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Jennifer Schmidt lands new role at JRT

Amanda J. Vicars • Jan 3, 2013 at 4:30 AM

As a young girl, Jennifer Schmidt directed her siblings in plays that were a product of her own imagination.

Having recently been named the artistic director of the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, it is apparent with this longtime lover of the arts that the talent which enabled her to fulfill the position is as inherent as it has been learned.

Native to the small farming community of Catlin, Ill., Schmidt "grew up around the theatre." Her father, both an actor and a singer, was always performing and she soon realized his dreams were also hers.

This, combined with the influence of the minister at her church, who was once a trustee for East Tennessee's Milligan College, convinced Schmidt to migrate south and pursue a music major and theatre minor at the school.

"My minister did a good job of spreading the news about Milligan College," she said with a smile. One of my siblings and 12 of my cousins attended the school at the same time I did.

The college was site to many new and exciting experiences for Schmidt; there she acted in her first play and met her future husband, Mike.

In 1981, when the couple graduated from Milligan, they were also married. With Mike originally from Piney Flats and with his wife's newfound love of the mountains, their decision to stay in East Tennessee was not a difficult one.

Further proving to be a milestone year in her life, 1981 marks the beginning of Schmidt's career at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre. With her role in "Irene," she took part in her first community theatre experience.

In the "early days," she acted more than directed (primarily in musicals) and her acting credits included: "Lil Abner," "1776," "Fiddler on the Roof," "South Pacific," "Guys and Dolls," and "Camelot," to name a few.

She has directed the JRT 1940s USO show for many years and also, "S'Wonderful," I Love a Piano," "Swing," "On Golden Pond," "Annie" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe."

Schmidt acknowledges the many "good friendships" and "very best friends" she has wrought through her time at the JRT, but perhaps none so memorable as that of the late, renowned Jonesborough actress and director, Emma Good. She was the first person Schmidt met at JRT and, under her direction, Schmidt played "Billie" in "Born Yesterday," a role she recalls being her favorite.

Over the years, having worked at First Christian Church, as a house manager at JRT and as a private piano teacher, when the full-time position for JRT's director was made available to her, Schmidt saw no reason for hesitation.

The JRT has become a Schmidt family affair. Her son Lucas, having graduated from Milligan in May with a degree in music, is actively involved in the theatre. Mike also works in the theatre and is set to fill her former position as house manager, taking care of the sets, sound and all other technical needs.

"I thought about how involved we already are and how we love it so much," she said. "It seemed to me like a very logical decision... the thing you really love to do, you get to do it [and] you get paid for it."

As the new artistic director of JRT in 2013, Schmidt holds resolutions for the theatre alongside her own, "to start running again."

Schmidt plans to partner with the theatre education program currently offered to children to include adults and the topic of music; to develop a group of JRT players "to go out in the community and give back" through song and dance at area events; to get involved with charity organizations; to perform cosmetic renovations on the interior of JRT; and to get an organized system in place for renting costumes out to the public.

With support for the JRT pouring in from the entire Jonesborough community, from the theatre's own merry band of players to citizens to town administrator Bob Browning and Mayor Kelly Wolf, true growth and change is made possible.

Eight plays are slated for production at the JRT this coming year and the lineup will be posted online within the first week of January.

"We're going to premiere a show that has just been released," Schmidt said enthusiastically.

"For me, Jonesborough Repertory Theatre is just more than a theatre," it's something "we've invested our lives in."

For more information about the JRT, visit http://jonesboroughtheatre.com/ or call 423-753-1010.

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