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Photo courtesy of Becca Kauffman
Becca Kauffman as her alter-ego, Jennifer Vanilla.

It’s been a little more than a year since Jennifer Vanilla first moved her vaudevillian variety show from the bar area to the more spacious back room of The Windjammer bar in Ridgewood, and it may have proved to be the catalyst to her rising success.

Her shows grew larger in creativity and audience size, she went on her first solo tour around the country, she released her first solo album and even turned her act into a television show in Queens. As she approaches her last performance of the summer on Aug. 7, Vanilla — the alter-ego of performance artist Becca Kauffman — told QNS that her Ridgewood shows have served as her creative laboratory.

“It’s been really instrumental in helping me develop my own material,” Kauffman said. “I would debut new songs and new work every month so it was a real push for me, I knew had to churn out something new.”

Before moving to Ridgewood four years ago, Kauffman’s most known venture was being the front woman for the New York-based band Ava Luna, which has toured the U.S. and Europe and released three studio albums. She always had aspirations of exploring her solo career, but moving away from the hustle and bustle of the city allowed her to take chances in an environment where the stakes weren’t as high, Kauffman said.

Today, Kauffman has shortened the name of her Windjammer show from “Jennifer Vanilla Live at the Bar” to “JVL@B,” which doubles as an acronym and a new definition of the show being an “experiential performance laboratory,” she said. The show includes a combination of singing, dancing and acting from Kauffman as her character, Jennifer Vanilla, as well as performances from other artists of various mediums.

The show has also become more focused and structured, following more of a theme and a story line for each installment. That led to Jennifer Vanilla hitting the road for a solo tour, where Kauffman used her music industry contacts to set up shows in music venues, coffee shops, art galleries and even private homes around the country. That in turn led to the release of Kauffman’s first solo album as Jennifer Vanilla, a record filled with house beats and moody vocals that describe the character’s personality.

The idea was birthed by being on the dance floor at the club and transcending time and space,” Kauffman said. “I wanted Jennifer to be a sort of medium for that mental state, to help guide myself and other people into that place where you forget about yourself.”

The “JVL@B” has also made another lifelong dream possible for Kauffman as the show was picked up by Queens Public Television (QPTV). Now every show at the Windjammer is filmed and broadcast on QPTV, and it serves as a way to “immortalize” the one-of-a-kind experiences that Kauffman creates each time, she said.

At the Aug. 7 show, the audience can expect to see some incredibly unique acts. The guest list includes another alter-ego pop star in Shasta Geaux Pop, post-punk artist Lambda Celsius, interdisciplinary artist Sophia Cleary, comedian and illustrator Sarah Squirm and artist and costume designer Ellie MacInnes. While their styles can be difficult to explain, Jennifer Vanilla included, Kauffman said the goal of every show is the same no matter who gets on stage.

“It’s been said to me more than once by audience members after a show that their face hurts from smiling so much,” Kauffman said. “While I don’t mean to cause any pain, I think that’s a pretty optimal result.”

Kauffman’s desire to be a part of a community like Ridgewood has also played a factor in many of her shows. Most of the props and costumes in “JVL@B” come from the thrift shop on the corner of Menahan Street and Grandview Avenue where Kauffman has befriended the owner. At the Aug. 7 show there will also be Hungarian treats made by her friend Tina, who also frequents the shop.

After the curtain drops, Kauffman said she will do a small Jennifer Vanilla tour on the west coast this fall, but after that she plans to put the character on pause. As the persona has evolved, Jennifer Vanilla has become too large of a personality for Kauffman to control and she needs to “reel her back in,” Kauffman said. Her aim now is to use the character to create more of a group offering for the community, she said.

“I’m ready to retreat into my cocoon and hibernate a little bit and reemerge in 2019 as a Jennifer 2.0,” Kauffman said. “I’m more interested in developing her as a facilitator rather than calling attention to myself. I’m figuring out how to integrate myself, Becca, as an artist, and Jennifer, this fictitious persona, so it feels more authentic to me.” 

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