Jewish Mentor of the Month: Theatre Director & Producer Jennifer Schwed

by Kendra Rubinfeld / March 30, 2021

Welcome back to the second installment of Jewish Mentor of the Month, a column that profiles interesting people in our Jewish community who have had interesting life, career, and personal experiences we can all learn from. For our second profile, meet Jennifer Schwed (she/her/hers), Co-Creator of 19: The Musical, an original musical about the Suffragists who fought to get women the right to vote. 

Interested in connecting with Jennifer? Hit her up at or learn more at

Want to nominate someone to be featured as a future Jewish Mentor of the Month? Send an email with their name and a brief description of why you are nominating them to Kendra.

Kendra: Hi Jennifer! So, where are you from and where do you live in the DMV now?

Jennifer: Although my mother and father are both New Yorkers (Brooklyn and Queens respectively), I was born and raised in Silver Spring, MD. I now live in Old Town Alexandria. 

Kendra: Why DC? 

Jennifer: This area has always been home to me. I’m very close with my family and my parents still live in the same house in Silver Spring where I grew up. My sister and her family still live in Montgomery County. And although it seems like we spent every weekend of my childhood visiting family in NY, DC is my first home, but NY is a close second! (I can’t wait for the COVID era to be over, because I miss the City so much and I can’t wait to go back.)

Kendra: Okay, so you love New York, but what’s your dream day in DC (COVID aside)?

Jennifer: Covid has changed what I consider a dream day. There is so much we all took for granted that involved gathering and public spaces and simply enjoying the company of friends and family. A dream day would cover a lot of territory.

Start with Dim Sum in Chinatown, move on to the National Portrait Gallery to see the latest exhibit. Spend some time in the Kogod Courtyard. Check out the latest production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, but leave enough time to get in a dance performance—like Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company. Dinner at Le Diplomate and then finish off the evening with dessert hopping from Elle to Tico to Brasserie Liberte

Kendra: It’s the last day of March, Women’s History Month. We hear you’re working on a project that has a little something to do with that. Want to tell us about it?

Jennifer: Yeah, before COVID my two partners and I had been working tirelessly on an original theatrical project called, 19: The Musical. “19” is the dynamic and little-known story of Alice Paul, Ida B. Wells, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Inez Milholland and the other Suffragists who fought to get women the right to vote— The 19th Amendment.

It is the complex intersectional story of gender and race. A story where white women are fighting against the misogynistic and patriarchal system that would do anything to keep them down as well as a story of how women of color were fighting that same fight, while simultaneously fighting for their rights and dignity, many times against other women.

Jazz, gospel and elements of spoken word, as well as more “traditional” musical numbers, infuse the story with passion, humor and heart as we see these women from 100 years ago take their fight to the streets—and all the way to President Woodrow Wilson. And even though the fight for gender and racial equality is still being fought, 19 is ultimately a timely and inspirational story. (Author’s Note – Check out the article about 19 in Ms. Magazine or this NPR story.) 

Kendra: Wow! How did you come up with that? What spurred the idea and how did you make it happen?

Jennifer: The creation of 19 came on the heels of the sensation of Hamilton—a soundtrack I was listening to on repeat back in 2016. During the 2016 presidential election, I found the story of Hamilton was able to provide perspective and some much needed sanity surrounding a political landscape that was spiraling out of control. But what really struck me was one particular line in the show where Angelica Schuyler sings, “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’ll compel him to include women in the sequel.” And I thought, why wait for someone else to write the sequel for women?—I can do that now!

We were also coming up on the centennial of suffrage in 2020 and what I hoped and believed would be the election of our first female president. 19 was going to be an homage to these women who fought hard, and a hundred years on, finally won a victory in the White House.

Of course, the election turned out very differently—and the 2020 celebration of suffrage was all but lost in the pandemic. 

But from 2017 clear through the end of 2019, we worked tirelessly to create a musical based upon the lives of women who fought for suffrage. We wound up performing over 30 productions of varying sizes across the DMV in the course of two years, from small cafes in Greenbelt to the great halls of The Library of Congress. 19 is a story whose time has come and there’s an audience eager to learn this history that’s by-and-large left out of our education system.

Kendra: Sounds incredible. So, where have you performed? 

Jennifer: Over the course of two and a half years we presented over 30 live performances of different parts of the musical in different iterations in places as humble as cafes and a brewery, to as prestigious as The National Archives and The Library of Congress in front of Speaker Pelosi and other VIPs. Our premiere, full-production run was three nights of standing room only at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in November of 2019. We were preparing to go to New York City for an investor performance in front of Broadway Producers when COVID shut everything down. 

Kendra: So sorry! Yes, I can’t imagine COVID has been helpful with progressing this project. What have you been doing to try to pivot?

Jennifer: As we are hopefully seeing a little light at the end of the COVID tunnel, we are going to start fundraising again and moving ahead with plans to get 19 out to larger and larger audiences around the country. And we’re also exploring options for licensing 19 so schools and theaters can stage the production, too.

Kendra: What words of wisdom do you have to our readers looking to get more involved in theatre?

Jennifer: Go to live theater (when it is safe!) as much as you can. Immerse yourself in it. Become an expert. Find like-minded people and work on small projects together. And over time, you’ll start to see success. The most important thing is to just be relentless at it. 

Kendra: What would you tell your 25 year-old self? 

Jennifer: Jump-in to whatever your interest may be—don’t wait to be invited. Find a way to create and collaborate with like-minded people and build your own creative future.

Kendra: And lastly, finish this sentence: “When Jews gather…” you’ll hear…

Jennifer: When Jews gather, expect a lot of talking, debating and shouting—but knowing that it’s all done with great love and respect.


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