Meet Jennie Harney, a multi-talented artist who is currently working as a Universal Standby in Hamilton: An American Musical and graces the stage traveling between San Francisco, Chicago and New York. For more on the demands of her job and what it entails: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/meet-the-hamilton-actors-who-play-up-to-18-roles-in-the-hit-show-2017-07-28
Jennie: For me, it took a long time to find a certain amount of confidence. I used to have a heavy case of stage fright. And it took a long time, because you psych yourself out. I remember being in school, having an assignment to learn a song within a day and be off book with it, and perform it, costumes, everything. They’re basically hazing you. You don’t have time to focus on one thing. You have a billion things. And I remember getting up there and going blank and I had done the work but, because of the voices in my head at that moment telling me I could not do it, my confidence was just shot and sometimes, that’s just the struggle. Finding the balance of the voices inside your head and what they tell you and what you accept. When I go out here on the stage and go on for any part, it’s very easy for the noise to determine how well I perform but, at the end of the day, you have to trust yourself. Trust that you’ve done the work, trust that you are talented enough to be where you are, that you are gifted enough, you have what it takes..trust. That was the biggest note that I got when working on different things, vocally. You have to trust.
Ali: Take the leap of faith.
Jennie: Right. Take the leap of faith. Don’t micro-manage yourself but, confidence is definitely a daily struggle. It’s not like you reach a place and you stay there. It’s something that has to be refueled on a regular basis and I feel like we look at other people and they exude confidence with so much more ease, especially with social media and the platforms we have today, where we have immediate access to people's lives and we think everything we see is a direct portrayal of the truth. And it’s really just what they want you to see. And so we start to base ourselves off of that, or reflect based on what we think other people’s successes are and we feel like we are only as great as our failures. And that starts to really plague us.
Ali: I heard you say confidence takes refueling. What refuels you?
Jennie: My faith, honestly. I know that’s not across the board for everyone but, for me it’s extremely vital. Between faith and relationships that hold me up or that I can be honest in that I can say my truth and be wrong and someone will tell me the truth about myself. Having relationships and having a faith that requires you to elevate. That’s how I get through this industry, with my faith, because it is very easy to become competitive. It’s easy to be jealous. It’s easy to say, “Why them not me? I should have..I should have", or "She does this better than me.”
And you do get 30 no’s before you get a yes and it is a lot of rejection but, I believe there is no such thing as scarcity. I believe that there is room for my gift and the things that I bring. I believe that wherever I go there is a reason I am there and it may not be the reasons that I see but, there is always a relationship to be had, there is always a word to be said, an example to set, there is always some way for me to learn. Maybe I need to improve, maybe I need to get better at singing at a certain style that is outside of my skill set. Maybe it is an opportunity to learn and grow and develop and not be bogged down by the challenges. It’s an opportunity. Every job is an opportunity and that’s whether you are in your career or doing your survivor jobs. I’ve done many survivor jobs and gained many skills. Human interaction skills, alone. And having to submit myself to the demand of what that job requires it calls on me to have more integrity and me to care do better.
I find that faith is a real anchor when it comes to keeping afloat and thriving in this industry and with confidence because it diffuses what’s you is for you. There is a divine path that we are following and if I am on this path and you are on your path, I can’t hate what’s on that path because this is mine and that is yours so, therefore, it falls upon me to support and congratulate. Even if I don’t feel it genuinely, I know that that’s something I need to work on because jealousy and envy and all those things won’t do anything for either party. We should be able to celebrate each other and I think that’s a part of confidence because if I can say we are completely different people and I see the beauty in that person, the treasure, the excellence, we don’t have to be home girls but, I can still be happy for you and you be happy for me then we are operating in the level of faith and I don’t lose. I don’t feel a loss in my value.
Ali: Right, gratitude is so vital. I'm curious how you keep the balance of the voices and the noise you spoke about earlier in check?
Jennie: Luckily, I’m thrown into these situations all the time so, I have more of an opportunity to get accustomed to what it is but, I think it’s what you tell yourself. What you accept for yourself and it’s the rejection of everything else and that just intensifies in moments leading up to it. Things climax, climax and all of a sudden you’re singing, “Alexander Hamilton.” You’re like, "Okay, here we go, we are going to do it, we are going to do it!" and it build this thing and so many things can come. You’re in the wrong spot, get out of the way, do this perfect, don’t get it wrong..(motions with hand close to ear) They will be here, they will be there, screaming.
Ali: In your face
Jennie: In your face! But, you breathe, you count, you pray, you repeat to yourself, "It’s going to be fine. Nobody’s going to die. Take a log off of the fire. You’re going to be fine" and it’s finding that. It can be a prayer, a prayer for centering and the acceptance of the fact that I’m going to mess up. Some of my mistakes are going to be big some of my mistakes are not but, I have the support around me whether that support is exclusive to the experience on stage where I have my cast and tech around me or, in life, I made a mistake, I have my friends, my loved ones who I can call on and I get that support.
Confidence isn’t just something that’s all here on you. It’s not a weight to figure out how to juggle all the weight of it. No. You give some of it to this person over here. I say to my friend, "Girl, I don’t know what’s wrong with my head just looks crazy today, my makeup, my skin is breaking out. I feel like I look like a troll" and your friend says, "No. This is how you feel today but, you’re this, you’re that." I have a friend who loves to flick her love handles on Facetime and I got off my bed and took off my clothes, on camera and showing her, stomping my leg on the ground. No! I am gorgeous. I love my body and your body is amazing so, no more flicking your love handles on the camera.
I think we are programmed to be dissatisfied with ourselves or to compare so, even if everybody didn’t want to look like Kim Kardashian, there would be a different model of beauty. And it's cultural. We all have a different standard of what it means to be at the top. Socially, I think we are on the brink of multiple revolutions or movements, politically, racially, sexually. There are so many things, so many people that are finding each other to grab on to on social media. There's big girls, who have a larger woman thing, skinny minnies who have a skinny minnie thing, or black girls who are dark skinned..it does divide us in a way but, I also feel like because we haven't had the opportunity to embrace with other people like this in so long, it's also making us less prejudice at the same time. As a society we are all willing to listen to each other.
For a long time, my generation and others within the African American community, there’s colorism. As if things weren't already messed up, now there's a divide between the spectrum of the darkest person to the fairest person and all that has historically taken place and that’s another hill that we have to get over.
And at the end of the day it all boils down to self work. Inner work. What are we feeding ourselves. It's the same thing as what you put into your body. What is the diet of the things you are putting into your head.
Ali: Yes. Feeding yourself nourishing messages.
Jennie: Feeding yourself something balanced. Make sure that you are aware of what music you are listening to, what people, what tv shows are you watching and the energy they portray. And with kids, what is the diet they are consuming? What is the constant monologue in their head based off of what they are interacting with? If there is nothing to break up the monotony of information, if it’s always looking at the same thing, over and over again, that is what’s rehearsed in you. So, break it up. Listen to some classical music, Caribbean music, Brazilian music. Feed yourself with information because lack of confidence is an isolation game. When you are lacking confidence you're on an island, in a bubble, in your own head but, when we start to connect with people and start to interact with other people’s experiences and realize you’re not quite so different as you might think, then it gives you the opportunity to bloom.
Ali: Right, and that’s so hard in cases of depression where you just want to collapse in on yourself and isolate. And you’ve spoken to the importance of relationship to get yourself out of that smallness..
Jennie: That was something my mom instilled in me when I was younger because I am a very sensitive and emotional person. It took a long time to get in control of both of those aspects of myself. First, I had to recognize and appreciate it but, I would get stuck on an interaction. I would get stuck on something that happened and I’m an overthinker to the T. Holy smokes! Whether it’s something someone else did or something I did or something that I saw and I didn’t understand, I will rehearse that thing in my mind until I’m spun out. "Why this? Why that?" Stop. Because you’re getting stuck. You're like a broken record. Put it in a box. Move on.