Jennifer Paz is a writer, mother, actress, and lyricist based in Los Angeles. She got her start starring as Kim in the first national tour of Miss Saigon, and has since then lent her voice to Steven Universe, Steven Universe Future, and Steven Universe Movie Musical as Lapis Lazuli, joined Broadway’s company of Les Miserables, and performed in Cinderella, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Last Five Years, and Flower Drum Song – and became the executive producer of a single (and later music video) entitled “The Power of a Girl”! Now, Paz is working on the book and lyrics of Proud Marys, an original musical co-created with her husband, Anthony Fedorov and produced by Grammy Award winner Jeeve. When she’s not immersed in her art, she’s involved in the Mona Foundation (which “The Power of a Girl” was produced for!), an organization that educates girls and women in less fortunate communities worldwide. Her advice to young artists? “Trust your authentic voice and life experience… [and] have a sense of humor.” Read on to learn more about Jennifer Paz and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Jennifer Paz
Heritage: Filipina-American (born in Manila, grew up in Washington state)
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
To be honest, it’s a wonky time in the business. As a writer, I recently joined the Dramatist Guild back in May, and then stepped out on the picket lines with my WGA brothers and sisters when the writers’ strike began that month. And now, here we are as of August, and I stand in solidarity with my SAG/AFTRA brothers and sisters.
But as a book writer and lyricist, I am currently developing an original musical called Proud Marys with music and lyrics by my writing partner and husband, Anthony Fedorov, and music production by Grammy Award winnerJeeve (a.k.a. Jean-Yves Ducornet).
It’s very early, and I’ve been pinching myself throughout this process because this project has led me to collaborate with many amazing artist friends and fam I’ve long admired and love so much.
In a monumental step, I was awarded a 2022/’23 NAMT Writers Residency Grant with East West Players, and we most recently had a 29-hour invited reading this past Spring, 2023. Proud Marys is an adaptation of my original TV pilot script of the same title that won the inaugural Outstanding Screenplays TV Pilot Competition 2021 – such a huge honor! We're still very early in development, but I'm very excited about it.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Voiceover: Lapis Lazuli on the cult series Steven Universe, Steven Universe Future, and Steven Universe Movie Musical (streaming now on Hulu, Amazon Prime and MAX)
Onstage: Miss Saigon (Kim, 1st National Broadway tour), Les Miserables (Broadway), David Henry Hwang’s Flower Drum Song (pre-Broadway Mark Taper Forum), Cinderella (5th Avenue Theatre), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (5th Avenue, Ordway Center, Northshore Music Theatre, B’way Asia tour – Tokyo), The Last Five Years (East West Players)
Executive Producer: “The Power of a Girl” single (written by Anthony Fedorov and feat. Emmy-nominated Iranian American Journalist/Activist Nava Ghalili-Wourenma) and music video for the Mona Foundation
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Trust your authentic voice and life experience. Your voice, your stories, and your point of view matters. Do the work, and most importantly, do the SELF-work, show up, and don’t be a jerk. And please, please, please have a sense of humor. I think it’s important to be able to just laugh at yourself sometimes or laugh at whatever seemingly stressful situation arises. Don’t get me wrong, be a pro, but the business can get crazy and ridiculous sometimes, so it’s important to take a step back in those moments and prioritize your mental and spiritual health.
How did you get your start?
I was cast in Miss Saigon from an open call the summer before my sophomore year of college. Much to my Filipino parents' worry and concern, I dropped out of college to join the 1st National Broadway tour. They eventually came around and showed their love in a big way and flew to every city for my opening nights during my three and a half years on that tour. Looking back, that was such a magical time.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
Favorite moments? My parent's unwavering support in those early years flash through my mind. Also, I started writing much later in my career, so getting into a mentorship program called Unlock Her Potential with a dream showrunner (Brian Yorkey) was a big moment for me.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Early on in my mentorship, I shared with Brian several of my projects that were in different stages of development, and he was keen on pointing out that I needed to be laser-focused on exactly what I wanted to be doing to level up in my career and writer development. He pointed out that my biggest challenge was about “focus.”
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I recently rescued a sweet 5-month-old German Shepherd mix. He is the most adorable and loveable fur baby. My husband and I and our 10-year-old kiddo are in complete puppy bliss at the moment.
I also recently got into plants. It was a post-pandemic thing. We have over 50-some various potted plants in our home now, in addition to our backyard plants. I also got obsessed with growing mango and avocado plants in water from store-bought fruits and now have over a dozen of these plant arrangements in my house. It’s a fun and relaxing form of meditation for me.
Do you have any organizations or non-profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
Yes! In 2020 I was introduced to a wonderful organization called the Mona Foundation by my producing partner and friend, Nava Galili-Wourenma (Emmy-nominated TV journalist and youth empowerment activist).
The Mona Foundation provides education for girls and women in impoverished communities around the globe. My husband Anthony and I were invited to be ambassadors and participate in the Mona Foundation’s annual gala. As an offering, we self-produced a music video and single called “The Power of a Girl” written by Anthony, and feat. Nava (with a little nudging from me since she was a bit shy about her voice). I’m proud to say that the song collectively helped reach their target annual fundraising goals and continues to bring awareness to the work of Mona Foundation. Nava’s heartfelt vocals on the song premiered at their 2021 virtual gala, hosted by Rainn Wilson, (Advisory Board Member for the Mona Foundation alongside Nava). I’m happy to share the song here.
I also would love to shout out the Unlock Her Potential Mentorship program that I mentioned earlier. This program was founded by Sophia Chang in 2020 and is a powerful mentorship program designed specifically for women of color by providing career guidance and development in their chosen fields.
I invite Cre8sian sisters to check out both organizations. In fact, UHP 2024 applications are now open Aug. 1st-31st. I encourage WOC to apply!
Who do you admire?
I admire women who can unapologetically take up their space.
Do you have any mentors?
Besides my UHP mentor, careers I admire include Pilar Alessandra, Rebecca Sugar, Mindy Kaling, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Nia Vardalos, Tina Fey, Adele Lim, Amy Poehler, Issa Rae, Ali Wong, Rachel Bloom.
Did you always want to be in the arts, or did you have another path before you got here?
I think I’ve always wanted to be in the arts, but I didn’t really know what that would look like, nor did I personally know anyone in the business, so it seemed like a faraway dream.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
As a child of immigrants, the arts were viewed as more of a luxury, or hobby, not something to be pursued as a career. Inadvertently though, I think my parents encouraged artistic expression because in wanting us to know our culture, they signed us up to dance traditional Filipino folk dancing at a very young age. My siblings and I grew up performing in local cultural festivals where we got to showcase our traditional Filipino dances. If I followed my dad’s dream though, I would have been an accountant, and my mom always thought I’d make a great lawyer because I was so “hardheaded” and argued with her so much. Ha!
Anyway, I always liked performing and expressing myself, so I think I already knew in those early years.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
Bartender, Starbucks barista, and I was a microblading tattoo artist and worked at a salon for 4-years with an interesting clientele (some celebrity clients, influencers, execs, athletes, soccer moms, working moms, reality show stars, adult stars) – so many stories I could tell!
I was a telemarketer once; I can’t even remember what I was selling though. Lol! I lasted a day. Even though I was given a script to follow for cold calls, I didn’t like how dishonest and disingenuous it all felt. I remember the call was being recorded for training purposes, and after my first day, the manager was like, “yea, no…this isn’t gonna work out.”
If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the business?
My parents taught me grit and the importance of having a strong work ethic. Growing up, I also watched them flip homes for fun. This was in the 80s and 90s, way before HGTV. I witnessed my parents take on DIY projects around the house and fixer-uppers which taught me the value of rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty to make something. I watched them make something out of nothing.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment is being mommy to our son, Julian.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the magic of art. It has the power to heal.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
I always say rejection is just a redirection. What helped me most was just to keep going and focus my attention on the next thing or project. Trust that you’ll find out soon enough why something you thought you wanted didn’t work out. It’s all a gift.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
Deep breaths. Silent prayer. Water.
If you’ve crossed the table from performing to being on a creative team, what made you take the leap, and how did it change your way of thinking?
After being a performer for many years, my interests shifted to writing and producing much later in my career. The real turning point was when I became a mother (our son was born 2013). I'd always loved creative writing but didn't really know how to go about it. That sounds strange, but I guess the voices of fear kept me blocked for many years.
Then, the pandemic hit.
At that time, I was working on Steven Universe, by then in its 5th season, and pinching myself that I was getting to collaborate with some cool people and friends.
Creator-boss-colleague Rebecca Sugar left a profound impression on my heart.
Sadly, the series ended in March 2020.
PRE-pandemic in 2018, I was an avid listener of a screenwriting podcast called On the Page®, with Pilar Alessandra. I loved listening to Pilar's guests; showrunners, actors, writers, and producers I long admired talk candidly about the process.
Deeply inspired to build community as a writer-producer and activated by the rising hate against our AAPI communities during the pandemic, I scraped up what I could despite my scarily depleting resources and signed up for Pilar's classes she offered via Zoom.
By 2021-'22, Pilar's valuable mentorship led me to win a screenwriting competition, placing in several others with my other writing samples, and getting selected for a year-long mentorship.
In Spring '21 Pilar invited me as a guest on her podcast to talk about authentic AAPI representation on screen. Such a huge honor!
All this to say that deciding to trust my own voice really changed my way of thinking about what is possible for me in this business.
As a storyteller, how do you pick the stories you want to work on and what goes into putting a story together, whether on stage, page, or film?
I take inspiration from everything around me. Specifically, I tend to write characters that are rebellious and subversive in nature – good-trouble makers with a heart of gold. I enjoy writing comedy and WOC-led stories, trying to figure out their stuff.
How do you deal with writer's block?
I’ll read a new book. Or listen to the audiobook I’ve started and stopped a thousand times. I’ll listen to music. I’ll get up and walk around. I’ll revisit a favorite book or series to get me re-charged or inspired. I’ll do morning pages. I’ll make a meal. I’ll water my plants. I’ll walk my dog. I’ll have a mommy and son play date. I especially love learning new things from my kid. I’ll ask him about what he’s reading. Whatever I need to do to get me unstuck. Then I just keep writing.
Do you have a favorite book/screenplay/script?
Anything Brene Brown, I lovePermission to Come Home by Jenny T. Wang, PhD, I enjoy reading pilot scripts like Fleabag, Never Have I Ever, and right now, my son and I are readingBoys Will Be Human by Justin Baldoni.
When you are creating a story, what is your process for putting a storyline together?
I need to break the story by outlining first. Broad strokes first. Sometimes I’ll just start writing a conversation with my characters. I’ll just have them talk to each other. I’ll give my characters a flaw and then put them in the worst situation they could possibly be in, based on that flaw. I also like to come up with a logline early on. It helps keep me focused. Ha! There’s that word again!
When I write songs with my husband, I’m more about wordsmithing lyrics and phrases, and he’s the melodic hooks and harmonies guy. For example, in collaborating on Proud Marys, I’ll pitch him the storyline, style, and tone of the song that we need for a scene, suggest some key phrases and lyrics, and he’ll take that and come up with an entire arrangement.
Then we’ll go back and forth with it until we land on something together. It’s a whole process, and most times, it works; sometimes, it doesn’t, until it does.
What inspires you?
All kinds of things inspire me. I love a good underdog story. I get inspired by people who do the thing against all odds. I also love smart or clever comedy. But I also enjoy a good dick joke or raunchy comedy as well. Gimme smart, clever dialogue and dick jokes all day, every day. Again – I find it very important to laugh! Gimme joy. Laughter is so disarming. It’s such a powerful entry point to get to the healing. I also love rom-coms or a good social justice story.
Stories about karma and people gettin’ theirs are so satisfying.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
The moment the doctor placed our newborn son in my arms.
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