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Another South County childhood performer is finding success through television appearances, coaching other actors and even jumping into the pandemic chaos with a newsletter to help actors struggling to find work.
Jenna Doolittle, a South Kingstown High School alum, brings a history rooted in local theater that forms part of the foundation on which her achievements are built.
Community values, family inspirations and determination, coupled with talent – all with their beginnings in South Kingstown – form the bedrock of her career, she said.
Doolittle has appeared on “American Horror Story” on the FX Channel and other shows. She produced an off-Broadway kids’ show called “Piggy Nation, The Musical.” In addition, she writes a weekly newsletter for performers to assist them in their own careers.
Watching her develop as an actor who now helps fellow actors better their craft has been Judith McNab, director of the former South County Players Children’s Theater where Doolittle once performed.
“From a really young age Jenna was working with professionals. She started when she was eight and through high school. She’s a good singer, a good dancer,” McNab said recently. “I don’t think she has aspirations to be an actress; I think she has aspirations to be in the business and she sees the business for what it is,”
McNab said South County has produced many talented young people – some of whom performed in her theater – who have gone on to successful careers in film, television, screenwriting, acting and theater.
Chris Simpson, founder of Wakefield’s Contemporary Theater Company and its former artistic director who now serves as executive director, also performed with Doolittle in high school and junior high school.
“She’s been relentless in a very positive way,” he said, noting that she makes use of connections, has a drive to stay intellectually engaged and works hard behind the scenes.
In a way, Doolitte agreed with Simpson.
“I don’t know if there’s been a whole lot of luck (in her career success). It’s been training, talent and determination,” she told The Independent in an interview this week.
Jenna is the daughter of Deb Doolittle and Elisha Doolittle of South Kingstown, and granddaughter of the late Duncan H. Doolittle, former town council member and business entrepreneur.
Jenna Doolittle said one thing that attracted her to acting is an intellectual curiosity about similarities and differences among people, as shown through characters. “It makes you think, how would you react if something like that happened to you,” she said.
Doolittle said she also likes the art of storytelling through acting.
“Acting is the oldest form of storytelling,” said Doolittle, who graduated from the University of Mary Washington. “Primal and instinctual. It wasn’t until college (that) I understood how theater was ingrained in storytelling.”
She credits significantly the influence of her late grandmother, Clare Bailey, who died nearly eight years ago.
For Doolittle, early performances in South County further deepened her desire to enter the theater arts.
Beyond just storytelling, artistic creations and expressive outlets, they also were a source of continued family connection with changing relationships in the family, she said.
“It brought my family together. We were doing it together. My grandmother was in it with me, my cousins were in it with me,” Doolittle said. “My parents were divorced and they came together to support me.”
Acting and performing remains in her family today. She married another SKHS high school alum, Matt Tente, son of Jo-Ann and Dennis Tente of South Kingstown. He is a screenwriter with many credits to his resume, as well.
She said she prizes both performing and helping actors become better performers, a dual approach she enjoys and sees as a permanent part of her career.