Thank you to Urbana’s Sunnycrest Press, publishers of the Wide Mouth Frog Goes to the Zoo and its accompanying mobile application, for sponsoring today’s mom to know!
Jennifer Bechtel is the definition of “wears many hats.” Entrepreneur, teacher, innovator, film maker, theater director are all titles reflected on her rich and varied resume. She works as the program specialist at the Innovation Living-Learning community at the University of Illinois, where she helps to connect creative, entrepreneurially-minded college students with resources on campus and in the Champaign-Urbana community. She is also a theatre educator and filmmaker and has recently released the feature film, Scary Normal, which can be viewed at The Art Theater as part of the Reel it Up Film Festival on June 25 at 7:30 p.m. The mom of Veronica (6) and Jack (2), Jennifer and her family live in Champaign.
Q: You have such a varied resume: Movie producer; youth theater director; entrepreneur; mom. How do all these things fit in together?
Not always very gracefully. I am always being pulled in about 50 different directions, but I try to pull parts of the different elements of my life together whenever possible. My students love to hear the crazy stories of all of the mistakes that I made when starting my first business, and my daughter’s favorite moment while we were shooting Scary Normal was when she got to call “Action!” for one of the scenes.
Q: Your latest film is being screened in several places. How did you get involved with the project and what has been its impact thus far? (I understand there is another upcoming screening locally!)
I wrote and directed this movie in response to the need for movies that have strong LGBTA characters, but are appropriate for and relevant to younger (preteen and teenage) audiences. It has been well-received thus far, premiering at the MBLGTAC Conference in Michigan in 2013. We have also played at film festivals in Riverside, California, and St. Louis, Missouri, and had a great local premiere in C-U in February, in spite of a crazy blizzard. We look forward to the screening later on this month and hope that some of our friends who were not able to make it out due to the blizzard will be able to join us this time around.
Q: How has the experience of making this film impacted you, personally?
I am excited that it has really helped me to connect with the amazing budding film community that is growing in C-U. The project also got my daughter, Veronica, very excited about filmmaking, leading to her involvement in the recent Pens to Lens event (as Maisie in Fluffystein).
Q: Have your children caught the theatrical bug?
Veronica is definitely very theatrical and creative in her day-to-day life and seems to be very interested in performing on stage and in movies. I have to admit that its a little bit difficult to avoid becoming a stage mom when your kid gets as excited as she is about performing. My son, Jack, is too young at this point to really know what he’s going to be excited about, but for now, he definitely loves to sing and dance.
Q: Do you have suggestions for how we can encourage creativity in our own children?
Be silly and creative with your kids, even if you don’t think you have any creative talents. Sing while you make dinner. Dance around the house. Color, paint, make up stories, etc. If they see you doing it, they will think it’s cool (when they’re little, they still think you’re cool). Encourage them to try new things and let them know that mistakes and imperfections are totally okay (Veronica really struggles with this one). If you are passionate about anything creative, let them see you doing it. There is no need to completely separate your creative life and your family life. Involve them when you can. I also encourage parents to take their kids to creative events. Go to plays, art museums, concerts, etc. There are so many great opportunities to do these things in Champaign-Urbana and nearby cities (Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, etc.)
Q: Do you ever miss having your own store? (I do. I loved it …)
I miss the great customers and the fun products. I do not miss the long days where no one came in. It was a very bad time to open a store that sold things that people liked but didn’t need, but we learned a lot and it was a fun, though unsustainable adventure.
Q: What is your favorite thing about raising a family in Champaign-Urbana?
It has many of the best qualities of a big city with many of the best qualities of a small town. Plus, our families are here, and I love having our kids grow up so close to so many people who love them.
Jennifer Bechtel was nominated to be a mom to know. Nominate a mom or dad to know today — contact us!