsy girl!

15:50 Jenn
Outdoorsy girl. But I mean, it is fun. I've over the years, I've met friends that helped me play with that to say, “Yes, and…”
And like, what is it to just play dress up and make believe? And really, maybe, you know, it's it's an interesting thing as I'm talking like, it could also be this weird thing about not being comfortable with all eyes on me, which is hilarious, right? But when I'm acting, it feels different. Because I'm bringing a character to life, you know, whereas when you're like all dolled up and all like super glamor-fide and the flashbulbs are popping. I'm like, this is weird. But it is part of, you know, the business of show. So I've had to, like, push past my own fear to like, have fun with it, and not make it mean anything. For me. It's like, I know the work that is involved to look like that and be like that. And it's not always like, my preferred way to spend my time. So as long as I don't have to do it, as long as I don't feel the pressure that I have to, you know, be all like, you know, camera ready at all times, like, that's for the birds for me. So that's the grit part that I let it be both.

17:12 Tony
She can do both! Well, I want to ask because I'm selfish as a host. This is when I get to ask all the questions I want to know. But tell me about your husband, Curtis. How did you meet? And what did you learn in your marriage about relationships?

17:28 Jenn
I love you asking this. And I love that as you asked it, because, you know, in our private conversations, like, I look at you sort of being me, like the way your body changed and your voice changes, like that's how I feel about my Curtis.
Okay, let me tell you about Curtis Cregan. Curtis and I met doing a workshop of a show that went on to Broadway without either of us involved in it. It's called In My Life, we've talked about this before. It was, you know, one of those sort of flops of the like, of like, Carrie. Like it was a real like, whoa, what's happening on this stage? You know, and like Carrie, not without its own merits. But it just did not, did not coalesce. And we did not do that on Broadway. I was doing All Shook Up at the time when it wound up happening. But we had done the workshop together, and we played opposite each other. And that's where we met and got married in the show.
And it was very, like, you know, you're like, how much of this is like the show and the characters? Like this feels real. Like it's a showmance that's a real showmance! It was real. But it was also like it could only at that time be like a glimpse of what was real because we were both ending other relationships.
I had broken up and then gotten back together with my boyfriend at the time. And when we got back together, I said, “Well, I think I might need to see other people, you know?” Because I I was married very young to my high school sweetheart. So I was like, super inexperienced, you know of like dating and all of that. So there was like a little bit of like getting our ducks in a row in that way.
But there was an undeniable sort of soul connection, which I actually, believe it or not, Tony, I felt the first time I saw Curtis Cregan years before that. I was in Footloose. I don't know if I've ever told this story publicly. My friends know this story. I’ll tell it!
I met Curtis when I was in my Broadway debut Footloose. And I remember the theater was all a buzz because “Curtis Cregan is in town! Curtis Cregan is in town!” I was like, “Who is this Curtis Cregran cat? What's the story about him?” And I was at that point, newly married to my high school sweetheart, like I was within the first year of our marriage.
And I remember coming out the stage door, and seeing this Curtis Cregan that everyone talked about, and being like, “Huh.”
It wasn't like I'm seeing my future husband, I'm seeing the future father of my children. But it was like I definitely like clocked him in a way of like, just to be honest, I had that feeling when I met my former husband in high school. It was this moment, I've had it with some friends to where it's just this little, almost like shiver up my spine of like, “Oh, okay! Hey again,” or something like that. It was really, really wild.
So he doesn't remember meeting me then. But before that, we almost met in a summer stock production of Grease. And I didn't get cast in it. He did. It was the summer I got engaged to my former husband. And I remember saying to Curtis, I said, what if we had met that summer? Maybe I wouldn't have ever, you know, I probably… what would have happened? And he's like, “No, you wouldn't have liked me then. I wasn't ready for you.”

20:53 Tony
So we let the universe take care of it.

20:55 Jenn
Yeah. And that would have been gosh, I mean, from the time, let's see, that would have been the summer of 1997 when we almost met and didn't. I clocked him in 1999/2000. And then we met in 2004.

21:16 Tony
The timeline! Now in 2022, what could you say to someone who is just about to get married? Or in their first year? What have you learned about relationships?

21:28 Jenn
Oh, I mean, for me, it's part of why I'm here on this planet is to like, learn about myself, in the deepest way possible through relationship, be it with my husband, with my children, with my friends. I mean, relationships are sort of, for me, the best teachers.
You know, specifically, these romantic ones? Boy oh boy, it's just the biggest and clearest mirror to ourselves. That's what I've learned. And that's really an understanding that is more present for me even in just like the last year, maybe two years.
Where even two years ago, I was convinced that when I felt bad, because he did something, whatever it was, or didn't do something, that that was about him. And it is not. It is always him reflecting something to me about myself, that I believe / don't believe. That's what I've really learned.
And so, in the last two years, there's this new gratitude. I mean, I remember when when the penny dropped for me, and I said something to him after some sort of fight, and I was like, “You didn't do anything wrong. You don't have to say or do anything. I'm gonna sit with this and work on it. And thank you.” And he looked at me like I had two heads like, am I mocking him? I was like, “No! No, I get it. You don't believe me? You think I'm like trying to trap you or something? No, no, I really mean it. Thank you. Thank you for saying that thing that hurt my feelings. You just gave me a gift.” (Because it was a lesson.)
Yeah, because it was something that I thought I needed from him. Nope, it was just something I wasn't yet giving to myself.

23:29 Tony
That's a soundbite. So, following along on that journey, if you could speak to a younger version of you, pre-children, that they were thinking about having a family… what advice can you pass on to a young artist who's ready to enter that world?

23:46 Jenn
Oh, who wants to start a family? Yeah. Yeah, well, I would say that there's no desire on your heart, that's not there for a reason. So if that is calling you, you know, don't be afraid of it. And don't try to figure out like how, or like when, or like, plan it all out. Because there's never sort of the perfect time or the right time.
So I would say, you know, sort of acknowledge that desire on your heart and like, keep stepping towards it. And sometimes that doesn't look like what you thought it would look like. Like, especially for women, right? Like I do know, women that said, “Okay, well, I thought I meet the person first and this and that.” But here in physical reality, there are some, like determining factors that like time only exists here or right time doesn't exist there. So but it exists because that's what gets us into action, right? So don't be afraid of the clock and don't whatever, but definitely be aware of it because it does exist. And just keep stepping out on faith. And it really will all work out.
Babies. Oh, I get a little like, I don't even know, what's the feeling I'm feeling because one of my co stars just left this week he and his partner are waiting for their surrogate to… yeah, like, I think it's gonna happen tomorrow. I really do. I'll have to update you if I'm right. But they come when they want to come and but they bring source right to our doorstep. I mean, they are. Most people feel it when they're in the presence, especially like the little bitty bitty babies. Like, they're… my mom would always they're the most powerful people in the room. Because they just came fresh.
They haven't yet forgotten who they are, you know, like, as a person. And as a parent, like, you remember that sort of freedom that you had, like, you know, from when… I have some very early memories, I think some of my earliest memories are maybe like three years old. So that's pretty, pretty early. But, you know, we all remember like, you know, maybe five, four and five, like little flashes of memory of like, oh, gosh, I was so free I wasn't it because we hadn't yet adopted this awareness of like what other people think and needing to be good or needing to, like we know those…
Four year olds? That's my favorite age. This was when I was in Frog and Toad. That was my demographic man is like four year olds. Four year olds, that's the magic age to me, because they're past the threenager stage. Because the you know, two and three, everyone thinks it's two. But it's actually three is when they're really like really determining that they are an individual here, because up until that point, like it's, they're still like in like the cosmic goo of it all. I'm myself, but I'm me, you're you. But we're the same. And then the threenager happens. And they're really delineating, like, this sense of self, of identity, of ego in a way. But then there's this sweet spot where they have this autonomy, but they haven't adopted all the crap we came here to adopt. And then, you know, transcend as adults.

27:11 Tony
Amen. Well, speaking of transcendence, and some of the crap that we have to deal with as adults, we're seeing some major shifts with literal white knuckles on the patriarchy, like just recently in the US. So I'm wondering, as an artist that I believe, that I know, is a teacher. Could you speak to the types of stories or roles that you'd like to see or star in? What do you want to change about the entertainment industry?

27:40 Jenn
Oh, okay. That's an interesting question. Because it's kind of a two parter here, because you're alluding to some of the Supreme Court stuff going on with Roe v. Wade, and freedom, reproductive choice and freedom. And then the white knuckling of the patriarchy, which is still…
I mean, I guess, I'm just gonna like riff on this a little, I'm not that worried about it. (Nice.) I see it being dismantled. And I personally feel that the dissolving of it… some of it is dismantling it, right? Some of it is like an active deconstruction and some of it is just a little more of a dissolving of it.
I have become more neutral about what I am in resistance to. I think it is valuable to be passionate and for there to be a resistance. I personally am not really steeped in that energy right now. So my activism would more come from inspired action of creating what I want to create.
Now for a lot of the people that are angry, angry and resisting, that is their inspired action. And that is really valuable to you know, so because I see all that passion because I see people using their voices, in the ways that they are inspired to do it. I'm like, it's gonna be okay. I really do believe it's gonna be okay.

29:13 Tony
It's the turbulence from the change that's happening

29:16 Jenn
The turbulence from the change. And it's the zooming out over time. When there's a lot of upset and anger, there's a lot of fear of like: this is going to be taken away, and we're not going to get it back. And that can be a really motivating force to say, “No, this is important!”
But I don't know, I just I feel like it's gonna work out, I really do. But listen, now I say that and I realize that could be activating, or people say triggering, to people who very firmly believe that what is happening right now is a good thing, right? That taking away choice or freedom is the right thing.
But that, again gets us back to like the duality of like, you know, good and bad, right and wrong. In different spiritual practices, we know there's much more power in a middle way of finding that flow. And it finds itself, like water down the mountain. It will find the path of least resistance.
And yeah, so that was, yeah, another little sidebar there.

30:27 Tony
Jenn, I love it. Well, I think one of the conversations, I love what you just said about finding the middle. So one of the things I want to pass on and just chat with you about, in my own journey from actor to what I do now in brand strategy, I have seen that there has to be a duality of authenticity, but layered with strategy. And then even in media, that, we see that there are things that are very traditional (newspapers, magazines, TV) with new forms of storytelling, or innovative forms of storytelling, like podcasting!

31:02 Jenn
Right? It's a really active thing now.

31:05 Tony
Yeah. So you're in a brand new Broadway show, but it's got some traditional elements. As we're seeing, Jenn is very authentic. But here we are in your dressing room, like we knew when to do this podcast interview. So we're layering on some strategy.

31:22 Jenn
A little backstage clip?

31:24 Tony
Yes. Can you talk about that of like, when do you know, it's too far out of the middle? When something is too authentic? Or when it's too traditional? When is that signal?

31:38 Jenn
Yeah, gosh, that's a really great question. Because there's this part of me that that says like, well, nothing authentic can never be too authentic. Because really, the most authentic people, real authenticity is like, “This is who I am.” And however that plays out for you has nothing to do with me.
So if I'm being me, and it's not getting the “result” I want from the business… then, so what? Yeah, but I hear your question, which is like, you know, there are some rules of the game as it exists. Now, we might want to change it, we might want to.
I guess it's a sort of awareness or sensitivity of: is my authenticity activating people in such a way that they can't hear or see what I'm here to express? If my authenticity is shutting other people down, then it's not really effective.
So I think, because I'm a sensitive person, I can kind of read people or read the room pretty well. So I guess that question was like, how do you discern? That I think it's different for each person. And it's, you know, that inner voice of like, you can discern. And then you want to ask yourself, like, “Well, okay. Is my authenticity shutting them down so we can't stay in connection anymore? Does that matter right now? Or does it not?”
Because sometimes that might not matter! And be like, “Okay! Well then you go process that because I stand by, you know, what I said or what I did,” and it's okay.
You know, certainly you never want to be responsible for somebody feeling bad, but sometimes it's unavoidable, you know? And then there's other times where your inner voice will say, “Wait, no! Can I just like, let that go? I don't need to be right.” Let me just like, let it go and stay connected to this person and see where the conversation goes.

33:50 Tony
It's a balance of self and other. And artist and audience.

33:55 Jenn
Yes. And of course, you know, that's exactly right. Because we, ultimately, we are the other we are your me, and I'm you and we're all connected, but that's like zoom, zoom, zoom out here. Here on Earth right now, like we are sort of differentiated and it's a game to sort of stay teammates.

34:18 Tony
Well, speaking of traditional, you have a gorgeous album, and it's called Cockeyed Optimist: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. It's so luscious. And there are, speaking of over achiever, there are 19 tracks. I was like, dang, Jenn! That's not just like a five song EP. So any insights for the artists who's looking to record and release their first album?

34:46 Jenn
Well, again, I think, you know, I would say if there's a desire on your heart, keep stepping towards it. I was stepping towards it and like I had met with some people and I really wanted to do Rodgers and Hammerstein. And I was like, okay, maybe we could do like a smaller, you know, pared down thing. And even that was like astronomically expensive, you know.
And then a friend of mine led me to, like, I just stayed open to inspiration my friend had recorded for John Yap for Jay Records. And I started a conversation with him.
His structure was such that he owned the tracks he had recorded. So the orchestral tracks on my album happen to be on other solo artists albums, other cast albums that are on that label. So this was the most economical way that I could bring the songs to life with a full orchestra, and created, you know, an agreement with John, and just had the most fun. Like, that's what I would say to artists who want to do it.
First of all, don't effort and struggle. Stay open. The right door will open, and you'll just walk through it for what you want to create. And if it’s really expensive, you'll get inspired for ways to raise that money, or you know, whatever. But it's for me, like, it's always about the experience and the people that I do it with. So like, I've really enjoyed doing that with John in the studio and our mixer. And then I had my friends come in and do duets. And it was just fun. And I think anything that people are creating, like the focus on the fun and the feeling good of it, and then it'll be a great experience.

36:32 Tony
It's a beautiful, beautiful album, and everyone can go check it out at JennGambatese.com.
I know you are, in addition to eight shows a week, and family life, you've been filming for TV. Most of my audience are veteran theater actors, but they're wanting to crossover — make breakouts in TV and film.
So if you could speak to Jenn, prior to booking all of your TV/film credits, what would you want her to know about crossing over?

37:02 Jenn
I would want her and anyone listening that was similar to her to know that the biggest discrepancy in the craft of it is only in the audition, that once you book it, it really feels more like theater than you think it will. I mean, there's like definitely differences. But you know, you're in a costume and you have scene partners. The hardest part is the audition, you really have to sort of use all the tools in your toolbox to get yourself into the world of that material. Because you're not going to have it, back in the day, in the room, but now it's more zoom, which is, you know, better in some ways harder in some ways, you know, yeah. But still, you know, even if you're doing it at Zoom, you're like, “Okay, I got my self tape set up. And I'm doing this and, you know, my husband's reading the thing” and it doesn't, I guess what I would say is like, it doesn't get harder than that. You know that that's the sort of if you can just keep, you know, pushing past the fear and being like, doing your craft doing your work being authentic in those auditions. Like, you'll be fine. One on set, you'll be… you'll have a great time

38:20 Tony
And speaking of, like your scenes… DRAMA! They're all accessible on your site.
Well, you wrote a little bit about your story on your about page. And yeah, I guess everyone needs to go reread it as I just did. But when you wrote that, what are you hoping that that someone would take away from it? What's there for them to find?

38:41 Jenn
Yeah, that's like my favorite. I mean, that's like, that's the most authentic. That's me on my site. In addition to all the showbiz things of like, look, it's a leading lady, I would want people to see it's not just a cliché of “everything happens for a reason.” When you keep getting older, and you zoom out a little bit, you can really see how everything led to the next thing, to the next thing, to get you right to this moment, right now where you realize: I am the creator of my reality with my higher power. I can dream a new dream and start taking inspired action towards that. I can let it all go and just travel around the country with my husband and our camper. Like I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to. That's pretty great.
Like you! I mean, like you move to Bali! Who does that? Tony Howell does that. That's how I knew that I wanted to work with you because do you have that awareness on social media of presenting your authentic self within the context of your business and I just kept clicking and I just kept, I was like, “I have to get to know that guy. I have so much to learn from him,” and it's because I watched you. It's inspiring, right? To see people who follow inspiration and make a big bold move.
“Awesome! I'll have what he's having.”

40:15 Tony
I gotta put the spotlight back on you, my friend. Speaking of taking inspired actions, and writing, you have written some cabaret shows you have children's books in the works. What is it about writing that you felt called to express in that way?

40:31 Jenn
Well, you know, it's interesting, you had given me a heads up about these questions. And when you said that, I was like, “Oh, how in the works is it?” That inspiration for the children's book is really back burnered. Like, why does it matter? Do I want to control the situation and tell Tony, “You know what? Don't mention that.”
Like, no, no, because I'm still in action. There's an illustrator I really want to work with. And so, you know, maybe it's gonna be self published, after all, because like, I just want to make things.
But in the meantime, okay, what has the writing been, right? It was that website piece with you. It was getting to write an essay for TDF during our last pause. That was really an awesome experience for me. It's emails and texts to friends, to encourage people.
You know, I don't know where it's all leading. I do have, you know, dear friends being like, “Yeah, keep going with that!” You know, and I'm like… yeah, it'll get clearer for me, like, what will it be leading to, what kind of writing.
But what is it about it? Especially actually long handwriting, because that's my morning practice is, you know, pen and paper, there's something about the sort of the mechanics of that, that really quickly connects me to my inner self, so that a lot of times when I'm writing, I can tell what's like Jenn, and what's like, coming through me, if that makes sense. And there's fun in both, right?
Like, it's fun to just kind of be a messenger and get that like, “Okay, I guess, you know, I need to write this out. And I need to.” You know, I'll do that sometimes now with like, write a letter, like, especially like, things of gratitude or appreciation.
A friend, I think my friend gave it to him, but I saw Encanto and I was so moved and grateful. And, you know, Lin and I have met a couple times. I'm on the train with my legal pad. And I'm just like, I'm gonna write this letter to you, to tell you, to say thank you for being you and giving us what you give us. And not because you know, you’re fancy Lin-Manuel Miranda, and maybe I'll get to work with you one day, but because, wow, you inspired me and I specifically that letter to Lin said, I knew I had to do it. Because you know, you mentioned we're in The Stephen Sondheim Theater. And you know, he passed in the winter.
The week before Steve passed. I probably… yeah, the week before, like four days in a row. I was like, wow, Steve Sondheim is so great. I want to send him a thank you card. Like I mean, you know, you look at these people to say like, oh, well, they, they probably don't need that. They get it all the time. They don't need, you know, but I was like, he's just a person. And it does feel good to know that, like, you’ve had an impact on someone's life. And I just kind of didn't act on that inspiration. And the minute he passed, I was like, just got real still. And I just said it all from my heart to him. And I know that he received it.
So then when I had that inspiration to do that for Lin, I was like, “You know what? Just do it.” Because like you said before, like we are not promised anything. And then I wrote that. I don't know if he’s gotten it yet. I don't even know if he's gotten it still, because my friend who's friends with him, maybe he hasn't seen him yet. I don't know. “Lin, if you're hearing this, did you get that letter?”
But that was like December, then we closed again. And then I was inspired to do this concert for Doreen for her scholarship. And I did it with Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley and we ran for R.Evolución Latina and we raised I think it came at the end to like $4,000 and Seth reached out to Lin and you know, Lin and Doreen… Doreen was the first person to walk through the door to audition for In the Heights, like the first reading of In the Heights.
So it all just felt like… and he came on Zoom and he came to the fundraiser. It's just like, I don't know. There's magic everywhere, I guess.

44:37 Tony
Yeah. Well, I actually want to tap into your magic for just a moment and ask you. You mentioned morning pages. I'm assuming that's Artist’s Way possibly.

44:46 Jenn
Oh no. I have done The Artist’s Way in the past. This is a practice through some classwork that I do with the website is TheTeachingsOfJoshua.com. It's like channeled material. I'm in this coursework called The Ascension Experience, which has just been mind blowing.
There's like 13 segments. I'm in segment 11. Let's see if I could go through. Shall I go through my Ascension Experiences?
We started out, and they are each four weeks long, so we started out with alignment. After alignment was abundance actually, or financial prosperity, which was interesting, because all the work I did, it didn't seem like, I was like, “Oh, I thought this would feel different, this topic.” And it wound up being like deep old family stuff. And then at the end of it, I did book a TV show.
So alignment, financial prosperity, third, I think was self-discovery. Fourth was health and wellness. Fifth was oneness, which was really interesting. Even the man who creates the channelled coursework was like, “Yeah, I didn't think it was 13. Why would oneness be five? Like, wouldn't that be closer to the end?”
But no, it's like, right smack in the middle. Really interesting. And then relationships with friends and family, forgiveness. I won't keep going on because I think I'm out of order.

46:09 Tony
We'll we can include resources with the episode. So you can always send it after.

46:13 Jenn
Yeah, you know, my intention for this year, because every year I set an intention for myself was “reveal.” Like, I want to reveal more of my authentic self and to have my gifts be revealed to me. And it is really happening in 2022. And, you know, to talk about, like, some of the more woo woo stuff, you're like, I'm just like, you know, I'm like a Catholic from Ohio.

46:36 Tony
Christian from Indiana. So yeah, I feel you.

Jenn 46:39
And I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. You know, I'm certainly you know, like the dogma of like, Cardinal. Who's the Cardinal here in New York? You know, if he heard some of what we talked about, he'd be like, “Yeah, you're not a...” But that's okay. You know, there's so much from, you know, my faith traditions that I grew up in that feed me and exploring new things is just wonderful.
So, you know, here I am, like talking on your podcast about like… oh, Jenn Gambatese is kind of like a woo woo. spiritual chick.

Tony 47:09
Love it. We are running out of time. So I want to squeeze in just a few more questions. Can you tell us a little bit about Broadway Heals? What it is? What's ahead? The mission and the vision?

Jenn 47:20
Okay, so this was another one of your questions. I was like, “Oh, boy, do I want to talk about it? Because like, am I a fraud?” Like, this was an idea I had in 2012. I took action on it, did my own concert at the Columbia Presbyterian Children's Hospital, was super inspired.
It was like, I want to make something. I want to do this. Well, you know, then I had a kid, then I had another kid, and okay, okay: 2018, I got back into action with it. Did another event, had friends come and do it.
And then I thought, okay, yeah, I'm going to, you know, Doubtfire is going to open in 2020. And I'm going to like, really, like, dive in. Okay, well, we know, life had different plans. There's a pandemic.

47:57 Tony
God laughs, “Nice plan!”

48:00 Jenn
Yeah, and I decided to just be present through that pandemic experience, like, for myself with my family. You know, we took this epic adventure, traveling the country in our camper for five and a half months.
So I actually, just this last week, had a meeting with Tom Viola over at Broadway Cares. They have some affiliate organizations. He had some advice for people I could reach out to.
You know, a part of I think creating something is aligning yourself with the other people that can help make it a reality. Because otherwise, it's just like ego.
I'm sure like earlier, this version of this like, “Right, yes! Let me do this thing and create something and I'm a good person.” Like, it's so changed from that now of like, I mean, it wasn't, that wasn't, you know, in the back of the operating system, but if I'm being honest, like it was still there, “Like, okay… I might not have these awards and accolades, but I can make a good thing in the world.”
So the mission is that there is healing power in singing and spoken word in in the vibration of our voices. Right. So that's what I experienced when I went to the Children's Hospital, did my concert in the atrium, and then would go up in the rooms, and just be with these young people, you know, and I would ask, like, “Oh, do you like Disney songs?” And like, yeah, and then just sing one of those.
My vision is that there'll be an app. On the app for the volunteers will be a library of songs that everybody knows: the Disney stuff, the Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Hamilton, whatever. And I've already talked with a lot of pianists and stuff who are like "Yeah, I'll volunteer to put the tracks down.”
So, you know, the Broadway Heals volunteer signs up and says, “Okay, I'm gonna go.” It's tricky right now because of the pandemic still, for in-person stuff. Another great organization, Sing for Your Seniors really has nailed it in the virtual realm. So I'm going to be talking with them, you know, how did they do it?
But I do think, you know, as this becomes more endemic, and the masks are able to come off safely, I mean, especially in hospitals, my personal experience was that in-person vibration is really powerful.
And in the meantime, as I take those action steps, I am Broadway Heals, right? I called a former student of mine today, I was thinking of him. And if I'm thinking of somebody, I'm going to reach out, right? Like there's a reason I'm thinking of them. He's been fighting cancer, young boy, 17. And we just chatted, right? That's Broadway Heals. You know, he's been in some of my workshops and stuff.
I have another young friend who came into my life this January, who has had a heart transplant, and when she was in the hospital, I helped talk her to sleep sometimes, you know, cuz I have a soothing voice, and like, that's Broadway Heals.
It's evolving. But I think when it is like the thing thing, it's gonna be cool.

51:03 Tony
And I would just say, if anyone's listening here, and they're like, I want to get involved, then keep nudging. I can't wait to see what it turns into.

51:11 Jenn
Yeah, the execution like, I'm full disclosure, like, come on! All the helpers! Because it's the execution that when you are doing the show, raising the kids, doing the laundry, the laundry, the laundry, it never ends!

51:23 Tony
Oh, my God, the last time you were doing laundry, that was funny, we were chatting. But I do want to highlight because you mentioned like, the ego, like you do need collaboration. And that is a journey I think, for both artists and new entrepreneurs, you have to bring people on board to help execute a vision. You can't do it all yourself. That's the whole point, you know?
So I wanted to have you on to celebrate Doubtfire reopening—the latest Broadway opening for you. You mentioned a new TV film credit. I don't know if you can tell us what that is.

51:54 Jenn
Wait, no, I think that was one I already filmed. There's nothing coming up. Maybe you know something? I don't know.

52:00 Tony
Or maybe it's gonna happen by the time this releases! So just quickly, you did invest time and money and creating JennGambatese.com. And the same time, you were rebuilding your house. Just like so much change happening all around you!
Can you share about what that process was like for you? And any responses or results it has generated?

52:22 Jenn
Well, it was a joy, like the whole process was a joy. And that was because like, to me, the result is you're in my life. Like, that's the result to me. No, I really mean that. Yes, I have this beautiful website. And the response from people are like, wow, that looks fantastic. And it's like, I know, he's really good. But you brought it out of me, too. It was a co-creation. Like your questions? It was so much fun, because it's like the kind of work that I love to do about alignment and authenticity, and really having that digital space and digital representation of me be aligned with me. With me now. Me is the future — like things I want to do. So we were really intentional with that.

53:07 Tony
And Jane had to be on that website. I just kind of mentioned, because you were fantastic.

53:11 Jenn
Oh thank you, that's where you first fell in love with me. Me, Jane. Indeed. But yeah, it was completely just inspired action: reach out to you. We were on the road. I didn't know when Doubtfire was coming back. I didn't have a paycheck. There's, you know, pushing past that fear of like abundance. And also because, you know, I'm a team with my husband, and you know, our resources are, what they are, and where are they gonna be allocated, but boy, was he on board. And when he saw it, he was like… just loves it so much. It turned out so great. And then with like… we'll see. We'll see what other things, you know, pop up.

53:49 Tony
I'm excited. I know they will. So Jenn, I believe that artists are changemakers, that we are making change. Changing lives one person at a time, or thousands eight times a week.
But I also believe we chose a "non-traditional path” because some whispers, some divine calling was like, this is what you need to do.
So the whole purpose of this show is inspiring the listener how can they use their work to change the world? I know changing the world is a huge task. But can you just close this out with some inspiration for the artists? What do you think they need to be reminded of today?

54:26 Jenn
Yeah, the artist or the human - just like the human being on this journey. You know, when you were just asking it, what came to my mind was Kinky Boots, like “You change the world when you change your mind.”
So I think you know, whatever is that whisper to you, whatever it is, every human being has that whisper and you follow your curiosity like remaining open and pushing past fear to follow your curiosity without attachment to the result. I would just say to people In general, like, you know, sometimes it's reaching out to an old friend. But that is how you create change and evolution in your life is by just following the wisps.

55:19 Tony
Thank you, Jenn, and thank you for joining us.
Reflecting on this conversation, what stood out to me were the themes of acceptance and hope.
The discussions about reproductive choice and freedom might be triggering, especially as we wait and see what happens, but one through line that I've heard and felt from my guests over the past four years, is that everything is going to work out. To have faith and hope that we are seeing the last vestiges of a cis white heteronormative patriarchy. I hope that they are right.
And I wanted to also pass on three quotes from world leaders:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
-Mother Teresa
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
-Helen Keller
So while this idea of everything's gonna be fine, is zoomed out, and it might be activating to you right now. It personally put me at ease. It feels like we have been activated since 2016.
But one of the things I found helpful is that every time we see or imagine the worst case, it's also helpful to remember or imagine the best case. So step by step, bit by bit, we will all help design OUR future, knowing that some days it's going to definitely be much harder to keep the faith than others.
But I thank you, Jenn Gambatese for teaching us about acceptance and hope.
What stood out or spoke to you? Take a screenshot and share your takeaway by tagging @JennGambatese (that's double N and B-A-T) and @TonyHowell. We would love to hear from you.
Check out the episode description before you move on because Jan is one of my favorite artists and I've created a shrine of my favorite things from Jenn Gambatese. You can see photos and videos of her work, listen to her solo album, see the shadow box they made for Doreen, learn about Broadway Heals and much more. And of course, if you're so inspired, make sure that you go check out JennGambatese.com.
Can I ask you a small favor, please take just a few extra seconds to rate and review this show on Apple Podcasts. It really helps other people find out about this show. And while you're there, you can check out our past conversations, and subscribe because there are some incredible Changemakers coming your way this season.
Thank you so much for listening.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us after this episode.
And as I said at the beginning, how can you use your work to change the world?
Maybe you and I can have a conversation about it very soon.

On this episode of Conversations with Changemakers, we speak with Jenn Gambatese.

Most recently on Broadway in Mrs. Doubtfire as Miranda Hillard, if you’re my age, you also know Jenn’s incredible voice (and equally incredible acting) from All Shook Up, Tarzan, Frog & Toad, and more.

When not treading the boards, raising kids, and remodeling her house, Jenn is probably on set filming something—most recently Blue Bloods, Law & Order SVU, and The Good Wife.

Listen to this episode for insights on:

  • Acceptance vs. perfectionism.
  • The many stages of life and show business.
  • Keeping hope and creativity alive in bleak times!

Click here to access bonus resources from this episode.

Connect with Jenn Gambatese:

Connect with Tony Howell:

Episode Credits:

If you enjoyed this episode, leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Be sure to check out our past conversations and subscribe for next month’s special guest!

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