Up & Comer: Actress Jennifer Dawson & “Party Girl Plus One”
Actress Jennifer Dawson is a perfect example of someone who launched their entertainment career from afar and then, with some professional experience under her belt, relocated to Los Angeles to make it big in her chosen profession. She has also utilized modern technology and her growing network of talented friends and associates to create and star in the popular web series, “Party Girl Plus One,” based on her own dating diaries. Read on to hear her story…
College- I attended Florida International University, majoring in marketing & international business.
Internships- I did a PR internship during college because I thought I might go into that field.
First job: I worked in advertising out of school, at two different agencies. I made my way up to Junior Account Executive, before applying my marketing skills to work with my then-husband in his business.
What was the moment of inspiration to be an actress? I was a performer growing up, the after-dinner act as a kid, cheerleader in high school and college. I don’t think those personality traits ever go away. It wasn’t until after I was married that I realized I had to be true to who I was as a person. So I began to seek out whatever performance opportunities presented themselves, which was primarily commercial and hosting work.
I really had no idea how to pursue an entertainment career, so I jumped into an acting class and someone would say, “You’ve gotta get pictures!” So I got pictures. And then I found an improv troupe to sharpen my quick-thinking skills, and eventually sought out agencies for representation and just built a network. It’s a building process, very similar to what I’ve done in LA, but on a very small scale, of course.
What was the impetus to move to LA? When my marriage didn’t work out, I found myself with the opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. And I did. I moved out to LA knowing two people.
What was your first move when you came out here? The first thing I did was look for an acting coach. I had gone to a small theater school in Miami and did a summer program in New York with the Atlantic Theater, but I knew I needed more grounding. I audited probably seventy-five teachers. It’s very overwhelming coming out here, so you have to trust your gut. If someone gives you a name, follow it, there’s a reason that piece of information has come into your life. I decided on Ivana Chubbuck, who I am still studying with.
I didn’t want to be green when I sought representation out here so I waited. When agents see you, they either see money or not. That’s their job; they are sales people. Without a product, they’re not going to represent you. When I felt confident I had something to sell, I started contacting agencies by referral and through casting director and agency workshops. I had great photos by then, but I wasn’t straight out of school, so I needed to hear the truth, be clear so I could roll with the punches. I put myself out there, took meetings with anyone and everyone who would see me. And I asked for the truth. Once I knew the truth, I knew what I was working with.
How did you get repped? I signed with Pantheon commercially and sampled a few theatrical agencies, Don Gerler (The Gerler Agency) included.
What was your first big break? Coming out of a commercial market in Florida, there was a very small learning curve for me, and a lot of commercials are simply a “look.” I had five commercials running last year.
My film & television ”big break” would be attributed to calling one of the numbers someone in Florida gave me for a friend of a friend out here. That phone call led to me reading for writers at the Coronet Writer’s Lab led by T. Jay O’Brien. Wendy Goodman Thum, one of the writers, was also in casting. She referred me to the people casting a new show called “Mad Men,” which hadn’t even started shooting. I went in, read and met Matt Weiner. As I was driving home from the audition, the casting department called to tell me they wanted to cast me for the featured part. No lines, and I would have to cut my hair. I didn’t know where it would go, but knew it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up.
Turns out they liked me and asked me if I would like to work as a regular “office gal,” as they were selecting about 20 girls to be a part of the secretarial pool. The second season, they asked if I would read for the role of “Ethel,” which I did and got the part. It was a small part with lines. The following season, they brought my character back with a few more lines opposite Jon Hamm.
How did Party Girl come about? When I first got to LA I wrote a screenplay based on my marriage/divorce experience. I knew I didn’t have the resources to pull that off, so I condensed that idea to a TV format. But I knew I couldn’t do that immediately either. In the meantime, I began doing coverage at a production company, got introduced to other people in the industry and each of them had their own opinion on who I was as a person. One thought I should do stand up, another thought I should focus on “feature films” but it was my job to continue searching for my voice.
With the popularity of LonlyGirl15 and all the new digital media, a friend suggested I get involved in the internet. Another friend posed the question of what was my angle, another reinforced it was my job to make my own career. All these seeds were planted in my mind. And during a conversation about my dating diary, it all came to a head. It took a while to figure out how to piece it together, but I knew the story was in my dating diary. This was about two and a half years ago. I started researching dating info on the web, web series, anything related. Before I knew it, I found really talented and wonderful people to help pull this thing together. One thing I didn’t count on was that people had lives outside of Party Girl Plus One, and so I’ve had the challenge of dealing with people coming and going on the project based on their work situation, own projects, availability. But as one door closes another opens and often in the transition period, I’ve found myself with fresh ideas and a new set of skills I’ve been forced to learn.
What has been the response you’ve gotten? The response has been phenomenal. It’s such a small community if you put yourself out there and get involved. People find each other, and a lot of it is timing, being available, meeting new people, sampling other people’s work, and talking about your project. If you don’t talk about it, no one will know you’re working on it. At first I was hesitant to let anyone know what I was working on for fear they would steal the idea. But there is nothing new under the sun; sure I had this great idea, but what I was really branding was myself. And no one can steal that from me.
What has come out of it? Believe it or not, the learning process has been immense and intense. I’ve learned everything from the importance of SEO (note: search engine optimization) to editing to scoring to techie computer babble. I’m not claiming to be an expert in all of these fields, but I have developed a total respect for those people who are and bring their talent to the table. There are so many talented people out there. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of them and I am very fond of them. I want an audience to see their work as much as my own.
The other thing I’ve realized is my voice. My voice is my brand. That is the product I am selling. This brand that I am creating for myself is a place of defining roles and that’s how the momentum starts: casting people start saying we need a “Jennifer Dawson” type and so on. I have been brought in to read for other projects because people have seen me on my web series and are looking for my comedic “type.” It’s a great feeling when people take notice. Not to mention, I’m doing what I love and being true to myself. That’s where I always want to be.
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