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Actress/Writer Denise Jena Tells Her Story; What's Yours?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act October 8, 2013 at 11:46AM

Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.
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Denise Jena

Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.

I know that a significant chunk of S&A's audience comprises of actors, actresses, directors, DPs, editors, etc, etc, etc. Some are able to earn a paycheck utilizing their artistic and/or technical skills; others - and I'd say the majority - are what we've labeled the proverbial *starving artists*, working diligently, relentlessly, struggling to climb this incredibly steep hill, trying to reach some pinnacle of success - whether personal or professional. And still others exist somewhere between the former and the latter.

Where do you fall? And, as the title of this post states, what's YOUR story, and would you like to share it with the rest of the world?

Think of it as an extension of the successful S&A Filmmaker Diary series we launched almost 2 years ago. I'm looking for your individual stories of struggle and/or success, regardless of what rung on the ladder you are currently on, after all, not only is S&A just a source for news, its goal is also to become a community of cinema lovers where we can all share/debate/discuss/learn/teach/commiserate/etc.

Here's your chance. You might learn something; you might teach someone something.

What's YOUR story? You can email me (obensont@gmail.com). You can submit your story in any format - written, or even documented on video. I'll post as many of them as I can. Substance and presentation are key for consideration. 

And be sure to attach a photo (large size) for me to include, and if you have samples of your work, include them as well.

It could be a story about a current situation you find yourself in; or it could cover several days, weeks, months, or years of your career. It could be that you just want to vent your frustrations; aspects of, or people in this business that piss you off; aspects of, or people in the industry that encourage you. It doesn't have to be all negative, nor all positive. We're complex people, and so I assume our stories are as well.

In today's post, actress and writer Denise Jena shares her story:

Like many dreamers out there, I've wanted to be an actress since I was a child.  Problem is, I've always been debilitatingly shy and awkward in social situations, and I couldn't work up the nerve to put myself out there and audition for high school plays and be forced to work with people I didn't know.  I spent most of high school drowning in a deep depression that I began to work through as an undergrad at an Ivy League school.  The experience of college was a tortured dance between the safe decision of pursuing a degree in sociology and focusing on my studies, and my desire to spend as much time as possible learning about film and taking acting classes.  The more I followed my passion, the worse I did in school - one semester I did two plays and a staged reading, failed a class, and got put on academic probation.  I had to put what I love on hold.

After graduation, I moved to New Orleans and spent a few years volunteering and working at various non-profits that were rebuilding homes and communities post levee failures.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the best move that I could have made for my career.  New Orleans is the place to be if you're new to the industry - cheaper cost of living, less competition, an amazing appreciation for the arts, and it's got the kind of culture that can inspire creative minds.  Unfortunately, for the first few years that I was here I played it safe and worked worked worked.  I also ignored the fact that my chronic depression was hindering me from not only pursuing acting, but writing, my other great love, as a profession.

A year ago, in the same month, I lost my non-profit job and began anti-depressants and therapy.  Instead of finding another 'safe' job that would pay the bills, I decided that there would be no better time in my life to pursue writing and acting as a career.  I began taking classes, auditioning for student films, going to networking events and meeting people to collaborate with, and treating this dream with the respect that it deserves.

In the past year I've performed in a couple of short films that are as yet unreleased, including the senior thesis film DELUGE by Shadow & Act writer Nijla Mu'min (who is brilliant, btw).  I've collaborated with local production company 3517 Law Street on several projects:  I was part of the writing team on "Beaucoup de Force" and "Unemployed"; I'm one of the stars of our web series, "Neutral Grounds" (season 2, most of which I wrote, coming soon!).

Up next?  Well, I've got an agent now, so auditioning and booking and working towards that SAG card.  But I can't stop there. For the new year, I'll be launching Outlaw Woman Productions, a production company that will focus on telling the stories of people who are not often represented in film:  Black and Brown people who don't fit Hollywood's mold; gender and sexual non-conformists; un-sensationalized explorations of mental illness; and of course, as Toni Morrison deftly describes, outlaw women.

"Outlaw women are fascinating—not always for their behavior, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men. In much literature a woman’s escape from male rule led to regret, misery, if not complete disaster." ~ Toni Morrison, forward to Sula.

For more information about Denise Jena and her work, please check out her website at www.denisejena.com   

This article is related to: Denise Jena, What's Your Story?


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