By: Megan Roche
Jen Ponton has a love for the stage unlike any other. She truly just loves her craft and feels blessed every day to wake up to a job she loves. The Mount Olive resident has many exciting things going on in her career, but she never forgets where she started as a member of the speech and debate team at Phillipsburg High School.
“It came to me very young, mentally. I didn’t have the resources, opportunities really started to open up for high schoolers when Glee and High School Musical became popular. People who are 10 to 15 years younger than me have much more opportunity to act in school plays. There really wasn’t any community theater and where I took lessons didn’t really do any major productions. However, through watching TV and reading books, I knew pretty much from the start that this was what I wanted to do. I did a ton of creative writing, but had it not been for the speech and debate team, I wouldn’t have had a huge outlet. With doing speech and debate, I got to compete with doing kind of a one person play every single weekend with all my friends,” Ponton shared of her past.
The star grew up in close by Bridgewater Township and graduated from Phillipsburg High School. Her Jersey girl ways have never left her, even when she went to college. She stayed true to the Garden State and spent her college years at Ramapo College of New Jersey.
“I’m such a hometown person. I’m never going to allow myself to get to the point of being like ‘Oh home? Forget that!’ I love home and frankly it’s why I still live here. I have big Jersey pride and big boonies pride. I’m a lifer,” Ponton laughed.
Ponton and her husband Andrew have settled in the Budd Lake section of Mount Olive and her Jersey pride is loud and proud. Ponton is truly energetic about everything she takes on in life, but her empowerment of all women, regardless of age, race, or religion is something that is truly inspiring.
“The things that we want to address in our lives, those are the things that entertainment reflects. We, in Hollywood, need to start taking that responsibility more seriously. Real life impacts entertainment but entertainment also impacts real life and the more that we take up that responsibility of giving those marginalized people a voice, the world will be so much better,” Ponton said.
Ponton can be heard on Apple TV’s new show, The Helpsters. The Helpsters is a show coming out of Sesame Workshop that helps to teach kids how to break down a problem and solve it using easy steps. The show uses critical thinking and pre-coding concepts to help youngsters learn important life and problem-solving skills.
“Helpsters is really exciting. It’s a new show out of Sesame Workshop on Apple TV Plus. It uses a bunch of puppet monsters who help people solve problems. The child psychology and curriculum behind it is technically meant to develop kids brains toward learning about coding. It’s very foundational and at a building block level that kids can really pick it up quickly. The entire logic is to break things down into a step by step problem solving and that’s how coding works. The monsters help the guest of the week by showing them a step by step way and then it becomes a tangible skill of how to solve a problem, usually by using three big steps. It’s really geared to getting kids into coding and IT and the technological field while learning real life skills,” Ponton said.
Ponton’s episode of The Helpsters was released in 2019. She is also currently working on another Apple TV production, along with her screenwriting adventures. She is working on developing a feature film that will be shot in the next year or two and that feature will be Ponton’s first feature movie that is made.
Ponton’s acting career has taken her to many different shows. Her list includes Orange is the New Black, Dietland, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Law and Order SVU, 30 Rock, The Good Wife, Boardwalk Empire and more. Jen also has her own podcast that has been going strong and she has also participated in giving a TEDx Talk. Ponton recalled her time on Orange is the New Black in particular as nothing short of empowering.
“It’s a show whose leadership prioritizes female stories for sure. It’s obvious when you watch it, but they have also been very adamant about having a very diverse writers room and producers and directors. It was very much a female led set and that was my first experience where there were more women behind the camera than I was accustomed to seeing. It was empowering and lovely and the energy shifts a lot on the set. There’s a lot less of feeling like someone is trying to muscle their way into being heard. It was a very calm and stable leadership. It really set my sights on how I want to show up in this industry and what worlds I want to be a part of. I want to be on shows that prioritize a bigger conversation and sweeping cultural change,” Ponton said.
And what does Ponton have to say to those little girls and little boys who look at her as a role model? Help someone find their best self.
“People call me an influencer, and that feels like such a silly word. I think the reality of it is that I do see myself as a role model and I’ve kind of had meaning for my whole life, just at different levels of being able to help sculpt and mold and support and guide. It’s always been there, I’ve had day jobs where I’ve been a career coach and an artistic coach for people where I hold their hands but the most important part is letting them get there on their own. It’s really become a theme of my life by helping others become their best selves and that will always be a part of me and who I am,” Ponton said.
For more information on Ponton and her latest projects, visit www.JenPonton.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @JenPonton.