About the author:
Actress Jenn Harris has played the role of F.B.I. trainee Clarice Starling in the laugh-out-loud parody Silence! The Musical since its inception seven years ago. The musical, by Jon and Alan Kaplan and Hunter Bell, lovingly pokes fun at the Oscar-winning film Silence of the Lambs, infusing the plot of the suspenseful movie with unprintable song titles and hilarious comic performances. A crowd pleaser since its debut at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival, Silence! recently transferred to the new Elektra Theatre in Times Square. Harris, an off-Broadway vet of Modern Orthodox, New Jerusalem, Pageant Play, and more, shared the story of her hit show's journey and explained the proper way to parody and honor Jodie Foster at the same time.
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been my work on Silence! The Musical since its inception seven years ago. Seeing how far we’ve come and how long the journey has been from The New York International Fringe Festival to big billboards in Times Square, is mind blowing. Silence! The Musical will be one of those experiences I’ll tell my kids about. You do plays, you do shows, you have jobs, but this is beyond that – this makes me feel like, “Wow, I really did something!”
My work on Silence! began with research. I read script and began watching Silence of the Lambs over and over. As with any parody, it’s a matter of identifying the strong elements that stick out. What is happening in the performance? With the person? What are the camera angles, and what are they telling us? With Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning performance as Clarice Starling, the first thing that stuck out was the West Virginia accent, and so I punched that up a lot. Of course, she’s not doing what I do in the show but that’s what parody is: taking an element and turning the dial up to ninety. It’s not “I’m making fun of Jodie Foster,” because that is the wrong way to look at any parody. The performance is going to be a mess and you’ll get cheap laughs, but true parody has to be sincere. It helps if I love the material, and here I love the film, Jodie Foster and her performance so it makes it easier to really commit and do it.
We premiered Silence! at the Fringe six Augusts ago, and it was one of those things we all created together. It’s the most collaborative project I’ve ever worked on, and all of us [the Kaplans, Hunter Bell, Christopher Gattelli] literally created every little beat and moment in the show together. Silence! is not one big sketch show; it’s a very well crafted, tight musical. I remember fighting for jokes with Christopher. We spent hours talking and Skyping at night. I would stay at his house until 2 in the morning working on this show. What director does that? We take the jokes and the moments dead seriously and we hold each other up to it too. It’s a really supportive atmosphere. We watch each other from the wings and cheer each other on. As a company, we make each other better by keeping each other excited through the work we are doing. That’s kind of great.
After the show finished its run at the Fringe Festival, we thought, “Oh my god, this has to move.” But that didn’t happen as quickly as we hoped/thought/prayed. It took years, and every time any of us who worked on the show passed each other on the street, we’d say, “When is it going to happen?!” Finally, Christopher Gattelli sent me a text saying “You are going to get an e-mail tomorrow,” and I knew right away that we were doing it. Since I got that message my life has become Silence! and it’s a dream come true -- literally!
It’s really amazing to think that the L.A. production of Silence! is opening and they cast the South African production. Like, there’s going to be a Silence! The Musical in South Africa! Just thinking of all the places it will play and- which is rare! It makes me shake my head and say, “This is one of those rare, creative experiences that will stick in my soul and I will be SO proud to say I was/am a part of.”
Before we moved to the fabulous new Elektra Theatre, I picked up the show’s promotional signs outside our old theater at PS 122. By now, the signs have all this graffiti and they are tagged and very East Village looking, and I feel like that is such a metaphor for our show: Everyone gets to come and be a part of it and lift it up. The audiences at Silence! will force us into a better show by their positive energy and in return, we hope they jump on ours -- it’s a real proper fucking. But now, I’m just quoting our show by saying “fucking”! Join us and see for yourself.