BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater resident Amy Jensen began by writing musicals for her students in her vocal music class at Warren Middle School after moving there from Angelo L. Tomaso Elementary School in Warren – and soon parlayed that into a second career path.
“I directed every grade level, kindergarten to five, in music performances each year, and one year we were doing a school-wide theme about continents,” she said. “A colleague suggested that I write musicals about the different continents. I was at first overwhelmed by the idea, but then I became inspired and I wrote three musicals for my students to perform.”
Jensen said she researched each continent for storylines and used traditional music from many of the countries in each continent the students were learning about.
“They were well received and then I became inspired to do more,” she said.
From there, Jensen was inspired to write an anti-bullying musical for elementary students.
Jensen said she spoke to a friend from Westminster Choir College, who introduced her to playwright Landon Heimbach.
“She said he was a successful playwright and he could give me some advice,” Jensen said. “I spoke to him on the phone and discussed how I wanted to write an anti-bullying musical for elementary students, and before I knew it, we wrote it.”
“We wrote it online and completely finished the show before we ever even met,” she added.
The play was called “What’s Your Favorite Color?”, and was written for school assemblies.
“Once we met, I could tell why it was so easy, Landon and I are cut from the same cloth,” Jensen said. “We write very well together and really complement each other’s writing.”
That show, Jensen said, was performed at several elementary schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The play is about a boy named Arthur, who is being bullied at school. His school has a spirit day, Jensen said, where everyone is supposed to wear their favorite color.
“Arthur wants to wear pink, but the other boys make fun of him,” she said. “His best friend, Indigo, is a girl who loves blue and she tells him that sometimes she feels sad that other kids put her down, but she feels good about being true to herself.”
Jensen said the musical gives children advice about what to do if they are being bullied, or what they can do to help a friend who is being bullied.
“At one of our school performances, the school asked the students to wear their favorite color on the day of the show,” she said. “I was sitting beside a boy who was wearing all blue. The character Arthur said that pink was his favorite color and asked the students if there was anything wrong with that. They all said, ‘No,’ The boy sitting beside me started to roll up his pant legs, and he was wearing pink socks.”
Jensen said he was hiding his pink socks, but when he heard the message of the show, he was proud.
“That made me tear up,” she said.
After the success of the first play, Jensen said, she and her partner decided to write a Christmas comedy for adults.
The play is called “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas,” and is about two families coming together for the holiday. The older couple, named Nancy and Bob, have been dating for six months, and they want their adult children to meet and spend Christmas together.
“But their children are very different and do not like this idea at all,” Jensen said. “It’s a very realistic and heart-warming play that uses humor to show how people who are different can come together and find common ground.”
“My favorite character is Florence, Nancy’s mother who lives at an assisted living community,” she added. “She is one of the funniest characters, and I based her off of my great-grandmother Florence, who had a lot of spunk and sass.”
Jensen said the play has humor and more.
“Our show is funny, but with a great message that winds up bringing a tear to your eye,” she said.
The play premiered last winter in Dubuque, Iowa, at the Bell Tower Theater, and, this year, was performed at the Rainbow Comedy Playhouse, in Paradise, Pennsylvania.
“We are hoping that both of our shows will be performed again,” she said. “We are looking for schools and theaters who would be interested.”
Now, the partners are prepping for their next step.
“Landon and I plan on working on a new play this year,” Jensen said. “We think it might be fun to write a mystery this time.”