Jen Keefe ’08 Pursues Acting Dream in the Big Apple

Jen Keefe is no stranger to taking risks.

As any current or former Rivers senior knows, Senior Speeches can be exhilarating, but they can also be terrifying. Standing at the podium in front of all those people – the whole school, the whole faculty, a smattering of parents and siblings – can make anyone’s heart rate skyrocket.
But not Keefe. Never one to play it safe, she didn’t simply deliver her Senior Speech—she rapped it.

“I became a rapper one day in middle school and started rapping about how boring softball practice was,” she said. “And from that point on, I crafted a lot of rap parodies for different things – my Senior Speech, class projects, friends’ birthdays.”

It is that moment – rapping her Senior Speech – that Keefe credits with inspiring her to pursue a career as a television actress. Keefe, who lives in East Harlem with fellow Rivers alum Juliana Horn ’08, spends her days running from audition to acting class and back in the hopes of following in the footsteps of comedians like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. She moved to New York after graduating from Hamilton College in August 2012 and promptly enrolled in the improv program at UCB Theatre.

Her ultimate dream? To have her own single-camera TV sitcom in the style of The Office and Parks and Recreation. For now, though, it’s all about auditioning. And while auditions are certainly nerve-wracking, Keefe is seemingly immune to the pressure—and she credits Rivers with helping her develop a thick skin and an even keel.

“It’s a very specific nervousness I get when I audition – it’s more of an excited feeling than anything,” she said. “And I actually first identified that feeling right before my Senior Speech. It’s like standing at the top of a roller coaster—you’re really excited for the drop, and for the thrill that once you start, you can’t stop.”

Keefe said she has always been interested in pursuing a career as a performer – she visited Rivers last year to perform a stand-up routine, which you can see on youtube – but the acting bug bit her during her senior year at Rivers, when she decided to audition for the school play. As a three-sport varsity athlete, it was an opportunity she had never taken advantage of, but she quit soccer and nabbed the lead role as Princess Gloriana in The Mouse That Roared. Keefe has never forgotten something that English teacher Jennie Jacoby said to her after her performance.

“‘Your ability to become someone else is just outstanding,’” Keefe recalled Jacoby saying. “‘You have to pursue this.’ And that, coming from the mother of an amazing actor like Miles Jacoby ’07 – really stuck with me.”

While Keefe is still awaiting her first callback, the moment she calls her “turning point” came just a couple of months ago. She had the opportunity to perform in front of the owner of Actor’s Green Room (AGR), an organization that hosts showcases for actors, allowing them the opportunity to perform in front of casting directors.

“When it was my turn to perform, she was doubled over in her chair laughing and said some unexpected, crazily complimentary things,” Keefe said. “Here was this highly respected person in the business saying that I could actually do this—whereas before, I just kind of hoped that I would make it.”

Keefe credits the Rivers community – the values of excellence with humanity it promotes, the nurturing it provides – with helping her get one step closer to achieving her dream.

“My greatest preparation for that performance was that for 24 years, I have been so lucky to have known exactly who I am, and to have supportive people around me encouraging me to be that person,” she said. “Or, as my math teacher Kristin Harder once said, ‘You are unapologetic for who you are.’”

Keefe has never forgotten that—and given how much success that credo has brought her thus far, it’s unlikely she ever will.

Learn more about Jen Keefe by visiting her website: