"To come back to my alma mater in a professional capacity to tell stories, and tell specifically Black stories, has been nothing short of amazing," says theatre alumna Tina Kelly '18. Kelly returns to UNC Charlotte this semester to direct the Department of Theatre production of contemporary playwright Charly Evon Simpson's 2020 play, Jump.
A native Charlottean, Kelly graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and began to think of herself as a "theatre maker." Starting as an assistant stage manager with Actors Theater Charlotte and Children’s Theater Charlotte, then expanding to stage managing for Three Bone Theatre Company, OnQ productions, and others, she has made it her mission to align herself "with any and all theater in Charlotte."
Kelly describes herself as a “Jackie of all trades." She’s directed in theater festivals for Donna Scott Productions as well as the Women’s Theater Festival out of Raleigh, NC. More recently, she has continued her work in theater administration and producing with Queen City New Play Initiative, founded by theatre alumna Stacey Rose '08. "I take pride in going through the process in different roles," she says. "I love how it offers new insights on how to continue to create theater in an intentional and impactful way.”
With her work in theatre administration and production, Kelly admits that she never thought she would go into teaching. But her time with UNC Charlotte theatre students has perhaps opened a new path for her career. "Being able to direct in a university setting is different than what it's like in a professional career," she says. "It's more about cultivating talent and teaching the next generation. Graduating in 2018, I haven’t been gone for too long, but it's nice seeing where I came from with a different, older perspective. It revealed to me that I wanted to explore teaching more in my career."
She admits her experience has been extra fulfilling as she gets to be around and teach a young generation of artists who don't always get to see themselves reflected in the work they are studying. "To work with students of color, just like I was, and to have them identify and bond with the text has been one of the best experiences of my career," she explains. "I will always remember that UNC Charlotte created this space for Black artists and cherish this process with these students."
Jump explores themes of depression, suicide, and mental illness by telling the story of a Black family's experience with grief.
"Grief is a complex emotion that can’t be painted with a broad stroke," Kelly explained. "Understanding that it is a part of life, we as humans work through the hows and whys of traumatic events the best we know how. Then… there are times that our environment affects how we process. How we move through grief based on the emotional parameters of our culture and more importantly, how that affects us. I’ve been so honored to be able to tell the story of how this Black family deals with loss, grief, acceptance, and hope."
While exploring the context of this play, the Department of Theatre has worked very closely with staff from the Center's Multicultural Mental Health & Equity Initiative (MMHEI) and the Mental Health Education/Suicide Prevention program. Department of Theatre Chair Lynne Conner met with several members of the university's counseling and psychological services center (including the Assistant Director of the Counseling Center, the Multi-cultural Mental Health Coordinator, the Mental Health Education Suicide Prevention Coordinator and the Assistant Director of Equity and Access) to discuss the programming and support for the cast and for the audience. Question/Persuade/Refer trainers have led training sessions with the full Jump company, including student actors, faculty and student directors, and faculty and student stage managers.
To further provide resources to those involved, there will be an audience-centered conversation after each performance led by Michael Dyson, a licensed mental health counselor associate at Good Stress Company. Dyson will engage the audience in a conversation about the play’s subject matter as it relates to suicide, suicide ideation, depression, substance abuse, and other topics of interest to audience members.
Jump brings hope in the midst of loss, and, as Broadway World states, "it's thought-provoking, cautionary storytelling does what theater does best: informs, enlightens, entertains, and (hopefully) brings us closer together.” Performances take place February 24-27 in the Black Box Theater in Robinson Hall. Tickets are available at the Robinson Hall box office and online.
This production of JUMP includes content that some audience members might find disturbing, including references to suicide and depictions of depression and alcohol abuse. For immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK  or the Crisis Text Line - Text HOME to 741741. For more information on Suicide prevention contact the QPR Institute: https://qprinstitute.com/about-qpr. For more information on treating depression and substance abuse, contact the UNC Charlotte Center for Counseling and Psychological Service.