The Show Must Go On!

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Jennifer Jenkins assists from backstage as GPC students Joshua V. Montague and Samantha Braz take the spotlight. (Photo by Bill Roa)

Jennifer Jenkins assists from backstage as GPC students Joshua V. Montague and Samantha Braz take the spotlight. (Photo by Bill Roa)


by Rebecca Rakoczy



Jennifer Jenkins is having a nightmare. She is coordinating the breakdown of equipment after an event in downtown Atlanta. That same equipment must be back at Georgia Perimeter College in less than an hour for another show. But when the truck rolls up at the college, it contains the wrong equipment.


This is Jenkins’ version of the classic “wake up naked in the classroom” dream. This time, it invades her sleep while she is on vacation. “I knew I would start worrying about how everything was going at the college in the middle of the week,” Jenkins says.


In reality, friends, colleagues and students say Jenkins’ comprehensive dedication is why that nightmare does not happen. During more than three decades of convocations, graduations, dignitary visits, special programs and hundreds of theatre and musical productions, Jenkins has become the details person at GPC, making sure everything is just right before a show goes on.


With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia and an associate degree focusing on theatre from DeKalb College (now Georgia Perimeter)—Jenkins loves the role of production manager for the Fine Arts department and has embraced it, taking on additional responsibilities through the years.


Jenkins recalls when she first came to the Fine Arts building, as a 16-year-old early admissions student whose life had been turned upside down. She had lost her mother to cancer in 1970. Then her father remarried, the family moved cross-country, and Jenkins loathed her new high school.


“In 1971, we moved here from New York, and it was my junior year of high school. I was miserable. My dad found out about early admission, and I came here for my senior year. I took Theatre Appreciation. I always had been interested in theatre—my mother sometimes took me out of school to see Broadway shows.”


The Theatre program became an outlet for the teen, giving her purpose and direction—and generated a lifelong love of the college.


When Jenkins was first hired at then DeKalb College in 1982, her job was to “maintain the equipment in the auditorium and design the sets, lights and costumes, or at least see that they were done.” But she was a quick study at her alma mater. As faculty members retired, she assumed a variety of management responsibilities.


“I would say, ‘Hey, I can do that,’” she says. And she did.


Although she acted on stage as a student, Jenkins has always preferred being behind the scenes. In this role, she helped the Theatre program evolve into the Theatre Arts Guild, a theatre company that auditions students, staff and community members for theatre productions. She also took on the role as advisor to the Drama Club—a group she started as a DeKalb College student in the 1970s.


Over the years, Jenkins has taught stagecraft skills, mentored aspiring stage managers and assumed more responsibilities for collegewide events, always with an eye for how everything at the college fits together.


“If you want it done right, ask Jen,” says Tommy Joe Anderson, GPC professor emeritus of music.


Anderson should know. He worked with Jenkins for more than two decades as music coordinator and Fine Arts department chair at the college. Anderson placed her in charge of the auditorium and scheduling events in the 1990s.


“Jen not only takes into account your request, but what effects the request would have on all areas of the department and the college,” Anderson says. Sometimes, he says, that meant his request would be denied, with Jenkins pointing out an issue that would create problems. “That was fine in our relationship,” he says, but some at the college often “tried to work around her watchful eyes.”


Those “watchful eyes” continue to be important to the brood of fine arts students who learn everything from set construction to stage lighting under her tutelage. Jenkins has been “mom” to countless students who have come through the Theatre department over the years. They are her joy—and sometimes—headache. “My favorite thing about this place is the students,” she says.
The feeling is mutual.


“Her talented leadership has made a lasting impression on me,” says GPC student Justin Beaudrot. “I had not thought it possible for one person to be capable of so much, but now having known Jennifer, I aspire to be as talented a coordinator and leader myself. … I have made some of the best friends in theatre, thanks to Ms. Jenkins.”


Other former students such as Aaron Gotlieb, have left the college and then returned, multiple times—pulled back by the Theatre program and Jenkins’ friendship. Gotlieb pulled a Theatre trifecta while at GPC: as a student, staff member—and adjunct faculty member.


“I met Jennifer in 1998 as an incoming freshman to GPC,” says Gotlieb, who currently is pursuing his Master of Fine Arts degree in physical and devised Theatre at The Academia dell’Arte in Arezzo Italy. “As a student and Theatre major, I was involved in nearly every production during my time there, either on crew or helping to build the show. As a staff member, I was the lead performer and trainer for “Jaggy,” and also acted as props master for the main stage Theatre Arts Guild season for three years. And as a faculty member, I taught Children’s Theatre and Period Styles of Movement in the Theatre department.


“Jennifer is the den mother, drill sergeant and institutional memory of the Theatre department,” Gotlieb says. “She was there when you needed a hand up, a sympathetic ear or a swift kick in the rear, and believe me, I received all three at various times over the years.


“She became my teacher, my employer and my friend, and many opportunities I’ve had in my professional life can be traced directly back to Jenkins in some way,” Gotlieb says. “There are days when I think Jennifer holds the Theatre Arts Guild together by sheer force of will, but more often, it’s that she inspires others to do so.”


Co-workers also hold Jenkins in high esteem. “Jennifer is the best representative of the heart and soul of GPC,” says Lizz Emerson-Dorsey, who has worked for the college for 10 years and is now technical projects manager and scenic designer for Theatre on the Clarkston Campus. “She also has one of the most infectious laughs. GPC is lucky to have such an employee dedicated both to the school and to being the best advocate for our students.”


Wendy Davidson, GPC Decatur Math, Computer Science and Engineering department chair, first met Jenkins in a collegewide “Magic of Leadership” class in 2010, and their two personalities meshed well, she says. When Jenkins approached Davidson a few years ago to co-chair the College Convocation Committee, Davidson accepted. (She accepted again this year.)


“Our experience is great, and if you hang out with her at all, you know Jen’s a go-getter. She also shares my same philosophy—that life is already serious enough. She makes sure things get done that need to be done, but she always tries to make sure things remain lighthearted. Her goal—and mine, too—is “let’s have a little fun, and let’s get the job done, and let’s move on.”


After all, there’s always another show to put on. Jenkins takes her charge to heart.


“My mom was a child of the late ’teens and ’20s, and I got an old-fashioned rearing as far as etiquette,” she says. “She basically taught me to be a good host. Really what I do as a production manager is that I’m a host. I make sure everything is ready, everyone is invited, and I make sure they have a good time.”



One Comment on “The Show Must Go On!”

  1. Never a better “Stage Boss”