Graduates from Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Theater Department are making waves across the nation. From acting in Off-Broadway productions to creating theater companies, there is no shortage of success for the department's newly minted graduates.
Since graduating in 2017, Zoe Jensen has taken the performance world by storm. After a successful run with the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati, Jensen moved to New York City.
"After moving, I did the first national tours of Polkadots and Mad Libs Live!" she said. "[Recently] I was in the Off-Broadway production of a new musical, ‘We Are the Tigers.’"
Many of the theater students receive training through the McLeod Summer Playhouse. Jordyn Kess, a junior in the musical theater program, has worked for the company for two summers.
“I starred as Bagheera in ‘The Jungle Book,’ and as a featured ensemble member in ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ and ‘MAMMA MIA!’” she said.
The McLeod Summer Playhouse provides a unique opportunity for artists to grow in a professional setting.
Olivia Gordon, a 2016 alumna, went to New York to pursue her dream of performing.
"I moved and quickly found an amazing group of artists,” she said. “Together we created Our Time Players, a non-profit theatre company."
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Bobbi Masters also co-founded a grassroots theater. Upon completing her MFA in directing in 2017, Bobbi became the Associate Artistic Director for Valiant Theatre, a new company based in Chicago. She also works as a professor at City Colleges of Chicago.
On and off stage
Although the glimmer of the stage may appear glamorous, there is no shortage of hard work.
“I want to be a professional actress and my training is intense,” Kess said. “We are required to take dance, acting, voice lessons and speech classes. Many hours are dedicated to this craft. It can be stressful and hectic at times, but it’s always rewarding.”
Alumna Kristin Doty worked as an associate company member at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis. Alexis Nwokoji recently joined the national tour of “Paw Patrol Live.” Janessa A. Harris works as a lighting technician in the Stardust Theatre on the Norwegian Jewel.
This year, Hayden Schubert worked as an actor at Jenny Wiley Theatre, where he played Willard in “Footloose” and Brad/Fight Choreographer in “Hairspray,” and this summer he will work as a performer at “Unto These Hills.” Mark Young, who graduated May 2019, will play the roles of Rev. Worchester and actor/combat at “Unto These Hills.”
The possibilities appear endless for current students and alumni.
Like her peers, Jensen shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
"This summer, I will be working at the Adirondack Theatre Festival, premiering a new musical, ‘Calling All Kates,’ as the title role of Kate,” she said. “I'm continuing to audition and look forward to what's next!"
SIU Carbondale’s Theater department does an outstanding job of preparing students for successful professional careers by providing valuable educational and training opportunities as well as numerous hands-on experiences.
Meera Komarraju is the interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.