In her own words: Actor and director Jacqueline Thompson finds empowerment on stage, fosters healing in audiences

by | Dec 7, 2016

Genuine connection with audience members comes first for the assistant professor of theater.

Assistant Professor of Theater Jacqueline Thompson first found her passion for acting by volunteering for middle school plays. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“What makes a good performance is heart and vulnerability,” says Jacqueline Thompson, assistant professor of theater at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Combining artistic integrity and her passion for activism, the actor and director describes herself as an “artivist.”

She believes the best productions are developed with a clear message in mind. Following this conviction, she has acted in local productions of “Insidious,” “Gee’s Bend,” “A Kid Like Jake,” “Afflicted” and “Old Hearts Fresh.” And as a director, she has collaborated with local and national organizations including the Theatre of the Oppressed, The Telling Project and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis to create performances that engage and heal communities.

Why is it important that a play carry a message and deeper meaning?

Singing and dancing is great, but I have to take some type of revelation from a production. “In the Blood,” for example, explores classism and the exploitation of people in poverty to great effect. It examines societal measures and shows that sometimes the obvious support system fails. And it makes you think of how you can hold social workers, doctors and priests accountable to ethical standards.

What was the first acting role that personally moved you?

It was my first time being in the production “For Colored Girls.” I was a student at Clark Atlanta University, coming into my own sense of womanhood. I played “Lady in Brown,” and seeing my experiences being mirrored back at me through the play was empowering. It gave me a voice when I was still searching for my own and the courage to articulate what I needed to say.

Tell me about one of your recent productions with a huge community impact.

Last year I directed Shakespeare in the Street in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. It was probably one of the most important theater productions I’ve done in a while. North St. Louis gets a bad rap, and for people looking from the outside in, there’s fear going past the Delmar Divide. But the community I worked with was remarkably connected. During the performances, you’d look around and see people from the neighborhood crying and hugging each other. They were so overwhelmed with joy to see themselves celebrated on stage. They were able to tell the rest of St. Louis “Hey, this is who we are.” The play ran for three days, and about 1,700 people came out. You couldn’t ask for a better turnout.

This interview was originally published in the fall 2016 issue of UMSL Magazine. Have some praise and/or suggestions for UMSL Magazine? Please take the five-minute 2016 UMSL Magazine Survey.

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Ron Austin

Ron Austin