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What Pride Means to Suffs Star Jenn Colella

Theater favorite Jenn Colella has marched her way back to the Broadway boards this season in the Tony-nominated musical Suffs. The show centers around the woman suffrage movement, and Colella takes on activist and suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, who served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association on and off from 1900 to 1920. Entertainment journalist from Spectrum News NY1 Frank DiLella caught up with Colella to talk about taking on a project she says she is proud of in more ways than one.

You’re back on Broadway in Suffs, a project you’ve been working on for quite some time.

I’m so proud that a show like Suffs is on Broadway and is getting the recognition that it’s getting. Not only because it’s entertaining, but it’s also sharing with people a piece of history that a lot of people didn’t know about — and now that they’re learning what women did to get this right to vote, they’re feeling empowered to go out and get registered and create their own protests.

Jenn Colella backstage at the Music Box Theatre. Photo by Natalie Powers.
Jenn Colella backstage at the Music Box Theatre. Photo by Natalie Powers for Broadway Direct.

Talk to me about portraying Carrie Chapman Catt in Suffs.

Carrie Chapman Catt was married to two men when she was younger, and they both died, and then she and Mollie Hay became lifetime companions. And they’re buried next to one another in the Bronx, which I find so sweet. It means a lot to me to be an out lesbian woman playing a lesbian who could not be out, and the fact that we can highlight this deep and personal relationship from Carrie’s life onstage — to honor their connection — means a great deal to me.

What has Carrie taught you?

Carrie Chapman Catt has taught me it’s important to hold on to your ideals while also listening to those around you so that you can soften to new ideas. We must be able to collaborate or else it’s harder to move forward.

Who is your LGBTQIA+ hero?

My gay hero is my wife. She’s been taking care of our daughter while I’ve been getting Suffs through tech and through previews and through opening night and now the beautiful awards-season swirl. She’s taken the reins at home with our daughter, Morrison. So, my hat is off to my beautiful wife, Mo. We’ve just celebrated our third anniversary and she’s the gay icon I respect the most right now.


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You’re talking about your family. Pride is family.

Absolutely. I’m proud to have a wife I believe in and can trust and can be openly in love with in this world. I feel lucky we live in New York and in a place where we are accepted and celebrated. And it makes me proud to have a daughter who is going to see two women who love each other very much. And my daughter will grow up in a place where that’s not just OK, it’s celebrated.

Do you have a favorite LGBTQIA+ play or musical?

The very first show that blew my mind and opened my heart as a gay person is Last Summer at Bluefish Cove. It’s an entire piece about women loving on other women. I remember watching with my mouth agape. I was 20 years old, thinking, “Is this possible? Am I really seeing this on stage — this story about women loving other women?” It opened up my heart to who I was, and it showed how powerful theater can be.

Jenn Colella backstage at the Music Box Theatre. Photo by Natalie Powers.
Jenn Colella backstage at the Music Box Theatre. Photo by Natalie Powers for Broadway Direct.

We’ve known each other for a long time. You’re one of the most positive people I know. You are always celebrating positivity and being your true self, an out and proud lesbian. Where does that positivity come from?

I wasn’t always out. When I first came to New York to do Urban Cowboy, the musical, I was told by a director who I respected very much that I shouldn’t come out. It would change how people saw me and would change how I was cast. And so I said OK, I won’t come out. And then I played the titular role in the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, which is about the lesbian pulp fiction novels that Ann Bannon wrote under Leigh Silverman’s direction. And I was playing this butch lesbian, and I was doing interviews with various publications, and I thought, “This does not feel authentic. People are starting to ask about my personal life and I’m trying to skirt around it.” So I just took the leap and thought, “I need to share who I am for me and my journey.” And I never looked back. And as far as my positivity goes, it’s a practice, just like anything else. There are days when I don’t feel positive or encouraged to be positive. But because I try to make it a daily practice and using kindness and gratitude as a springboard for that positivity, the more I do it and lean into those things, the easier it becomes.

Jenn Colella backstage at the Music Box Theatre. Photo by Natalie Powers for Broadway Direct.
Jenn Colella backstage at the Music Box Theatre. Photo by Natalie Powers for Broadway Direct.

How will you celebrate Pride this year?

I love a good gay brunch. And then I will get on my scooter and find my way into the parade. I will scoot by the floats and wave at people like I’m in the parade. It’s so fun! I try to get near the parade so I can feel the energy of everybody.

A lot of aspiring performers look up to you. I see that on social media. What advice to you have for the younger LGBTQIA+ generation?

I would tell any young queer person: You are enough. Trust that you are enough, and the love you have inside of you is all that you need to thrive and flourish.

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