Jacqueline Thompson

“It’s no easy thing – and the work can be thankless at times – but it’s worth it,” Jacqueline Thompson said of a director’s life after the actors took their final bow during the run of New Jewish Theatre’s “District Merchants” last month.

“You have all of these moving parts that have to come together – and it has to be seamless,” Thompson added. “There has to be a clear vision for what you want to achieve – and it’s on you as the director to get everybody on board as far as where you are trying to go.”

Neurotic stereotypes often imposed on directors don’t apply to her. Actually, she is the antithesis of them. When she speaks of what her work entails, she sounds like an inspirational coach that focuses on positive reinforcement. Thompson has made a huge impact on the St. Louis theater scene from several vantage points.

She will be honored for her contributions to the St. Louis drama community as the Emerging Artist recipient at the 2019 St. Louis Visionary Awards on April 22 at The Sun Theater.

“Grateful,” Thompson said of the recognition via Facebook. “I’m very grateful.”

Also honored among this year’s class of Visionaries – which celebrate the contribution of women to the St. Louis arts scene – include; Susan Barrett (Arts Innovator), Carmen Dence (Outstanding Teaching Artist), Karen Ely (Outstanding Working Artist), Brea McAnally (Outstanding Arts Professional) and Kathie Winter (Major Contributor to the Arts). 

“There are so many women in the region doing transformational work in the arts. We couldn’t be more impressed with the 2019 honorees” said Sara Burke, co-chair of the Saint Louis Visionary Awards. “They truly deserve this recognition.”

Thompson is indeed deserving.  In the past six years, she has become of staple of the St. Louis theater community as an actor, teacher and director – usually more than one at a time. Her pace has been relentless. She has bounced from stage to stage and behind the stage and back again. The Black Rep, NJT, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Mustard Seed and the list goes on. She was directing Mariah Richardson’s “Chasing The White Rabbit”  while rehearsing as a member acting ensemble of  Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ “Into The Breeches.” The multitasking is nothing new for her – and her artistic integrity seems unfazed by the workload.

On top of that, until this year, she served as assistant professor of acting and directing at University of Missouri St. Louis. At the moment, she is in St. Petersburg, Florida helming a production of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” for Freefall Theatre Company.

It was at “District Merchants” were she and I last connected – catching up during intermission and a few more minutes just before a post-show discussion.

Poised and kind, there seems to be an intention of positivity and encouragement with every word that comes out of her mouth. The pride in her work was clear as she watched the production – probably for the umpteenth time.

She reacted to her cast delivering on what they set out to do as a team like a proud mama watching her babies come through with the performance of their lives. It was the second week of the show’s run, but she hung on to every line as if it were opening night – laughing (louder than the rest of the audience) during the funny parts, gasping with emotion and adding an “mmm” for a dramatic sound that complimented the play whenever she felt moved to do so.

Watching her watch the play was as entertaining as watching the play itself. And the play, though serious, was very entertaining.  Her positivity is infectious.

“They did that!” Thompson exclaimed as if she were any of the emotionally moved audience members that were compelled to rise from their seat for a rousing ovation.

We then chopped it up about filmmaker Kasi Lemmons’ visit to St. Louis ahead of her debut as a librettist for Terence Blanchard’s upcoming opera, “Fire Shut Up In My Bones, which will be presented by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis this summer.

Lemmons spoke of the dire need of black women film directors. Thompson and I pointed out that the need also stretches to the stage. I used Lemmons’ words and her triumphant direction of “District Merchants” to compel her to be vigilant about focusing on the directing side of her many talents – even if it comes at the expense of acting or teaching.

“That’s real,” Thompson said. “I’m just happy that I can be in this space and do my part.”

The 2019 Saint Louis Visionary Awards will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 22 at The Sun Theater in Grand Center. Rhonda Carter Adams and Sharon Price John will co-host the awards, which are chaired by Sara Burke and Kim Eberlein. For more information, visit https://www.vizawards.org. 

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