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Jennifer Love Doherty

Jennifer Love Doherty is the Executive Director of Southeast Alabama Community Theatre (SEACT). She and her husband, Michael, have been married 25 years. They have two children, Piper (21) and Collin (19).

WP: How long have you been with SEACT? How did you get involved?

 

JD: My first experience with SEACT was in 1996. I had seen a few shows, and had some friends who were involved. I thought, “I can do that, maybe?” I auditioned and performed in several shows, and then marriage and family caught up with me. At SEACT, we have the annual “season,” but we also tend to see people during specific “seasons of life.” I took a break for my young mom season, although I did my first turn on the Board of Directors pregnant with Piper. I did a few performances in between babies, but returned to more regular involvement when Piper was old enough to join me on stage in The Wizard of Oz in 2008. That was special. Since then, I have been on stage, produced, scheduled publicity, compiled showbills, and served three times on the Board of Directors. I took a permanent position with SEACT as General Manager in 2012.

WP: In your opinion, what makes community theater such an important part of the local cultural landscape?

 

JD: Community theatre is unique in that the only reason SEACT exists is that people who live and work in the Wiregrass want to see and participate in it. We aren’t a venue for touring shows through town. Sometimes people ask me when we’re going to “grow up to become a professional theatre.” One really doesn’t have anything to do with the other. Our job is to find out what YOU want to do and see, and create opportunities to do those things. In addition, relatively speaking, few of us get to visit Broadway, London’s West End, or even Atlanta and Birmingham for touring shows. SEACT offers an exciting live theatre experience, and our mission is to make the experience as high-quality, yet affordable, as possible. We also offer that opportunity to schools and area youth through Wiregrass Drama Club productions, camps, and classes.

 

WP: What type of impact do you think your involvement with SEACT over the years has had on your family, especially your kids?

 

JD: Probably one of the weirdest things is that Mike, who had no interest or inclination to step on a stage, now has possibly more shows under his belt than I do! That proved to me that 1) there is a place for everyone in theatre, and 2) if you didn’t do theatre in your first 40 years, you’ve got another 40 ahead of you, so get cracking. Through our experiences, I also recognized how important it is for parents to have “a thing” outside of children’s soccer games and dance recitals. Taking time for yourself is hard, and near impossible when you factor in all of the parental responsibilities. But the kids got to see us having a lot of fun, and neither Piper nor Collin seem to be holding a few missed goals and bedtimes over our heads. Of course, they saw almost every (age-appropriate) show, and participated in SEACT’s youth summer theatre camps. Both children learned piano, participated in youth choirs, and in high school show choir and theatre. We took time for art, as a family, through SEACT, and other local arts organizations. By doing that, I hope we modeled the benefits of active creativity, but also how to invest in your own community.

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As the daughter of a military family, we were never anywhere long enough to be “joiners.” Dothan is the first place I lived where I could connect actual people to civic institutions, local businesses, and service clubs. I hope, wherever they end up, the children will find ways to both learn from and add to their own communities. The arts are some of the most fun and impactful ways to do that.

WP: Do you have a favorite production or memory from your time with SEACT?

 

JD: It is difficult to pick one cast or crew over another. Each experience is unique and brings together a different group of people, so the dynamic is always new, and certainly intense over those weeks of rehearsal. I will always remember my personal little munchkin when I played Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. Some of my very best friends have been on stage with me in Honky Tonk Angels, Guys and Dolls, and Mamma Mia.

Les Misérables stands alone as a mountain we (as an organization) didn’t know we could climb, and the reward was very sweet from the community response to the experience of just looking at each other and reading in each others’ eyes, “I can’t believe we did it!” My favorite personal accomplishment was Always…Patsy Cline for the sheer volume of music, the intimacy of our two-person cast and the band, and playing such an incredibly beloved figure.

 

WP: What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to get more involved in the community?

 

JD: Local, local, local. Take a break from satellite radio and cable news. I’ve learned to laugh when people tell me they’ve never heard of SEACT, or frankly any arts or local opportunities. Our local media do such a nice job of supporting us through news and event coverage, both the old-fashioned way – print and broadcast – and digitally. I’m an analytical person so I’m going to grab the chamber directory and local publications and see what organizations are here and what’s going on. That’s kind of nerdy, so for someone else, I would ask what they enjoy doing and seeing. You might even revisit something that made you happy as a younger person. If you are making time for yourself and/or your family to engage locally, there are an incredible amount of service, civic, and arts opportunities. Visit Dothan (DACVB) is doing a nice job of calendarizing local events, and most of them are hosted by non-profits who would love a volunteer or two. Finally, if you are attending a local church, many of them do a great job of service outside the church walls.

WP: You and your husband are now ‘empty nesters.’ How do you think that’s changed your family dynamics?

 

JD: Don’t you mean, “How’s the party?” j/k It has been a transition, and every stereotype you can think of is justified. Our home revolved around raising the children for 20 years, and now they aren’t here for the most part. There was a pandemic, which I’m not sure has any historical comparison in our generation. We have been lucky, and resilient as a family, with Piper and Collin making the best of their weird circumstances. For Mike and I, we are astounded at the gained mental bandwidth. It’s like 20 years of tunnel vision, and now our peripheral vision is back. Color! Sound! Flavor! Did the fridge always make that noise? What’s behind the piano? Clearly, we have some other things to focus on now.

 

WP: How was it for you sending your last baby off to college? Was it different from your first?

 

JD: I won’t say the experiences were identical, but they had a lot of similarities. The tears, the tapering off of phone calls, the learning curve of shipping Amazon textbooks to the school rather than to Dothan. (Hot tip, kids: Always check the shipping address on your order!) When we left Piper at Mississippi State, Collin was a sophomore in high school, and had achieved all the independence that comes with that age. So, while he lived at home, we really didn’t see him that much. It made his move to Samford, I think, a little easier for me. But I do miss them both, terribly!

 

WP: Now that your kids are all out of the house, is there something you’ve been unable to do that you’re looking forward to getting involved in?

 

JD: We jumped the gun a little bit, but Mike and I had always wanted to do a SEACT show together. Through the years we were intentional about carving out opportunities for each other that didn’t overlap so at least one of us was still available for the children’s activities. Last summer, after Collin’s graduation and during the height of the pandemic, we did a small show called God of Carnage. It was a small cast, crew, and audience out of necessity. We were married to different people, but still got to experience the show together. I hope we can do that more often. What I have looked most forward to, though, is being able to escape for a night or more without concern for homework and tests, school breaks, cheer competitions, and soccer games. Parents’ lives are scheduled down to the minute, and there is considerable freedom when those parameters loosen up.

 

WP: When it comes to parenting, there’s a lot of talk about ‘the village.’ Is there anyone who has helped you throughout your journey through motherhood that you would like to give a shout-out to?

 

JD: Both my mother and mother-in-law are loving and supportive, but our families don’t live here. In 2000, we were desperate for a village! Honestly, I have to thank the many child-care situations we went through and the care workers. The various stages of my career were important to me, and I experienced the entire spectrum of employers who had little grace for breast-feeding working moms and those who offered some level of support and understanding for both parents. I jumped on every after-school class and summer camp that I could, and I am grateful that my children had those opportunities to experience not only the subject matter – theatre, robotics, choir, scouts – but also to get comfortable in a room full of kids you’ve never met. I also think it is important to recognize that schools, and a lot of our country, still rely heavily on the stay-at-home parent. Many moms saved my tail more than once for missing belts, forgotten lunches, and late car lines. Without opening the obvious can of worms, families are all different and not all of them have the desire or the means to support a stay-at-home parent. I look forward to the next generation to carve out and protect parents’ opportunities to be as involved as they want to, and are able to.

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WP: As a working mom and spouse, life can be pretty hectic. How do you make sure you’re not pouring from an empty cup?

 

JD: I didn’t. I mean, I wish I did? Moms hoe a tough row. I mean, if I yell and argue and ground my child, then I’m at the end of my rope and need to take some “me-time,” right? But if I’m treating myself to a book or a massage, then I’m wracked with mom-guilt and I feel like everyone is judging my choices. (Especially when you forgot the carline that day.) Some of my favorite baby and toddler times were completely unstructured. Both parent and child get to enjoy the walk in the woods, the picnic in the grass, music playing while you both pretend to clean the house. It’s when the children are older and the activities become more unpaid labor of chef, chaperone, chauffeur, paralegal, party planner, banker, and alarm clock. That’s when I think it is most important for spouses, family, and friends to intervene in a way that reminds you, “Hey, it’s going to be okay if this afternoon is just for you.” I think that is something Mike and I did for each other in staggering our theatre involvement. No guilt about late rehearsals, active texting when goals were scored and awards won.

 

WP: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

 

JD: Don’t play the role of the put-upon mom. I love being a mom, but I would socialize that at work as, “Ugh, there’s a child calling me again,” because, culturally, I didn’t feel like parenting and family needs were welcome at the office. That was probably a lot of youthful paranoia mixed with some real skepticism about a woman in the workforce with a baby in daycare. I feel like I’m talking about 1975, but I promise this was in 2000!

 

WP: Any advice for new parents?

 

JD: Honor and cherish time with your family. Your boss, the school, dinner, your mom, the game, the show… can all wait.

Ashton Wright
Author: Ashton Wright

Ashton is the publisher of Wiregrass Parents magazine. A lifelong resident of the Wiregrass, she grew up in Blakely, Ga. Her love of journalism began on her high school newspaper and continued at Troy University where she received her print journalism degree. After graduating, she worked with WTVY-TV for nearly a decade. She and her husband, Chris, have been married since 2012. They have one daughter, Alexis, as well as a dog, Jackson, and a cat, Cooper.

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Mom to Mom: Jennifer Love Doherty

by Ashton Wright time to read: 10 min