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Acting Instructor, Actress,
Springfield Little Theatre
For an actress whose theatrical debut came at the age of 5 on her childhood home’s fireplace, it’s safe to say Jessica Palmer’s career has come full-circle. While she once force-fed her rendition of the musical Annie to her family, audiences now willingly consume the art she puts on stage. As a graduate of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, Palmer followed her heart to the stages of New York City, and after a hefty dose of writing, directing and acting in the Big Apple, made her way back to 417-land to teach others some of the tricks of the trade.
As an acting instructor at Springfield Little Theatre, she now devotes her energy and passion to the same audience she grew up performing for. “I love working in this community because I feel like I have a special responsibility to maintain the level of artistry here,” the Nixa-born actress says. “I cannot do anything else with my life other than devote my energy and passion to the stage.”
On top of backing 417-land’s arts, Palmer supports all that is local on the weekends at farmers’ markets, antique stores and even in the great outdoors. The yoga addict’s talents will be put on display for the grand reopening of the Springfield Art Museum’s outdoor theater in July, where she and Robert Westenberg will reveal a Shakespeare-based performance—a “dream come true” for Palmer. –D.D.
417 Magazine: What completed project are you most proud of?
Jessica Palmer: When I lived and worked in NYC, I collaborated with alumni from Webster University to write, direct and act in a new play festival. We produced the entire event, and I never imagined I would get that experience so early on in my career. I am finding similar opportunities in 417-land and am thrilled about what’s on the horizon.
417: How did you end up at your current job/profession?
J.P.: I grew up performing at Springfield Little Theatre, and since moving back to Springfield I have made it a goal of mine to join the dream team. I’m thankful I can bring my skill set to support an already stellar organization.
417: Where do you find passion to do what you do?
J.P.: This profession chose me. I cannot do anything else with my life other than devote my energy and passion to the stage. I’m so lucky to have a close circle of supportive friends and family who have always trusted my career decisions. Even when I have made mistakes, they knew I would find the lesson in the struggle. I find passion in what I do because I trust the journey. I have learned that when I follow my heart, the outcome is full of strength and joy.
417: Are you single/married, and do you have any kids?
J.P.: I am not married and do not have any children. But, I do have an awesome wedding board on Pinterest!
417: What are your hobbies?
J.P.: I love yoga, especially hot yoga. I think the girls at Sumit Hot Yoga in Springfield have done an outstanding job of bringing that form of exercise to 417-land. I fell in love with Bikram Yoga (another form of hot yoga) while living in New York. It not only allows you to find physical strength, but also emotional and mental strength. I love shopping at local farmers’ markets and restaurants. I live with my sister, and we both love to cook. It’s a great hobby to have when you are single, in your twenties, and trying to save money! I also love browsing antique stores for funky, vintage finds. I have a pile of awesome vintage suitcases that serve as a side table in my living room. I try to expand my creative mind to home decor and fashion. Another hobby of mine: drinking great coffee.
417: Are you involved in any charitable organizations?
J.P.: Not at the moment.
417: Are you a member of any professional organizations?
J.P.: I hope to join the Professional Actor’s Union, Actors Equity, one day soon. If I ever move back to NYC, having an equity card makes navigating auditions a lot easier.
417: How would you define the secret to success?
J.P.: I believe in order to find success in your life you have to create a daily schedule filled with balance, imagination and drive. I believe if you follow your heart and trust the process, good things will happen. Success for me comes when preparation meets opportunity. I am always in search of the next brilliant project.
417: What’s your favorite thing about your career?
J.P.: My career in the performing arts is constantly changing. My schedule is never the same on a weekly basis, and I thrive on working on my feet and interacting with others. I have tried to work in a corporate setting from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and while doing so I felt like my soul was starving. So dramatic, I know! The spontaneity of this career can affect you in a positive or negative way. Since I take full ownership in not only my success but also my struggle, I feel I have more freedom in my day-to-day life. I am free to choose how I affect my community through my work in the arts.
417: What’s your favorite thing about working in 417-land?
J.P.: Growing up I used to hear people say, "Oh, there’s nothing to do around here." That’s simply not true. Our generation has the capability, if we so allow ourselves, to build upon a great foundation. We have a Midwest community filled with compassionate people willing to support many causes. I have never been in another part of the country where individuals are so willing to lend a helping hand. I love working in this community because I feel like I have a special responsibility to maintain the high level of artistry here. The cost of living (compared to cities like NYC) allows me to explore and create without worrying if I can pay my rent next month. It’s a catch-22 for me. I have to feel fairly stable personally and financially to find artistic freedom, but some times I have to take financial risks to reach the next level in my work. I will sign on to a project if it excites me and gives me the opportunity to work with fantastic people, even if the paycheck isn’t guaranteed. For example, performing in Les Miserables at SLT under the direction of the brilliant Robert Westenberg was a dream come true. I loved every waking minute of that rehearsal process and performance run. It was one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life, and no amount of money could replace the immense love and joy I still feel from doing that show and being with those people for a few months. I would travel the world with that cast and crew in a New York minute.
417: If you could go back and give the high school version of yourself one piece of
advice, what would it be?
J.P.: Oh, jeez. I would tell her to stop worrying about if her hair looks good, because it doesn’t and won’t until she’s about 22. I would also tell her to bust the door down when a window closes. There is a reason behind the ‘losing out on an opportunity,’ but you have to remain open to the next chapter of the journey.
417: What was your “dream job” at age 5?
J.P.: Like all 5 year old girls I wanted to be the princess Sleeping Beauty and a lawyer. However, my parents knew at a young age I would enter the world of performing. I used to dress up and make my whole family sit in front of the fire place and watch me (at 5 years old) belt out songs from the musical "Annie.” They knew they were in trouble.
417: List three traits that define a successful career:
J.P.: Recognizing ‘luck’ is when preparation meets opportunity, always be yourself in your work and do not compromise your beliefs or standards to suit others.
417: Why are you a 20 Under 30?
J.P.: I believe I have surrounded myself with incredibly talented people who push me to be the best version of myself every day.
417: What projects do you have on the horizon at your job that you’re excited
J.P.: I am currently collaborating with SLT and Robert Westenberg on a Shakespeare project to take place at the Springfield Art Museum (SAM) this summer. The theatre has given me the amazing opportunity to adapt the script. Westenberg will direct the piece, and we will perform at the SAM outdoor theatre in July. I love collaborating on new projects and am extremely excited about the summer.
417: What completed project are you most proud of?
J.P.: When I lived and worked in NYC I collaborated with alumni from Webster to write, direct and act in a new play festival. We produced the entire event, and I never imagined I would get that experience so early on in my career. I am finding similar opportunities in 417-land and am thrilled about what’s on the horizon.
417: ______ makes life worth living.
J.P.: Having a best friend.
417: A day at work wouldn’t be complete without _____.
J.P.: Discovery and laughter.
417: Ten years from now, I hope I’m _____.
J.P.: Still performing, teaching and celebrating life.
417: If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would _____.
J.P.: Go to Europe, buy a Marc Jacobs bag, and invest in the arts.
417: The best part about being a 20 under 30 is _____.
J.P.: Feeling like the hard work is paying off.