By Chloe Hunt '21
Murder on the Orient Express astounded audiences this past weekend, and in line with North Cross’s stringent Covid protocols, the performances were virtual. Orchestrating a production of high caliber virtually is not a task for the faint-hearted, as director Jess Jones-Gausla learned.
Jones-Gausla boasts a strong theatrical resumé dating back to her childhood.
“I did a few plays when I was very young and in highschool became active in the local community theatre and college theatre scene,” Jones-Gausla said. “I got a BA in Theatre Performance from Barton College and worked in the NC Triangle for many years. When I found that unsustainable monetarily, I went to graduate school at Cal State LA and received my MFA in Theatre, Film and Television: Acting. This training was to allow me to make a living in my chosen profession.”
Although the pandemic prevented Jones-Gausla from utilizing her graduate degree, it did allow for Jones-Gausla and her husband to make new plans.
“I graduated in 2020, so the world has gotten in the way a bit, the pandemic is what brought my husband and I to Roanoke and it completely changed our plans of making a career in LA. Since LA is not the center of the pandemic, we have made other plans to go to Oslo, Norway, and pursue careers there.”
Jones-Gausla’s love for theatre began with England’s national poet, Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare’s works can be jarring for young performers, Jones-Gausla fell in love with seeing Shakespearian works performed.
“Shakespeare got me interested in acting - particularly seeing it performed - not reading it. I loved the way the actors could so clearly tell a story and take you on a journey in a theatre or in your own living room that we would have no way of going on in real life,” Jones-Gausla said. “I became obsessed with this in highschool and went to a few summer programs at Cambridge University that only deepened my love for this style of communication.”
Jones-Gausla then realized that theatre provided an opportunity to explore the world. In her eyes, theatre prompts dialogue and conversation, thus connecting audiences and actors in a unique way.
“As I grew older it became a way to heal the world for me. You can present anything on stage without it having to have actually happened, or explore something from the past, and make your audience think about what they have seen,” Jones-Gausla said. “It connects us in seeing an actors perspective and allowing the audience to form their own opinion about that perspective that they have just seen, without critiquing an actual person, it gives permission to dive in.”
For her MFA thesis, Jones-Gausla had the opportunity to analyze perhaps one of the most transformative plays in American history. This project not only increased her affinity for theatre, but made her more aware of an important epidemic.
“Harper Pitt in Angels in America. This was my thesis project to receive my MFA and one of the most important plays in American history, if not the most important play,” Jones-Gausla said. “It centers around the AIDS crisis and is one of the first works for the stage that explores queer lives as full lives and not as a tool to tell a straight story.”
For students who are considering pursuing a career in theatre, Jones-Gausla has some advice, and one thing that want-to-be theatre professionals should be mindful of.
“Money. Because this is a gig to gig business, it is difficult financially. 'Survival jobs' in coffee shops and restaurants are great in theory, but the wage for that work in this country is horrendous and it takes too much of one's time and energy, at least as you get older, away from your career,” Jones-Gausla said. “This is why I have opened up my view to film and television and received a degree where I can now teach college level courses and look to being an associate professor at a university to augment my income while continuing to build a career as an actor.”
Although a career in theatre has its difficulties, Jones-Gausla believes that theatre has the unique opportunity to better our world.
“ It is about and for the community and forms a discussion that has the potential to further society.”