Focus on the Arts: Upper School Theatre with Jessica Fox, Performing Arts Faculty

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This “Focus on the Arts” series was created for our alumni community to learn more about Gulliver’s current arts programming. Read on to learn about our Upper School Theatre Program, led by Jessica Fox, Performing Arts Faculty.

What is the focus of your program?

On every student in the department having an opportunity for individual growth. In a lot of programs, the top percent who audition strong keep getting better and better because they get time in front of an audience. We have nine shows this year to ensure every student has age and level appropriate opportunities to get on stage. The more you make it a routine occurrence, the less scary and overwhelming performing becomes, and I want that for all my students.

What makes it different from similar programs offered by other high schools?

In a lot of programs, there is a lot of sitting or waiting around for your turn. That can turn into discouragement, insecurity, or even downright bitterness if not managed. Even if a student doesn’t earn what they hoped for in the musical, they still have opportunities to perform each semester. There is always something they should be looking forward to and preparing for in their artistic journey.

Approximately how many students are in your program?

I believe it’s around 60 this year.

What are you most proud of that your students have accomplished?

The confidence with which they are walking into auditions or high-stakes performances (competition, one acts, etc). They are confident in the work and in their preparation, and that is a joy to see. When they become independent artists, I know I have done my job. My goal is to work myself out of a job by the time they graduate, or by the time a show goes up, and it’s always enjoyable to watch when that happens.

What do students take with them when they leave your program?

Confidence, life skills, communication skills, the ability to problem solve and collaborate with others – all those things that are so crucial in the business world.

What gets you excited to teach what you teach?

Seeing their success and confidence grow after having a positive artistic opportunity.

How does Gulliver support what you do and your students?

Tremendously! From audience support to budgeting, or when I come to admin with an idea… it really is a great place to make art, and I know how lucky our department is to have this level of support and artistic freedom.

What are some special experiences your students have because of this program?

Just last week, our students performed on an equity stage (The Straz Center Morsani Hall) at a festival of over 12,000 artists.

Tell us a story about a particular student or experience that you think represents or celebrates your program well.

I’ll keep this one anonymous, since it happened this month. At the beginning of the year, I had a freshman who came to me and said that they were nervous about performing. I reminded them that they are in the driver’s seat of their artistic journey and that I am here to support that process. I let them know that they could focus on technical theatre if that made them more comfortable, and that we wouldn’t force or push them into something they didn’t feel ready for. The spring semester comes along, and they decided to perform in the freshman class show. I watched as they delivered a joke early in the show, and they got a laugh from the crowd. Those are my favorite moments to see on stage – when students get feedback from an audience. It’s the best feeling as a performer. After the show, we had a reflection in class of what worked, what we would do differently next time, moments that stood out, etc. This student raised their hand and said, “Mrs. Fox, I’ve drank the Kool Aid and I want more.” That was a great moment for me as an educator, to have a student who was insecure and unsure of what they signed up for have a positive experience and be excited and confident for the next time they get to tell a story for an audience. It was a great reminder to me of why I love this job so much.

Middle school student building.

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