Interview with Jenna Ushkowitz
MP: We often see here with the young people that we work with that there’s this idea that they have to juggle multiple identities, if that makes sense?
JU: Yeah. Yeah.
MP: And I just wanted to get your thoughts on how you were taught or encouraged to take pride in your own various identities?
JU: Well, I mean, that’s just part of growing up — taking on your school and how you are at home and whatever other kind of groups you join or friends that you have. So I think it’s definitely okay, but as long as you embrace and are proud of who you are at that time and you’re not hiding in each person. I feel like, with me, I was in “The King and I” when I was younger on Broadway, so I learned that lifestyle along with being in school and being at home at the same time, and still keeping the integrity of Jenna and what I believed in at such a young age. Then, growing up, when I became more aware of who I was and how I wanted to see myself portrayed … it was always my parents, always just saying “Listen, it’s okay for you to work hard and be a professional and at the same time be a kid and go to school and be a theater geek — and enjoy it and be proud of it because you work hard for what you do.” So as long as you embrace it and are proud of it, I think that’s where it is. It’s like you’re not hiding from anything.
MP: Right. And you have been a consistent voice in the fight for equality and really are an ally to the LGBT community. I wanted to know, why do you feel that being an ally and a voice for equality is so important?
JU: Well, being an ally and a voice for equality for our youth is where I think our responsibility lies. I think that they’re our future and any kind of small step we can make to make them understand and see and realize that — be understanding — I think is a big deal. I think that the youth are our future. And so it’s our responsibility — we have an obligation of us that we are given being brought up on this earth.
MP: Right. And what thoughts would you impart to someone who is bullied for something that might make them different of for even for someone who does the bullying?
JU: Well … for the bullies, I think that you should spend more time understanding yourself rather than criticizing others.
JU: And I think that for the people who are being bullied — if you’re proud of who you are and you embrace that, and you have a strong support system or even if you don’t, … you’re a rock for yourself then you’re only going to be stronger in the long run.
JU: I hope — I know there’s times where I couldn’t even tell my friends how I felt being bullied or being made fun of or being pushed around or just, used a welcome mat — because I was told I was a welcome mat when I was younger — and I think that even just in myself saying “You’re going to be okay and this is just one comment — you can’t let it make a difference in your life.” I think it made me a stronger person to be on my own and independent too.
MP: Right. Well, and I think one of the greatest things about [“Glee”] is that it provides that vehicle for young people who might not think that there are people out there who are going through what they are going through, or who are feeling what they are feeling. I guess I just wanted to get your take on what you perceive the impact of the show to be in terms of improving equality and authenticity and representativeness of television?
JU: Well I think you said it right in the authenticity — we went through this. I mean Chris Colfer, you ask him what he was like in high school, he was that kid, he was pushed in lockers. For me, I was a total theater geek and almost thought that it wasn’t cool for a while because … being in shows was just, I guess, corny or cheesy. But I think that the validation we’ve had from kids that we’ve actually met on the road and on our U.S. tours has really helped us to understand it. I think that “Glee” has opened us up to having a TV show full of heart and full of reality. I mean, for me personally, Tina is just one of those characters that [makes] you realize that there are kids who really are like this and going through a really hard time and hiding behind something. I think that learning to embrace being different, and being a part of something greater than yourself, is really special. I think that being in the Glee Club, it gives us some form of like camaraderie that it’s okay to be different. And I think that’s really the key thing this TV show is learning, it’s teaching them that’s it’s okay to be different.
JU: And that there are probably more kids who are different than in the quote-unquote popular group.
MP: Right. Well, and I know that you were in a production of “The Laramie Project.” Can you tell me a little about what that experience was like for you and what you learned being a part of that production?
JU: Oh my goodness. That was eye-opening for me. It was my senior year of high school, and we had just finished production of “Into the Woods.” And it was really cool to do “Into the Woods” and then do “The Laramie Project,” because we were learning that no one’s alone from “Into the Woods” into Laramie, and just learning about Matthew Shepard. The way the show has become something that is so eye-opening for people to see that people are going through this, this is real. I think that I was kind of blown away at first, and I had always loved it but being a part of it makes it so much more. Romaine Patterson came and spoke with us and that’s who I was playing, so that was even more heart-breaking for me, to see how tangible and real and close to it we really were. It was special and it was once in a lifetime — it was just being in the moment, and being there, and it was just a movement almost for at least our close group of people. I’m so glad — I mean, my high school was a Catholic high school, but to be able to do “The Laramie Project” there was even more dramatic, I guess you’d say.
MP: Right. How did it affect your school community as a whole?
JU: I mean the theater wing of our school was definitely affected, but to be able to see parents come and see us who may have … opened up, and see them crying, it’s definitely very moving and almost — it makes you smile, you know?
JU: It really makes you smile. I don’t want to say it brought us together, because I didn’t physically see that, do you know what I mean? I didn’t see that. It definitely did bring our hearts closer together and it opened up our hearts more. I think it, again any little thing, so if it’s one person that you see their heart open up a little bit more, or eyes open up a little bit more, I think we’ve done our job.
MP: Right. For high school kids who might not really know what they can do to make a difference, what have you found in your own life is probably one of the most important things that you can do as an individual to make the world a safer and better place for everyone?
JU: Oh my goodness. I mean, just to begin with, treat people as you would want to be treated. You have to realize that everybody is a human being and we make mistakes and we say things we don’t mean. And just open your eyes and become more aware of who you’re speaking to. I guess put yourself in their shoes for one second, just one second and try and understand where they’re coming from. I think that will open up a greater picture for us to see the world as a bigger thing than just yourself.
MP: Right. Well, congratulations to you and everyone from all of us here.
JU: Thank you so much. And please tell Judy we said hello and thank you for watching.
MP: I will. Thank you so much Jenna. Have a great weekend.