WOMEN CRUSH WEDNESDAY
In this industry, taking the reigns of your career and working endlessly on your own art is the hardest but most necessary hustle.
Jenna Rubaii, Groundhog Day
Photo: Nicki Ishmael
Location: New York, NY
Hometown: Clearwater, FL
Job: Singer, Actor
Female Inspirations: Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Lara Fabian
Current WCW: PINK. She’s badass in so many ways. She is one of the only pop singers I believe that has stayed true to herself since the beginning of her career. Not only does she have a strong sense of who she is as an artist and a human, but she seems to be killing the mom game and teaching her daughter to be the individual she wants to be. She’s no bullshit and I love it.
I met Jenna Rubaii at the University of Miami in 2008 when we both entered the University to begin school for Musical Theatre. When I first heard her sing I was completely blown away but also half kicking myself knowing I was about to be competing with this girl for the next four years. Jenna’s success post-college has been tremendous. She began by playing the Extraordinary Girl on the American Idiot national tour, which led to starring as Stephanie Mangano in the Saturday Night Fever international tour. Recently, she made her Broadway debut in Groundhog Day the musical. Jenna talks about the excitement of opening Groundhog Day, the Tony’s, and the hardship of the fast closing of the show afterward. Jenna is one of the most passionate women I’ve ever met and delves into the struggles of being an actor and the difficulties of when shows close. Read below to get some truth into the life of an actor.
When did you first begin singing?
Jenna : I was singing before I could talk! My family has this great VHS of me at the age of 3. Beauty and the Beast is playing in the background, I am running around with a little book in my hand, I’m wearing my mom’s high heels, and I’m singing and acting out the entirety of the song “Little Town”.
Professionally, I started at the age of 6 in an all-girls song and dance group in Tampa called, Entertainment Review. I was in the group from ages 6-18. Those twelve years of experience for me as a young performer were the most impactful of my life. They really shaped me into the artist and the woman I would become.
Who were your role models growing up?
Jenna: The women in my family- especially my Grandmother. She is the most radiant, peaceful, nurturing soul I know.
Also, all of the young women who were in that song and dance group with me. Most of them are still my best friends today! Every one of them have become incredible female forces. Some are doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, singers, moms! They still inspire me all the time.
What has been your favorite role so far and why?
Jenna: Probably Stephanie Mangano in Saturday Night Fever. That character has a great blend of sass, strength, and vulnerability. The script was reworked in our particular production of the musical and the story was much more in tune with the film. Therefore, the characters had more of that grit that the film brought forth so beautifully. I really like the complexity of that era with race, sexuality, and class. Ah, the 70’s. And let’s be real, that MUSIC!
What are the difficulties of being a female in the entertainment industry? How do you overcome them?
Jenna: The difficulty is, there are just so many of us trying to get the job. You honestly can’t overcome that, you just need to accept that as the case and own who you are as an individual. That’s also a difficult thing to learn: becoming confident in who you are and what you give that is different from everyone else. There are going to be thousands of people giving something similar to you—but there is only one YOU. So it's about owning that individuality and trusting that you’re enough.
Tell me about booking Groundhog Day the musical and the success that came with the show.
Jenna: My audition experience was actually one of the simpler audition experiences I’ve ever had. Originally, I was only seen for ensemble/understudy Nancy. I went in once, sang the material and read the sides from the show. The next audition was a dance call, some movement, and a small tap exercise and I sang and read the same material again. That was it! I didn’t find out I booked the show for another handful of days which was completely nerve-wracking. A month or so later, they called me back in to read the Rita sides and sing one of her songs. Briefly, after that audition, I found out I would be covering the lead as well as a supporting role!
I will always have a deep love for Groundhog Day the musical and the experience of the run (as I know every one of my cast members will as well). As a musical, I think it was one of the most unique, complex-yet-simple, deceivingly difficult, shows I’ve ever seen and been a part of. It was quite cinematic. We had illusion acts, pole puppetry, and FIVE turntables!
The journey was insanity with our lead tearing his ACL days before opening, the turntables constantly malfunctioning (including our first preview where, in turn, we had to do an entire concert version of the show instead), receiving 7 Tony nominations, meeting BILL MURRAY and then getting our closing notice shortly after. The show was like the little engine that could. It just felt like we couldn’t get to that place of success we all knew our show deserved it could reach. But the greatest part of that show was the incredible community we had as a company. It was truly an ensemble piece and everyone felt so passionately about the show that we all felt the highs, the lows and the struggles with each other, which is what really made the experience very special to me.
The show opened and closed very quickly and that high of being handed your Broadway dreams and having it ripped away so quickly can be difficult. How did you deal with the aftermath?
Jenna: This is a very tough question to answer. It’s tough because the aftermath is such a personal journey. The aftermath is also a very scary and vulnerable place to live in and sometimes, to get stuck in. As an actor, you can only do your best and see what happens. When I found out Groundhog Day was closing, I told myself I wouldn’t dive into a “day job” that didn’t involve my passion. Of course, you also assume another offer will come along shortly after and you hope you’ll never have to think of a “day job” again. But when the next gig doesn’t come so easy, you have to re-evaluate everything. I thought, “What can I do to take control of my career?” Answer: start working for myself.
In this industry, taking the reigns of your career and working endlessly on your own art is the hardest but most necessary hustle. And then creating something is only the first step! The work never ends and it’s exhausting and time-consuming and financially draining. BUT, if you can get to a place where you have created your own work and you can sustain it and (eventually) make some money doing it, there is no better feeling in the world.
P.S. I am not there yet (ha!)… BUT I sure as hell am trying to get there.