A Recent Conversation with Julia Lester – Broadway’s Little Red and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series‘ Resident singer-songwriter Ashlyn – quickly became a Kate Reinders lesson in recognition after she asked the aspiring actor about influential teachers. “I learned so much from Kate Reinders,” said Lester, who recalls seeing the Broadway mainstay in an early preview of Something fishy! before Disney ever brought them together. “We call her Mom, and she’s really such a parent figure to all of us.”
The sentiments are fully returned by Reinders, whose devotion to her young castmates is matched only by her TV character Miss Jenn’s devotion to the drama students at East High. In the third season of the series, out July 27 on Disney Plus, the Thespian Wildcats travel to summer camp without their beloved acting teacher. However, it’s safe to assume that the kids will summon Miss Jenn sometime before the end of the summer. “If they need her and call her, she’s there,” says Reinders of her character. And it seems like the rules of real life aren’t much different.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Before we start talking high school musical, I have to ask how you enjoyed hosting this year’s Jimmy Awards. It feels very appropriate to your TV character.
It was so funny. I mean I was very nervous. It took me a minute to go from fear to fun, but only a minute. When they asked me if I was interested, I said, “Are you kidding me? This is not only my dream come true, but definitely Miss Jenn’s dream come true.” Those lines are blurred.
Have the lines between you and Miss Jenn blurred over time?
Absolutely. I’m very invested with the kids. I have always been. But the longer I know them and the more they do, the prouder I am. I can’t even take it. Julia Lester – I knew the day I met her that she was a huge Broadway star waiting to be passed. And I was right! These kids – we’ve been together for four years. My son was 18 months old when everyone met him and he just turned five. He’s like our little mascot, and these are his big brothers and sisters. He watches the show and says, “I want Julia to come over.” Just today he said, “I’m going to marry Olivia.” And I said, “That’s a good choice. I support you in that.”
How was shooting season three?
It was very different. It was in Los Angeles. And it was camp! So it was outside and sunshine and warmth and it was really fun. Miss Jenn isn’t in everything, but she definitely makes an appearance. Of course she wouldn’t be able to stay away.
So Miss Jenn can overlap with summer camp?
I follow the children [laughs]. Miss Jenn has her own little summer moment, but then she definitely gets in a car and drives for hours to be by her side. If you need her and call her, she will be there.
Were you a summer theater camp kid?
I did Summer Stock Theater as a kid, so it was a little bit different. here in Muskegon, Michigan, it was called the Cherry County Playhouse. I started doing this when I was maybe 12 gypsyand then i did it annie and The secret garden and The Wizard of Oz and all the shows you do when the producers are wonderful and they make shows for you. It changed my life.
Now after watching three seasons of high school musical brought to life, what do you like best about the development of the stories?
The main thing that strikes me is that there really is no star of the show. All of these kids are stars and I think they all really come into their own, are confident and have their big moments to shine. That’s the beauty of theater – There are no small roles, only small actors. When you’re a kid, people ask, “How many lines do you have?” One thing Tim Federle says sometimes is that Ashlyn only had a few lines in the pilot episode, but then look where she went. Not just Ashlyn, but Julia. It’s really not what you get, it’s what you make of it. I don’t want to spoil what’s happening in Season 3, but I will say that we have a chance to see everyone have really big, wonderful moments.
What are your hopes for Miss Jenn in the future?
I hope Miss Jenn can have a life outside of school. I mean, the kids are her life and that’s not going to change. But I think there’s a part of her that still wants to be a woman and maybe have kids of her own or find other dreams for herself. I don’t think it would be a bad thing if she might appear in a community theater show herself. I don’t think that performing has completely ripped her bones out of her bones. At first she didn’t know what it was like to be a teacher and she has really found such fulfillment in it. But now the kids are starting to walk because they’re getting older and that’s something she has to deal with. A hundred times empty nest.
Did you learn anything from Miss Jenn?
When I started with the theatre, I was the youngest for a long time. At least that’s how it felt. And then with high school musical, all of a sudden I was the oldest, by far. Tim Federle and I used to joke if we had a kid when we did this gypsy on Broadway it could be Olivia Rodrigo. It was really exciting and I discovered this new side of myself. It’s finding that fulfillment in watching other people shine. I just said Miss Jenn isn’t done performing yet, but I don’t know if I care that much anymore. It’s very strange, the new chapter. But it really changed me in that I love being the mom on set. I love to sit back and watch them be wonderful.