UMSL theatre professor to direct ‘The World Begun’ at Shakespeare in the Streets

Actors from the Old North St. Louis neighborhood rehearse their upcoming production of “The World Begun,” a play artfully adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Jacqueline Thompson, assistant professor of theatre at UMSL, is directing the performance which is part of Shakespeare in the Streets Sept. 17-19 (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Thompson)

Actors from the Old North St. Louis neighborhood rehearse their upcoming production of “The World Begun,” a play artfully adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Jacqueline Thompson, assistant professor of theatre at UMSL, is directing the performance, which is part of Shakespeare in the Streets Sept. 17-19. (Photos courtesy of Jacqueline Thompson)

As a passionate actor and director, Jacqueline Thompson has worked with many different kinds of thespians. Her latest project is no different.

Thompson, assistant professor of theatre at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, will direct the upcoming production of “The World Begun,” a play artfully adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The production, which will be performed during Shakespeare in the Streets Sept. 17-19 on North 14th Street between Montgomery and St. Louis avenues in St. Louis, will feature a range of seasoned and green actors.

Jacqueline Thompson, assistant professor of theatre at UMSL, is directing the performance which is part of Shakespeare in the Streets Sept. 17-19 (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Thompson)

Jacqueline Thompson, assistant professor of theatre at UMSL

The hourlong free play will be performed nightly at 8 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to bring lawn chairs to watch the show. Parking will be available in lots located one block east of the performance intersection, at 1316 St. Louis Avenue and 1310 Montgomery.

What is your background in theatre, and how long have you been at UMSL?

I started teaching and directing at UMSL in the fall of 2012. I was a shy and introverted child. I remember auditioning for a role in “Annie” when I was about 10 years old and being so nervous that I couldn’t even open my mouth to say the line. However, my passion was greater than my fears, by the time I got to high school (Hazelwood Central High School in Florissant, Mo.) I started to audition and take theatre classes. I’ve always had the desire to share stories of the human experience. I began my undergraduate degree as a mass communications major pursuing a career in television journalism. The stage always called me, and I began auditioning for the theatre department at Clark Atlanta University as well as other theaters in Atlanta. My collective experiences have allowed me to teach for regional theaters and organizations such as the Actors Theatre of Louisville. I have had the privilege of performing at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Mustard Seed Theatre, The Black Rep, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and a host of others.

How did you become involved with Shakespeare in the Streets and what has been your experience so far?

I began my work with SITS in 2013 for the production of “Old Hearts Fresh.” I played the character Herimone. The play was an adaptation of a “Winters Tale.” Engaging with community members and celebrating what makes the neighborhoods unique has been the most rewarding aspect. I have gained a greater sense of connectivity and knowledge from interacting with residents on polar opposite sides of the city.

The cast includes a variety of people with different backgrounds. What is it like to direct both skilled and unskilled actors?

Teaching beginning actors in academia was a tremendous benefit as I approached this project. The professional actors are very supportive of our community actors. We all encourage and collectively coach the new performers to build their confidence. Many of them have natural, raw talent and great instincts.

Tell me about “The World Begun” and what you hope the audience takes away from the performance?

In the original play, Viola is shipwrecked and lands in the ancient region of Illyria. In “The World Begun,” she is shipwrecked through time from the 16th Century to 2015 Old North St. Louis. For a year, the playwright and I volunteered, interviewed and facilitated story circles to gather the heart of the neighborhood. A consistent theme was the desire to dispel the negativity associated with the word “north.” We live in a polarized city, and through media and word of mouth, fear and stereotypes about the city have driven business and residents away. What we found were strong, united folks determined to support and take care of each other. I hope the audience leaves inspired to connect beyond safe paradigms in relation to people and places.

They say that theatre can change the world. What are your thoughts on this? And as a teacher, what do you hope your students learn from you about the impact of acting?

Theatre is a reflection of life. Nina Simone stated “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” I teach my students as actors that you become an activist for the human race. It is our duty to unapologetically and truthfully give a voice to the voiceless on stage. Our duty is not to judge, yet allow our body to become an instrument to share life in all its extremes, to empower, change and heal our world.

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