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Meet Janet Parnes of Historical Portrayals by Lady J in MetroWest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janet Parnes.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Janet. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My background includes more than 20 years in sales and public relations working for companies that include Lipton Tea, and Analog Devices. In 2001 a single friend of mine adopted a 7-year-old girl. I decided to celebrate the adoption and developed the Royal Tea Party—the coronation of the new royal family. This tea party morphed into The Coronation Tea (for aspiring princesses & knights ages 4-8) and a business doing birthday parties. (I now conduct the tea party in schools and libraries as a class through my etiquette-consulting business.) I discovered the joys of becoming someone else and expanded my offerings. Under a new company Historical Portrayals by Lady J As such, the characters and performances began to mount. My grandmother, a product of the late-Victorian era, was the inspiration for my Victorian performances: portrayals of two (fictitious) ladies from the Age of Gentility (late 1800’s) Later, I took note, when a colleague suggested portraying Dolley Madison, an icon of graciousness. Later, I rounded out the suite of characters with Massachusetts Revolutionary-War heroine Deborah Sampson. Introducing a new character entails extensive research, developing a script and securing the proper period attire. It is consuming, intense and exciting! My ladies have opened my eyes to the sacrifices and sometimes-endearing quirks of our of our country’s foremothers and forefathers; the performances have also deepened my appreciation of their life-altering contributions.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Becoming a business owner came with a thunderous wake-up call. All of a sudden, there was no IT department to call when the computer had a tantrum, nobody to do the marketing and public relations, nobody to set the pricing—I was it! Launching the business required an accelerated adjustment and steep learning curve to climb-. In addition to running the business, I was attending business-development and acting workshops and, in time, figuring out the Social Media scene. Historical Portrayals by Lady J brought with it many business-related lessons such as figuring out where the greatest bang for my buck lay and setting pricing that was fair to my customers and myself. Loving what I do, the hours fly by. I have to be vigilant about carving out time for family and friends!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Historical Portrayals by Lady J – what should we know?
My ladies revel in revealing the often overlooked intrigue, humor, and horrors that make America’s story rich. Audiences learn about the customs and culture of the Colonial, Federalist and Victorian eras. I portray the following characters: Revolutionary-War heroine Deborah Sampson ( the only woman known to have disguised herself as a man and serve the Continental Army without getting caught) exposes the challenges and risks for a free-spirited, woman with a dream and conviction in the Colonial period; Dolley Madison, wife of our 4th President, was known for her graciousness and political astuteness, takes audience through t e trials and changes in the early years of our Federal government; The fictitious Etiquette Expert of 1890 escorts ladies on a promenade through the life of a proper Victorian lady and the fictitious Miss Myrtle Mills dives into medicine in 1900, with its attendant horrors as well as discoveries that lead to some to some of today’s modern medical miracles. I portray women who are lesser known and undervalued as well as traditions that are ridiculous (mothers; bringing their sick children to the local factory and urging them to “: breathe deeply, Dear, You’ll feel better”.) and enduring breakthroughs (the x-ray was discovered in 1895.

I perform in a variety of venues including schools, libraries, senior centers, museums and family living rooms. Mt proudest moments came with a Dolley Madison performance at the John F.K Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in 2011 and 2013 and Deborah Sampson’s performance at the Massachusetts Women Veterans Appreciation Day event at the State House in 2014. Both of my ladies felt deeply honored.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
The list of those who deserve credit is lengthy but here are a few: my friend Jeannie and her daughter Allie were the reason I started my first business and have been relentlessly rooting for me ever since. The group SoloTogether (a group of solo character portrayers) has provided advice that has upgraded my performances and saved me much wasted time and angst. My husband Russ has cheered my successes, videoed performances, critiqued scripts and eaten dinners alone with valiance and understanding.

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