OCTOBER 7, 2010
IF A TALKING DOLL OF JUNIOR JEANELL ALLEN were produced, it would come with a catchphrase, “Shut the front door,” which she utters in moments of shock, excitement and between sentences instead of the expletive S.T.F.U. “Shut the Front Door!” is also the title of Allen’s upcoming web sitcom of ten-minute episodes about five twenty-something recent college graduates. Allen will play Khloe Martin, who in the pilot quits her job as a waitress.
Allen, 20, came from the small suburb of Altamonte Springs, Florida to major in drama, specifically TV and film acting, at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She says, “I wanted to pursue art and be somewhere I could be able to develop that. Tisch has taught me about knowing what you want in life and believing in it, believing in yourself, and going for it.”
In addition to a roster of high school roster of plays and theatre work, she has starred in two short films since college. She believes that TV rarely portrays young people in a humorous light. “A lot of shows… on the air now [about] people in their twenties are very serious,” she says.
“Jeanell is full of personality, and she’s never boring,” says Allen’s friend and Tisch junior Sarah Hubschman, who serves as the show’s head writer. “Not only is she outgoing and crazy, but she’s intelligent, which is a great combination for our web series.” “She’s cool because she has that confidence,” says CAS student/photographer Melodie Jeng, who met Allen while they were assistants at the Tisch summer high school program and who took the cast photos.
Photo by Melodie Jeng
For Allen, self-expression and exposure are as important as good grades. She hopes the web series will attract audiences beyond the NYU stage: “As actors, writers, and directors, being in this world is not easy, so to get your name out there is definitely huge.”
Allen is also the treasurer of The Collective, a club for African-American students at Tisch. The club, which focuses on the African Diaspora, arranges a series of talks by notable African American artists. The Collective performs community outreach, arranging visits to performing arts high schools to help students with college admissions.
Allen says that the club allows her to hear from other aspiring African-American performers. “I want to be able to learn from other people who look like me and who have…had similar experiences as me,” she says, “trying to make it in the world and still maintain the dignity of a person of color.” Allen is also the artistic director of Tisch Twisted, a musical theatre cabaret that raises funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS. ,
Cross-dressed student actors and vocalists perform musical theater songs originally written for the opposite gender to break stereotyes. While two females singing “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament)” from the musical comedy “The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” doesn’t relate to AIDS, it proved that, in music, everything isn’t black and white.
Allen says that Tisch Twisted emphasizes that AIDS doesn’t discriminate: “The fact that we gender-swapped the roles and these situations that all these characters are going through [shows they] can actually affect other people no matter what your race or gender.”
Tisch Twisted was inspired by the charity benefit Broadway Backwards. Last spring, the show sold out the first night and earned $700. Proceeds went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
For an actress who is also the artistic director of a fundraiser, the treasurer of a club, and both the star and producer of an upcoming web series, it’s hard to believe that this outgoing actress was a shy child who says she had a flawed self-esteem. “I talked a lot at home with my parents and my brother, but I never talked much in public.”
Allen was eight the first time she performed on stage, playing a girl who had an invisible dog at a church-sponsored summer camp. Feeling at home on stage, and enjoying the laughs she got that night, instilled a self-confidence that has never left her. “Nobody could touch me, nobody could say anything to me, and nobody could hurt me. It was a safe haven, and that was why I let my personality fully come out,” Allen says.
Not all of her moments on stage have been perfect. Twice in high school, she was mortified, once sliding onto the stage butt-first, and another when she fell onto the set after missing her step. (“Oh, I face planted, honey—not fell, face planted!”)
Although she still gets nervous, she takes these moments in stride: “I don’t work myself up about the little things. I like the nervousness until the adrenaline gets pumping, then I go for it!”
“Shut the Front Door!” begins filming in November, and the first episode premieres before the end of the year. Tisch Twisted will happen on Saturday, December 11 at the Somerville Theater in the Silver Center, room 703 at 7:00.
Cast of "Shut the Front Door: the Web Series"
Photo by Melodie Jeng