Interview: Kate Reinders Is Loving Being the "Mama" of High School Musical

Reinders reflects on three seasons as drama teacher Miss Jenn, and the new chapter of life she’s helped usher in.

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 appreciation hour after asking the up-and-coming actor about influential teachers. "I have learned so much from Kate Reinders," said Lester, who remembers seeing the Broadway mainstay in an early preview of Something Rotten! before Disney ever brought them together. "We call her Mama, and she really is such a parental figure for all of us."

The feelings are fully reciprocated by Reinders, whose devotion to her young castmates is matched only by the devotion her TV character Miss Jenn feels for the drama students at East High. In the show's third season, dropping on Disney Plus July 27, the thespian Wildcats are heading to summer camp without their beloved drama teacher; however, it's safe to assume that the kids will be summoning Miss Jenn at some point before the summer is through. "If they need her and they call, she will be there," says Reinders about her character. And it seems like the rules of real life aren't much different.

Kate Reinders with Olivia Rodrigo in a scene from season 3 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
(© Disney)

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Before we start talking about High School Musical, I have to ask how you enjoyed hosting this year's Jimmy Awards. It feels very in keeping with your TV character.
It was so fun. I mean, I was very nervous. It took me a minute to go from being terrified to having fun, but only a minute. When they asked me if I would be interested in doing it, I said, "Are you kidding me? This is not only my dream come true but it is definitely Miss Jenn's dream come true." Those lines are blurry.

Have the lines between you and Miss Jenn gotten blurrier as time goes on?
Absolutely. With the kids, I am very invested. I always have been. But the longer I know them and the more they do, I'm so proud. I can't even stand it. Julia Lester — the day I met her, I knew she was a huge Broadway star waiting to happen. And I was correct! These kids — we've been together four years. My son was 18 months old when everybody met him, and he just turned five. He's like our little mascot, and those are his big brothers and sisters. He watches the show and he says, "I want Julia to come over." Just today he said, "I'm going to marry Olivia." And I said, "That is a good choice. I support you on that."

How was shooting the third season?

It was very different. It was in Los Angeles. And it was camp! So it was outdoors and sunshine and warmth and really fun. Miss Jenn isn't in all of it, but she definitely appears. She wouldn't be able to stay away, of course.

So Miss Jenn gets to intersect 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 hours and hours to be by their side. If they need her and they call, she will be there.

Were you a summer theater-camp kid?
I did Summer Stock theater when I was a kid, so it was a little different. it was called Cherry County Playhouse here in Muskegon, Michigan. I started when I was maybe 12 with Gypsy, and then I did Annie and The Secret Garden and The Wizard of Oz and all the shows you do when the producers are wonderful and do shows for you. It changed my life.

Now having seen three seasons of High School Musical come to life, what do you like most about how the stories have unfolded?
The main thing that stands out to me is that there really isn't a star of the show. All of these kids are stars, and I think they all are really coming into their own and being confident and having their big moments to shine. That's the beauty of theater — There are no small parts, only small actors. When you're a kid, people are like, "How many lines do you have?" One thing Tim Federle says sometimes is that Ashlyn only had a couple lines in the pilot, but then look where she has gone. Not just Ashlyn, but Julia. It's really not what you're given, it's what you do with it. I don't want to spoil anything that happens in season 3, but I will say we have opportunities to see everyone have really big, wonderful moments.

What do you hope for Miss Jenn in the future?
I hope that Miss Jenn can have a life outside of the school. I mean, the kids are her life and that's not gonna change. But I think there's a part of her that still wants to be a woman and to maybe have her own kids or find some other dreams for herself. I don't think it would be terrible if she were to maybe be in a community theater show herself. I don't think that performing is completely out of her bones yet. At the beginning, she didn't know what being a teacher was, and she's really found such fulfillment in it. But now the kids are starting to leave because they're getting older, and that's something she's going to have to deal with. Empty nest times a hundred.

Have you learned anything from Miss Jenn?
When I started doing theater, I was the youngest for a long time. At least it felt that way. And then with High School Musical, all of a sudden I was the oldest, and by a lot. Tim Federle and I always joke that if we had had a child when we were doing Gypsy on Broadway, it could be Olivia Rodrigo. It was really exciting and I found this new side of myself. It's finding that fulfillment in watching other people shine. I just said Miss Jenn isn't done performing, but I don't know if I necessarily care as much anymore. It's very weird, the new chapter. But it really has changed me in that I love being the mama on set. I love sitting back and watching them be wonderful.