If you happen to make it to Lyric Theatre this month to see “A Christmas Carol,” you’ll definitely notice the bright smile and angelic voice of the Ghost of Christmas Past as she floats high above the audience suspended from the ceiling.
That ghost is local actress, business owner and mom of two Jennifer Teel.
“My dream, from the time when I was very little, was to perform professionally and I never thought that I could actually do that here in Oklahoma,” Jennifer said. “But I quickly learned that the arts community here is very strong and very active.”
Jennifer and her husband of more than 16 years, Craig have two children: 16-year-old Nathan and 13-year-old Sarah. Jennifer was born in North Dakota, but has lived in Oklahoma since age 2 and considers Mustang home.
After being involved in theater growing up, Jennifer took time off from the stage when she had children.
“I always knew that I wanted to perform and be on stage,” Jennifer said, “I always wanted to be a mom, too.”
But when her passion for acting took a backseat to motherhood, she felt like she wasn’t totally herself. So shortly after Sarah was born, Jennifer auditioned for a show at the Poteet Theatre and won the lead. When her kids were young, she would limit herself to just one or two shows a year. As the kids got older, Jennifer started auditioning for more shows.
Jennifer has played the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past at Lyric’s “A Christmas Carol” for three years. The performance schedule is intense, with shows nightly every day except Monday and two shows on Saturday throughout the month of December.
“I love being part of a holiday tradition,” she said. “The show is so family-oriented in so many ways. The cast, the audience and also the story of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which is about focusing in on what is important—your friends and your family—and appreciating that and not letting the stress and all the worries of life bog you down. That’s really what Scrooge’s struggle is about. He has forgotten all of the things that make up a full life. I love how my character really is the one who helps Scrooge refocus and find those moments of the things in life that he used to have.”
Jennifer also has been a director and assistant director for several productions. She began directing children’s theater at Poteet, and was the assistant director for the Lyric Theatre’s recent production of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” When asked her thoughts on acting versus directing, Jennifer admitted both are a blast.
“I really do love doing both,” she said. “As an actor, your goal is to find your character and also portray exactly what the director sees. But I also love being able to go through and piece together the entire big picture, and also being able to change things up here and there.”
Jennifer also is working for her fifth year with the Lyric’s arts outreach program, Musical Interactive, which is a free education program for Oklahoma schools. Designed to bring the theater to students, Jennifer travels all over Oklahoma with a group of three other actors, a music director and a stage director as often as five days a week during busy times, many days performing two or three shows per day. The engaging program integrates history in with musical performance, and this year’s show is “The Sound of Music.” The program runs when school is in session, and autumn is typically busier than the spring.
As if she wasn’t busy enough acting, directing and teaching, Jennifer owns Forever After Parties, a company that specializes in character visits for birthday parties and events. The concept started as a favor for a friend in 2009 when she agreed to dress up as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” for a child’s party. Increasing requests for appearances led to requests for different characters, which prompted the official company launch in March 2011. The company started with 12 employees and has now grown to approximately 75 employees.
“It just took off,” Jennifer said.
Not only did Forever After Parties see its popularity soar for appearances, Jennifer also started receiving many calls from prospective actors. She now holds auditions at least once a year and has taken on a partner. A typical weekend might include eight parties, which skyrocketed to as many as sixteen parties a weekend during what Jennifer calls the “Frozen Craze.”
“It really is one of the best jobs ever, because we get to dress up and go inspire kids,” she said. “There’s just a joy you feel after you have gone to a party and done that. It’s exhausting; after a two-hour party you have essentially just done a one-person show, but it’s totally worth it. It’s a blast.”
Jennifer advises anyone interested in the performing arts to chase their dreams, and recommends the Oklahoma Theater Guild on Facebook as a starting point to finding auditions. Although Jennifer is living proof that formal education in theater is not necessary, she feels that education helps, especially for children interested in learning more about theater. The Lyric Theatre, Poteet Theatre and Sooner Theatre all offer excellent programs for kids.
“There are huge benefits with going into theater because it teaches you a lot of discipline,” she said. “You need to be prepared and be responsible for yourself. You have to have good communication skills and know how to work alongside all different types of people. Even if kids don’t go into theater in the long run, it’s a huge building block that can help with any type of career.“
You can catch Jennifer in “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 2-27 at Lyric Theatre (1727 N.W. 16th St.). Tickets range from $30 to $50. Learn more at www.lyrictheatreokc.com.