…Forget the plan. Ha! What does that mean? If you think you know exactly how your life is supposed to go you will cause yourself more heartache than you can handle. You have to be open to what happens in life and take things off the path you thought you were on or you won’t grow. You saw me refer to myself as an accidental stunt woman, well I am also an accidental filmmaker and an accidental audiobook narrator. They both have interesting stories that include something very accidental that led to me making a decision to move forward. My life as it is right now isn’t what I planned for myself, but it is SO much better!
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janelle Tedesco. Janelle is a multi-faceted performer. She began in Musical Theater and has traveled the world singing dancing and acting. Since she became a mother her focus shifted from stage to screen to spend more time at home with her family. She acts in film, TV and commercials, she is a filmmaker and also works as an audiobook narrator.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in sixth grade I was cast as Lucy in the Musical “Snoopy.” I told my mother right then that I wanted to be an actress. It was that clear, concrete and obvious. To me this always seemed very normal. I only applied to one college, The Boston Conservatory, luckily, I got in and I never looked back. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that most people don’t discover what they want to do with their entire lives at age 10. As I’ve grown and changed throughout the years, I’ve altered some of my goals but they always center around acting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Shortly after I graduated from college, I thought it would be fun to move down to Florida and work at Disney for a few years. The plan was to miss a few cold winters before I settled in NYC for good. I figured I would do a fun little theme park musical because that was my skill set. To my surprise, I was cast in Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and trained as a Stunt Woman. I had never expected that but I loved it! I was only in Florida for two years but in that time, I did several other stunt shows including a Superbowl Commercial. When I returned to NY, it was never my intention to become a stunt woman but little jobs kept finding me here and there. I was kind of like an accidental stunt woman. Which incidentally would be a funny title for a film. I, on the other hand, did make a short film called “Stunt Mom” that was my first. I just can’t seem to escape the stunt work. You can see Stunt Mom on Amazon Video, free with Prime. My real-life kids and husband play my family in the film.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m sure I’ve made plenty but most are rather mundane. One mistake I made, luckily didn’t result in getting hurt but I still learned from it and it is also a pretty cool story. I was on tour with The Producers in California. I took a week vacation to fly to Italy where my boyfriend was touring with his band, The Ranchhands. While we were there, he proposed!!! AWESOME! I said YES! The plan was to fly back to Boston where my mom would pick me up and we would spend the evening together and then I would fly back to California the next day. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom that I got engaged. My flight from Venice was delayed and I missed the connection to get to Boston. I just had to get to the States to tell my mom, so I grabbed a seat on a NY bound flight that had a connection to Boston. Well guess what happened next? We had an emergency medical landing in Gander, Newfoundland! Yikes! By the time we got back on our way I knew that I would once again miss my connection. I arrived in NYC at about 11pm, my flight FROM Boston was at 8:00am. So I rented a car and drove through the night. That was a big mistake considering that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours. The drive was very difficult, I kept the window open and the radio on to keep myself awake. I arrived safely but it was still very dumb! I was fueled by the fact that I had to get to my mom. I arrived at her house at 4am, showed her the ring and all my excitement. We talked and hugged a lot, then I showered and headed back to the airport to fly to California and of course perform in the show that very same night. Man, that was some crazy stuff. Hindsight, I shouldn’t have drove through the night. I could have stayed in NY and postponed my flight back to CA for another day, missing one more show. Seeing my mom was definitely the priority, but I put my show schedule above my safety. We had a very talented swing who had just performed my track for a week. She could have done another day. It would not have been a big deal to miss another show but with my ego, I really didn’t like missing shows!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My filmmaking partners, Shannon Morrall, Phil Russell, Tom Capps, and I have a film in post-production that we are extremely excited about it. It is a 20 minute farcical comedy about a contract killer. Yeah, that’s my part! And it’s called, “I’m Not Nice.” But I promise that in real life I am actually very nice. This film is a spin-off from a character that appeared in our last film, “I’m Not Lost” that is currently on the film festival circuit. All of my films to this point have been light hearted comedies and I do believe that laughter is an essential part of our mental health. But I am finding myself wanting to go deeper. I have a couple of ideas that I am working on that explore racism is America. I am forever changed by the murder of George Floyd and I realize that as a filmmaker, I have a platform. I want to create work that makes people think and inspires them to create a better world.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My first big job was the National Tour of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas starring, Ann Margret. I was a big fan of hers and it was amazing that I got to work with her for such an extended period of time. She is an actual icon but about as nice as they come. She loved her cast and tried as much as she could to spend time with us. In fact, here is a great Ann-Margret story. I was a replacement on the tour, they had already been out for six months, so she knew most of these people very well when I joined. She was quite friendly with the handsome young violin player in the band. Don’t let your mind go there, stay with me. This violin player was pretty awesome. I liked him A LOT. We hung out all the time and became best friends. But I had a boyfriend. So…. awkward. One show day as all cast, band and crew are getting ready for curtain we heard an announcement over the PA, “Chris Tedesco, please go to Ann-Margret’s dressing room.” That was very unusual and everyone was very curious. It is so funny because at the time, Chris had to come up with a lie about why she paged him but the truth came out eventually. Ann-Margret was worried about him because he seemed sad and she could tell that he really liked the new girl, me, Janelle DeMarzo. She encouraged him to go for it. I’m sure you caught his last name there. Yes, that is now my husband. Thank you Ann-Margret!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be present and take time for yourself! I remember back when I was doing Musical Theater my castmates would obsess about the end date of the contract. They would fly back to NY on days off for auditions and they would nervously talk about the fact that the gig was ending soon. This business is incredibly difficult emotionally, mentally, physically and financially. But I always felt that those actions were counterproductive. I’m not sure if I can explain why because it is important to be thinking about the next thing. But for most of us, the next thing never comes fast enough anyway so why not take the time to enjoy the gig you have before you go back to the grind of auditions. I know that I am oversimplifying here, but in general when you get a good gig, whether it is a play, a commercial, film or book allow yourself to love every minute of the process before you start planning on what comes next. And maybe even take a little time off after the gig to do something else that you enjoy. Visit your family. Travel. Or do some of those fun little things that you have been putting off. That helps keep you rounded and grounded.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Just like most people, I often feel like this is an area where I need to improve. I meditate, I do yoga, I run, I swim, I practice mindfulness and walk a lot. But before you gasp at all that awesomeness, here is the truth. I don’t have a great routine with any of them consistently. As strange as it seems, I have to keep switching it up. At different times of my life I need different things so I try as best I can to listen to the inner voice and body telling me what I need. Sometimes I work out a lot, mainly running. The steadiness and monotony of running is good for my mind and body. Sometimes I lose my will to run for months at a time and I dive into yoga. Sometimes my body is too tired for anything so I just make sure to meditate. I used to get mad at myself for not being able to stick to one routine, but now I realize that I am sticking to a routine, the routine of constant change.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- If you can find another skill or way to make money other than acting, take time to cultivate it. One of the reason actors get so stressed about our next job is that we are always worried about paying our bills. You have to be available for auditions during the day which is why so many end up working in restaurants at night. But when do you sleep? If there is another skill that can bring in even a little bit of money you will likely save yourself a lot of stress. Mine came later in life as an Audiobook Narrator. It is still audition based so it isn’t ideal in terms of stress. But considering that I have two kids age 9 and 11, the fact that I can work from home with flexible hours to make extra money is perfect!
- Networking is not a dirty word. Well, I used to think it was because of the smarmy people I met that talked about how you “have to” network. I would think, don’t tell me what I have to do! There will always be people that make networking look gross but the bottom line is that it is just socializing and making connections with people. I am a social person by nature and I enjoy talking with people. So don’t think about what you will get out of it, just make yourself available to conversations. I had a European Tour of “Guys and Dolls” offered to me without auditioning because I became friendly with the director when I would drive him to the theater (he didn’t have a car). I had no idea that was even a possibility. I was just helping out. He later said that when he held auditions in NY he thought, “Sure, these girls are talented but so is Janelle and I know that she would be a lot of fun for her castmates on the bus.”
- Think outside the box and/or push yourself outside your comfort zone. This advice will look different on everyone so I can’t be specific about what it would mean to you. For me it was taking jobs out of state at a young age when I hadn’t traveled much to date. And later it was deciding to create my own films when I had two young children at home. That seemed like too much risk, too much time, too much money. It was way out of my comfort zone but I found a way to make it work and it has begun a new era of my life.
- Work/Life balance. You’ve heard it a million times but the truth is that you will not survive in this business if it is the only thing you love. Love your spouse, and your kids, love your friends and your family, love to play tennis, or ski or golf or bike, love to cook, to eat, to travel, and to learn new things. And of course, love to enjoy other art. Go to movies and theater! My story of this, is turning down a Broadway contract because it conflicted with my wedding and honeymoon. Clearly, my family was more important to me than my career in that moment and without even realizing it at the time, it was defining.
- Forget the plan. Ha! What does that mean? If you think you know exactly how your life is supposed to go you will cause yourself more heartache than you can handle. You have to be open to what happens in life and take things off the path you thought you were on or you won’t grow. You saw me refer to myself as an accidental stunt woman, well I am also an accidental filmmaker and an accidental audiobook narrator. They both have interesting stories that include something very accidental that led to me making a decision to move forward. My life as it is right now isn’t what I planned for myself, but it is SO much better!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Live for today, but plan for tomorrow” I still don’t know where this quote originated so I will just credit it to my mom. Carpe Diem is only half of the story but it is important. If you aren’t living in the present moment you are missing your life. You are missing the ability to truly feel joy and, in some cases, ignoring pain that you have to feel to move on. But if you get too carried away in the present moment you can also get lost and realize that you have been standing still on the road of life. There is no easy way to accomplish this one. I am still working on it but as I get older, I get better at it. My mom is full of wonderful, inspirational sayings so I will just throw in another one of my favorites for good measure, “Don’t wish your life away!”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The biggest ones are my mom and my husband. My mom was without a doubt the most supportive woman on the planet. She drove me to dance classes, rehearsals, shows and competitions. Bought costumes and dance shoes. Came to every performance and cheered me on. And was always looking for other opportunities to help me grow. I never thought anyone in the world could possibly be as supportive, then I met my husband. I am truly blessed. He loves me and ‘gets’ me sometimes better than I get myself. I have changed so much since we first met, but still he always listens to me, encourages me, and often just picks up the slack in helping me create my dreams. For example, his music recording studio is now our shared space and where I record my audiobooks. And when I wanted to make my own film, I was half way through the process before I remembered it needed music. Guess who was the Composer and Music Supervisor on Stunt Mom?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Distribution of wealth! The direction that Capitalism is going is not healthy and not helping. So what if every industry took care of it’s own. For example, when a high-end fashion designer reaches a certain point of wealth, they can no longer keep it for themselves. They must join with the other wealthiest to provide clothing for homeless and make sure all children have coats, shoes and clothes for school. Real estate tycoons have to find ways to provide affordable housing and enough adequate shelters. No more billionaires! There should be a ceiling or limit. Baseball stadiums are often empty because tickets are too expensive, while owners make millions and player’s salaries keep going up. My brother with four kids couldn’t afford to take his family to a movie, yet producers and actors salaries keep going up. Everyone should have access to a good education and healthcare and these things could be remedied if there was a well thought out, distribution system. I haven’t address everything and could of course go on, but I think you get the point. And to be clear, I understand and agree that there are some people that are so overwhelmingly talented, brilliant and/or hard working that they are justified to “have more” but there comes a point that the amount of wealth is way too much. We need to create a system that can spread it out to the people that need it most.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Tina Fey. I love comedy so I am naturally drawn towards people who can use smart humor in a way that is also stimulating. I think that she is brilliant. Sometimes her comedy is just silly, sometimes it’s biting creative commentary. And her career has managed to grow since becoming a mom. That isn’t easy! I find that unbelievably inspiring! I’d love to chat with her about her work/life balance because from the outside, it looks like she is really nailing it! Moms Rock!
How can our readers follow you online?
M website is a great place to see all the information together of what I am currently working on or have coming up. www.JanelleTedesco.com
But the fun way is social.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
You’re welcome, and thank you for reaching out. I am very flattered to be a part of this inspiring series.