Photo credit Uncommon Wombat Productions
Laura Frenzer and Rohana Kenin are co-writing, co-producing partners for the new comedy web series 47 Secrets to A Younger You.
Laura Frenzer has performed for decades in theater, film, television, improv, and sketch comedy shows in New York City and abroad, and with many theatre companies including the Chekhov Theatre Ensemble, the Modern Theatre of Myth, and Classics on Tour as well as performing at the MASZK Theatre Festival in Hungary. She is a proud UCB graduate and teaching artist in New York City public schools, where she has worked with Camp Broadway, Stages of Learning, the American Globe Theatre, and Creative Stages NYC.
Rohana Kenin has been performing in theater, film, animation, and improv for decades. She’s worked in production for an equal length of time, from starting out with Moises Kaufman downtown in the 90s to producing numerous sold-out New York String Orchestra concerts presented by Carnegie Hall, chamber music concerts at Mannes College The New School, and 6 seasons of free theater and music events in Prospect Park with PLG Arts.
How did you develop your creative abilities as a child? Do you have any major influences that stand out?
Laura: My parents were always very encouraging of our expressing ourselves creatively and the best toy we had was our costume box. My sister and brother and I spent much of our time creating scenes and performing them for our parents – or just for ourselves!
I realized I was an actor at a very early age, and having two uncles who are actors was huge influence on me. One of my uncles was a Shakespearian actor and the other was a comedian and improviser, so it’s no wonder that I have gravitated to those things as an actor. I consider them my first acting teachers!
Rohana: I grew up in Berkeley in the 70s and my parents were a bit looser with kids than parents are these days, and they also didn’t believe in having a tv – that meant lots of room for creativity. Reading, coloring, biking around exploring, hanging out unsupervised in playgrounds with friends playing complicated make believe games, listening to the radio or records while drawing. I also took a lot of great classes through the Oakland Parks and Recreation department at a place called Studio 1 and later took part in some summer community theater productions.
My father Eliot Kenin is a musician and my mother Millea was a writer and a visual artist. She was also very crafty. They really made pursuing artistic goals seem like a normal thing to do, almost a moral imperative. When I was about 12, I was a performer at the renaissance fair in Novato, CA. There were two troupes performing there that I loved and would watch every performance, La Familia Bologna, and the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Even though they were following a script, they made every performance alive. There was always an improvisational audience interaction element. It made it seem like acting was the most fun you could possibly have.
Photo Credit Uncommon Wombat Productions
How did you get first into acting/film production?
Rohana: I started out at the Renaissance Faire in Novato, CA when I was 12, but I remember being into acting even before that. I loved watching all the performers and getting to be one of them. I was in a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow a cast for a while in high school, and did community summer theater in Oakland. I decided to study acting in college, first at UC Berkeley and then I transferred to NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing. I did a lot of experimental theater and a lot of Shakespeare after college – but honestly, this is Laura Frenzer and my first film production project, though we have a lot of performing experience, as well as producing experience for theater, classical music and other types of live events.
Laura: After a childhood of unsuccessfully auditioning for my local community theatre, I went to college and got a BFA in Acting and then moved to New York. Most of the work I have done has been on the stage, but lately I have been doing more television. After having produced some theatrical productions, I was very excited to move into film production with Rohana on 47 Secrets to A Younger You.
Can you tell us a little bit about the types of projects you do? What do you love most about your career?
Laura: I have done so many original one acts I can’t even count them! And for some reason, I’ve often played male characters from Shakespeare. After having kids, it became much more difficult to take the time (and babysitting money!) to rehearse plays. But I found that when you partner with other parents to produce, you can create kid-friendly rehearsal processes and work them better into your schedule. I have also done sketch comedy and improv, which I love and find immensely challenging.
What I love most about my career is the ability to always do new projects and have new experiences. I live to take on new challenges creatively and producing a web series was a very rewarding new challenge!
Rohana: I’ve done a lot of experimental new work, a lot of Shakespeare, and a pretty decent amount of improv. Recently, I’ve been doing voices for an animation project. What I love most is exploring how different characters, think, feel, move. I also love how acting requires constantly learning. If your character is a queen from the 1400s, you have to learn about that, if she’s an Italian-American from South Philadelphia, you have to learn about that. For one part I had to learn how to do a card trick. I feel like it keeps my brain in shape and is bringing me greater understanding of what it is to be a human being.
Laura’s and my first collaborative partnership was producing six summer seasons of a short, family-friendly version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a really fun, well-attended show, and it was also great because it was a show that we could bring our kids to every single performance of. They loved the show, and we didn’t have to get babysitters.
Photo Credit Sean Elias-Reyes
What does a day in your life look like?
Rohana: Total insanity. On a “normal” day, my husband, actor Sean Kenin (also part of the 47 Secrets cast) and I get up around 5:45 to feed our kids, get lunches ready and then we split up, one takes our daughter to the subway by 6:50 to get her to her school, then the other gets a little work done until around 7:50 when it’s time to take my son to school. If I take my daughter, I can be at my office (I work for Mannes The New School for) by 7:30 a.m. That’s great to make up for any hours I have to take off to pick my kids up from school or for a school holiday. If I take my son to school, I get to the office at 9. On a regular day, I’ll work in the office until 5 or 5:30 and head home to make dinner, help the kids with homework, etc. If my husband gets home first, he makes dinner. We try to share the load. These days I’ve been doing a lot of email and social media stuff for 47 Secrets to A Younger You on my phone as I walk to and from the subway. Once the kids are set with homework, and also after they go to bed, that’s when I can get on the computer and work on whatever project I have going. I call that the 3rd shift. I usually get to bed around 12 or 1 – so not enough sleep for sure.
Of course, no day is really normal. I might run out of the office for my lunch break to do an animation voice over session or to take the kids to an audition or booking of their own. Since my job is in arts administration, the office day can range from writing an NEA funding proposal to setting up travel and lodging for a national audition tour to contracting string quartets.
Laura: No one day is like another – I have such a varied schedule! But typically I wake up early- around 5:30 on school days to get the kids off to school. Then I go to work either as a teaching artist in a public schools or to my office job at The New School or on an audition. Pick up my son from school and take him to Tae Kwon do and then go home to meet my older daughter them start the always wonderful weekday challenge of trying to make dinner while exhausted kids need homework help. I also work 2 nights a week at a restaurant, so I have some very long days!
Can you tell us a little about your latest project, 47 Secrets to a Younger You? What inspired you to tell this story?
Laura: 47 Secrets To A Younger You is a show about working moms, everyday disasters and middle aging not so gracefully. As long time friends, neighbors and co-workers, Rohana and I would often commiserate with each other about getting older, parenting challenges, relationships, etc. We realized that while it was at times depressing and frustrating, it was also funny. We started forming certain things into sketches and them decided it was time to stop bitching and start writing! It’s always better to find the funny and laugh about yourself.
Rohana: And in talking with our friends, we found a lot of what we were going through and writing about was pretty universal, so we figured there was an audience for the show.
How is it working with another mom on a creative project? How do you motivate/support each other?
Laura: It’s really great working with another Mom on a creative project like this, especially since our kids are all great friends so we have many working play dates. We are able to work our families schedules in with our own in very creative ways – we often had production meeting at our kids’ tae kwon do class!
There are so many ways in which we support each other – creatively, we bounce ideas back and forth and are able to collaborate in a very productively. We also bounce our kids back and forth! We help echo all the time with childcare, after school activities, even dinner! And working with a good friend, you know that they care about you and are understanding if your are just having a bad day – because they also know what’s going on in your personal life.
Rohana: At this point, I’d say working with another mom is pretty much essential. I’m not sure that anyone else can get that you are going to give it 100%, even though you are also giving 100% to your family and 100% your other job. It’s not math that works in the regular world, and only another mom truly gets it.
Photo Credit Sean Elias-Reyes
What do you think is the most challenging thing about being an actor?
Laura: Oh so many challenges! I think the biggest one is just to keep going, keep acting. You need to stay persistent, constantly grow as an actor and make work for yourself when other people think you should just quit already.
Another thing that I think is very difficult is dealing with other people’s yardstick for success. Often there is the perception that you are not successful unless you make a certain amount of money – and I think many artists deal with this. You can go to school, study in your field, graduate with a BFA, and do great work afterwards. But people will still consider you an amateur if you aren’t making much money. Ultimately artists create because they love to and are compelled to. Making a living is great! But it is not always a measure of artistic success or worth.
Rohana: Agreed. You can’t do it by yourself, so more of your time is spent in seeking acting opportunities than actually acting. It’s an insult to injury situation in that you cannot do the thing you love, and that puts you in the position of constantly evaluating your own talent and self-worth in the context of rejection and other people’s opinion of your “success.”
And…what is the most challenging part of being an actor who is also a mom?
Rohana: For me, it’s translated into less time to do the auditions, the preparation, to keep up with your training – and a less flexible schedule to take advantage of opportunities that may arise. That means even fewer opportunities to perform. That’s one of the reasons writing and producing 47 Secrets to A Younger You has been so empowering.
Laura: Scheduling! Especially as a single mom. Auditions and bookings often come last minute and then you have to scramble to find child care and switch your schedules around. Also I don’t have the luxury anymore of enjoying a long rehearsal process for a play that is fabulous to work on but doesn’t pay anything – the cost of babysitting often makes projects like that impossible. And the kids miss you!
Did your perspective on career change after becoming a mom?
Laura: I think your perspective on everything changes once you become a mom! It certainly became harder to take on any project I wanted but it also focused me on doing projects that were more meaningful, I think. I also started working as a teaching artist after I had kids which was a great way to use my acting skills and make a living during the same the school day schedule as my kids.
Rohana: It’s constantly changing. When I first became a mom and “took some time off” from acting, that felt like a really positive choice. But I realized later I hadn’t really thought it through, acting is not something you can take time off from and expect people to be waiting for your return. My ideas about getting back into it are still evolving, but producing my own projects that can fit around my work and parenting schedule has been really positive. I wouldn’t say I have it all, because I don’t get enough sleep or exercise, but I would say I have most of what’s important to me.
Do you have any resource, tips, advice for moms who are looking to go into acting/film?
Rohana: This is a tough question. I don’t think trying to start out in a professional acting career when you have young kids would be easy and you definitely would need to talk the kind of time commitment it takes through with your parenting partner(s), whomever they may be. I’d probably give the same advice I’d give to anyone starting something new. Learn about it. Take classes to develop professional level skills. Try out for a community production. See if you enjoy it.
Laura: I agree, I would say if you re totally new to it and haven’t studied, then you should go study. And if you stopped for a while and are getting back into it, definitely take new classes. If you’re in the New York City area, I recommend Upright Citizens Brigade for improv – they have tons of classes at various times so you can find ones that work with your schedule. I also recommend The Actors Green Room as a great resource for seminars and classes in a super supportive environment.
What creative activities do you do with your kids?
Rohana: Well, both Caleb (age 10) and Milena (age 12) are actors and they are both in 47 Secrets to A Younger You. They love to be in and see shows. A family tradition is to camp out in the line to see the Public’s Shakespeare in Central Park every summer. But we also love to bake and make up experimental recipes, or fancy decorated cookies for school bake sales, make costumes, jewelry – we throw big crazy theme birthday parties. I guess there really isn’t anything we don’t get creative with.
Laura: My daughter who is 14 is constantly creating art projects – painting, sculpture, jewelry. She’s a very independent artist now but I help her by finding materials for her to use and giving her the space to create. My son who is 11 has always loved building things – when he was little we had many cardboard box sculpture towers! We also cook and bake together and the kids have grown up coming to rehearsals of shows and seeing performances, so they were vicariously included in those creative processes. I have also taught them some improv games which they love and are great tools to kill time when waiting for the train!
Photo Credit Uncommon Wombat Productions
Fill in the blanks:
If I could have 1 hour with any person, alive or dead it would be my mother. She died when she was 49, before I had kids. I really never appreciated or understood what she was doing trying to raise kids and be an artist at the same time. Of course, an hour wouldn’t be enough.
My greatest pet peeve is pillowcases that don’t match the sheets.
If I could outsource one aspect of my life, it would be family arguments. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could hand those off to someone else and not waste family time with that stuff?
If I were stranded on a desert island with a choice of 5 objects, they would be:
1. A magically self-replenishing watermelon
2. Some sort of crazy water desalinization contraption
3. A guitar (finally time to learn how to play)
4. The complete works of William Shakespeare and
5. A hammock.
If I could have 1 hour with any person, alive or dead it would be speed dating with Jane Austen.
My greatest pet peeve is men telling me to smile.
If I could outsource one aspect of my life, it would be laundry.
If I were stranded on a desert island with a choice of 5 objects, they would be
1. Mint dental floss because I can’t STAND it when something is caught in my teeth!
2. Complete works of Shakespeare
3. A very large quantity of dark chocolate
4. A family photo album
5. Jeff Probst
Congrats to 47 Secrets to A Younger You for being a Indiewire September pick!