Today’s post shines the spotlight on one of Lancaster County’s diversely talented residents, Jen Felty.
Hosting an impressive resume, Jen is a wife, mother, actress, musician, vocalist, teacher, director, choreographer, world traveler, and photographer.
Jen and her husband, David, were both immersed in the theatrical world when their paths crossed in Nashville. Eventually, that initial spark of interest in one another blossomed into a solid relationship, and led to a walk down the aisle less than a year later. As a newlywed, Jen postponed her own artistic ventures and joined her husband who was touring the world portraying Jean ValJean in Les Miserables. Needing to find an outlet for her own creativity, Jen put her skills to work and “began giving voice lessons and violin lessons to cast members.” After touring for a year, Jen longed for something more challenging than giving music lessons, so she set her sights on grad school. During grad school, Jen found herself embarking on a new role, motherhood.
After grad school, Jen doted on her newborn son as the Felty trio continued their world tour while David fulfilled his Les Mis contract. But acting, one of her many passions, courses through Jen’s veins as well. As such, Jen is no stranger to the stage. She’s been blessed with a number of opportunities, from landing roles in Smoke on the Mountain and My Fair Lady during the summer of her sophomore college year, to taking the stage with her husband in the original phases of the Amazing Grace production (she portrayed Mary Catlett), and even auditioning for Broadway shows like Company, Mama Mia, and Once. Jen has performed at the Grand Ole Opry, was on Opry Backstage, and during the summer of her senior year in college revived her role as Denise in Smoke on the Mountain, which played at the Ryman. A few months later she continued that role in the Sanders Family Christmas. The stage lights have also captured Jen in the role of Dorothy Norman in the world premier of the musical Georgia O’Keeffe: A Woman on Paper.
Her most recent theatrical appearance occurred in Florida where Jen shared the stage with both her husband and young son. All three were cast in Les Miserables. As part of the ensemble for Les Mis, Jen found herself in a variety of scenes. One such scene required her to portray that of a less than wholesome individual, a prostitute. I asked Jen how someone of faith handles a part of that nature. She explained, “The show is about redemption. How do you have redemption without the bad stuff along the way?” She went on to say, when portraying any role you “have to know where you stand, and I consider this a mission field” of sorts. “To make a difference you don’t always have to talk. People can sense there is something different based on actions.”
I questioned Jen further and asked how she dealt with her young son being on stage as she portrayed that character. She then took a deep breath and began to describe what transpired. She told me that although the kids wouldn’t be on the stage during that part of the show, “the closer we got to the show, the kids were present when we ran the scene. The director, after seeing us go through the scene once, told us to take the characters deeper. My son was standing a few feet from me as we were getting ready to rehearse the scene” again. I had prayed a lot about how I was going to discuss this scene with my son” if he had to stay there. “It was a difficult thing to do in front of my son, so I asked the director if the kids could be removed from the stage. Fortunately the director agreed to remove the kids.”
After the Florida production of Les Mis concluded, Jen and her family returned to Pennsylvania so she could resume her role as high school music teacher, a role that Jen never envisioned for herself. Her introduction to this role and to Lititz Christian School occurred shortly after arriving in Lancaster County, when the newly hired school administrator heard about Jen and her musical talent.
Jen’s husband, David, had just completed an initial five-year run portraying ValJean, and the family of three decided it was time to leave the road for a while and settle down. Although Jen had her own sights set on the theatre, and was in the middle of auditioning for Broadway roles, the LC administrator was determined to hire her for the LC music position. Ironically, Broadway took a back seat, and Jen found herself in a new role as high school music teacher, a position she has enjoyed for nine years. With a deep desire to bring out the best in her students, Jen taps into her artistic repertoire to help her mold her young protégés into budding vocalists, musicians, actors, and actresses.
Lititz Christian School is where Jen added the title of director to her list of accomplishments. Over the years she has filed a number of shows under this category. For Lititz Christian alone she has directed: Smoke on the Mountain, Pirates of Penzance, Hello Dolly, Seussical the Musical, A Year with Frog and Toad, Anne of Green Gables, as well as several musical reviews. In addition, for the past two springs she was the musical director for Lancaster Bible College’s production of Seussical, and Fiddler on the Roof.
Jen is so versatile that she can run the front of the house, the back of the house, and the pit. Her eye for the stage combined with her creative ventures and ear for music compliment her teaching skills. Bringing all of these traits to the table are just some of the reasons why the productions under her direction receive rave reviews.
And speaking of the pit, if she needs to step away from conducting the orchestra and fill in as a pit member, she can do so with ease. While Jen’s instrument of choice may be the cello, she is proficient on a total of twelve instruments, five of which she learned to play within a short time. I pushed Jen to elaborate. “One week before the show (Smoke on the Mountain) I learned to play the violin, mandolin, banjo, and upright bass.” She went on to explain about the fifth instrument, the clarinet, which she not only taught herself to play, but also learned “to play by ear.” She said, “That was for an audition for Sweeney Todd in New York. I learned [to play] in a few days for the audition and then played in the Christmas concert that year” at Lititz Christian School.
Jen’s energetic passion for creating is evident in everything she does. While in the midst of directing a show, her mind seems to run non-stop with ideas. And when in non-production mode, her mind searches for new creative outlets, which is one reason she picked up the clarinet, and also the reason she pursued photography. While photographer may be one of the most recent titles she’s acquired, her depth of perception and eye for artistic flair gives her that edge for spying detail and capturing the perfect shot.
Curious about her future goals, I asked Jen to tell me about any future theatrical plans in the works. She said, “My theatrical dreams, goals, and passions converge with a mixture of emotion, mainly because of my role as a mother.” I understood exactly what she was saying. Being a mom comes first, and sometimes, personal dreams must be put on hold for a period of time.
Changing the question just a bit I asked Jen about her dream role or dream job. She paused and then responded with, “I would love the opportunity to portray Mary Poppins or even play Fantine with David being ValJean.” She also weighed in on her desire to eventually land a job as “an Artistic Director or Assistant Artistic Director” where she “could have a hand in shows all the time.”
With the conclusion of school and the arrival of summer break, Jen will not be idle.
Currently, she is doing photography work at a local Academy of the Arts studio, Cavod Academy. Her role there will soon expand to the musical theatre realm and teaching voice.
At the end of summer, when Lititz Christian School resumes, Jen will return with a bounty of ideas for their next school production. And in the fall, she will assume a duel role as both director and musical director for LBC’s production of Smoke on the Mountain.
To learn more about Jen, inquire about private voice lessons, find out about concert venues, or to peruse Jen’s photography portfolio, please check out the following website:
All photos are used with Jen’s permission.
Some photos are compliments of the LC Yearbook staff