Jennifer Bender gets to work in a profession that she has loved since a very young age. Jen shared, “I’ve loved theater and musicals since I was 3! I have been working professionally on Broadway for 20 years.” Today she is a theatre producer, director, and consultant, specializing in the creation and development of new musicals. She is passionate about artists who are writing original pieces, working with diverse creative teams and casts, and projects with a focus on advocacy.
But Jen Bender’s story began in Marion, Ohio. Born and raised in Marion, Jen grew up on Clover Avenue and attended George Washington Elementary, Indian Mound, Baker Middle School, and Harding High School. Her dad Bob and late mother Sharon Bender moved from Massachusetts to Marion before Jen was born. Her parents chose Marion when Bob got a job as the first news director of WDIF.
“I’ve always loved musicals. My parents performed in a number of shows at the Palace and we always listened to cast albums around the house and on road trips. We saw every national tour that came through Columbus and I always wanted to be a part of that world. Band, orchestra, choir, and AP Music Theory all played a huge part in my journey,” said Jen. She loved spending summers rehearsing with the marching band. As she said, “Running around outside in t-shirts and shorts and making music was so much fun that it’s basically what I do for a living today.”
She studied music, dance, and theater while in Marion, then went to Northwestern University to be a theater major. There she learned everything from stage management and building sets to directing and producing, which are her professions now.
Jen created Quick Brown Fox Productions to nurture, shepherd, and support this work. She is inspired by people with passion, especially people who use their passion to make a positive impact on the world. As Jen shared, “I believe that after sitting in a theater for two hours you should come out changed and better than you were when you walked in.”
Jen Bender is the lead producer of musicals – Jeannette by Ari Afsar and Lauren M. Gunderson, and Ruby’s Poison written by and starring Tony Award-winner Frances Ruffelle. She also serves as Creative Development Consultant for Lively McCabe Entertainment.
Jen works as a director, with Broadway credits as Resident and Associate Director with The Lion King, Avenue Q, Honeymoon in Vegas, The Wedding Singer, and Steel Magnolias. For three years she toured North America, Asia, and Australia as the Assistant Artistic Director of Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo. She directed the national tour of Wonderful Town, Godspell (MUNY), Rent (Surflight Theater), The Oliver Experiment (Tennessee Shakespeare Company), and countless readings and concerts of new work at various places in New York City.
Jen was recently named one of the Broadway Women’s Fund’s “50 Women to Watch” list. Broadway’s first-ever impact investment fund presented this list that celebrates the achievements of women working hard to make an impact on the industry. Although these women, including Jen, already have achieved extraordinary success, receiving grants, scholarships, and commissions, they are still considered “emerging.” As the Broadway Women’s Fund said, “Each is ready to take her place at the very top of the industry and shake up the status quo on Broadway.”
Jen Bender now lives in New Jersey. But she has very strong feelings about a number of people from home that made a difference in her life. “I am forever indebted to a host of mentors who fostered my love for music and dance and theater. Thank you, Clare Cooke, Edye Cook, Lucinda Houck, George Schram, Don Wolfe, and Rick Baird–to name just a few–for creating such a beautiful arts community in Marion. You are the reason I am where I am today,” she said.
Jen Bender is definitely making an impact on the world of musical theatre. It is great to see how far her love and passion has taken her. Jen is someone to watch to see what she does next!