Ask AfterEllen.com (September 1, 2009)

Want to know the status of a particular movie, TV show, or band? Wondering what a certain actress is up to these days? Send your entertainment-related questions to askafterellen@gmail.com — with your first name, city and country — and we’ll try to answer as many as we can.

Question:
I just caught the tail end of Kissing Jessica Stein on TV today and I was wondering if you could tell me what writers/co-stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt are up to these days? I love that movie and thought they both did brilliant jobs both writing and acting in it!

  Kelcie,
Bellingham, WA

Helen Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt in Kissing Jessica Stein

Answer: Jennifer Westfeldt has worked steadily following the success of Kissing Jessica Stein. Just last year she had a multi-episode arc as a patient on Grey’s Anatomy, and this fall she’ll join the cast of 24 as journalist Meredith Reed. Also currently in development for Westfeldt is Dusty and the Big Bad World, a play she wrote and is bringing to the big screen. In the film, "The Christian right swoops down on a TV show that has afforded an 11-year-old girl the opportunity to appear on the program with her brother and two gay dads."Westfeldt is set to star in it as well.

Westfeldt‘s Jessica Stein co-star Heather Juergensen has kept a slightly lower profile. In 2003 she appeared in Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, and in The Hammer in 2007. She also wrote and directed a short film, The Suzy Prophecy (2007) about a woman who loses her job and finds "unexpected redemption" as a data entry operator.

According to her official website, Juergensen is now working on a script for a "sports comedy set in the world of girls’ track and shot." Savvy is the woman who knows how to play to her loyal lesbian fans.

Question: I found a stack of old CDs the other day from my college years and it included a lot of Natalie Merchant. I feel like her music was the soundtrack to all of my Women’s Studies classes! Is she still putting out music? She’s not gay, right?

Patty

Natalie Merchant in the studio, at work on her upcoming release

Answer: Nope, Merchant isn’t gay. She’s married to Daniel de la Calle and has a daughter. But being the outspoken human rights advocate that she is, I’m sure she’d be thrilled to hear about providing background music for your forays in feminism!

In 2003 (and after 18 years), Merchant left Elektra Records and independently released an album of traditional and contemporary folk music, The House Carpenter’s Daughter, on her own label (Myth America Records). That was her last big solo release, but she’s been busy with other things.

Some of those things include serving as a member of the New York State Council on the Arts,
contributing vocals to David Byrne’s album Here Lies Love (about the life of Imelda Marcos), performing at and judging the Poetry Out Loud: Recitation Contest National Finals in April 2009, and receiving an Honorary Doctorate Degree (in Music) from New Paltz University this past May.

For the last five years she’s been researching, writing and recording a collection of songs adapted from classic and contemporary poems.
On her official website, Merchant said of the upcoming album:

I’ve never had such a massive amount of material to draw from before, I’ve been writing continuously for the past seven years. I’ve wanted to make another album but knew that it’s a full-immersion process and I didn’t want to sacrifice the time and attention that my child deserved. Now that she is older the time feels right.

I’ve met so many talented musicians over the years and have wanted to play music with them and still even more I’ve admired from a distance and wanted to approach about collaborating. I’ve been inviting people from all over the musical map to come to Upstate New York and spend a brief time making music with me. The results have been magical, some of the best musical experiences of my life.

Some of the people she’s collaborating with include Wynton Marsalis, Medeski Martin & Wood, Katell Keineg and the musical lesbian (and romantic) duo, The Ditty Bops (Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett).

Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett

The album is slated for release in either Fall of 2009 or Spring of 2010. In the meantime, you can see Merchant perform two benefit concerts on Sunday, Sept. 27, at the 1848 Shaker Meeting Hall in Colonie, with proceeds going to the historic site’s operator, the Shaker Heritage Society.

As for the aforementioned Ditty Bops, the newlyweds recently released a six song compilation
Songs For Steve, inspired by DeWald and Barrett’s friend Steven Zinn, who died in a motorcycle accident last summer. The band is currently on tour
across the US through December. For updates, you can follow them on Twitter.

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