A Life in Theatre
Jennifer Steele has come a long way since she was talked into auditioning for Cowley’s fall 1993 play "Plaza Suite." After her role as Muriel Tate, Steele became even more active in the college’s theatre department. In fall 1994, she was cast as Susy Hendrix, a blind woman, in "Wait Until Dark."
Those two performances and some encouragement from director Dejon Ewing helped Steele get to where she is today, managing director of Seaside Repertory Theatre in Seaside, Fla. "Cowley is where my love for theatre began," said Steele, 27, who came within a few credits of graduating from Cowley. "My most memorable times at Cowley were spent in rehearsals in the Little Theatre with some of my closest friends. The most demanding role I played at Cowley was in Wait Until Dark in which I played a blind woman.
Dejon Ewing was the first person to really encourage and challenge me as an actress. Along with a friend who talked me into my first audition for Plaza Suite (Ethan Erickson), I give Mrs. Ewing credit for planting the seed that motivated me." Steele was in immensely popular student while at Cowley. Besides being visible in the college’s plays, she was crowned Queen Alalah LXIII in fall 1994, and also was named December Student of the Month. After the 1994 fall semester, Steele moved to Atlanta, Ga., where she gave birth to her son, Cale, now 7. She continued her education at Valdosta State University, majoring in theatre. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
Upon graduating, she moved back to Atlanta and secured a job at the Center for Puppetry Arts in the development and special events department. It was a key job during Steele’s short career. "The job gave me a foundation in the world of non-profit professional theatre development and administration," she said, "and that experience proved to be valuable when I was hired to assist in founding the Seaside Repertory Theatre.
I was also brought on as an associate producer of the Florida Jazz Festival this past spring. The experience is not unlike that of producing live theatre; it’s very fast-paced, detail-oriented and satisfying." Seaside Repertory Theatre was founded in May 2000 by Craige Hoover. Until the theatre came along, Steele said there was an obvious lack of live theatre, particularly professional theatre. "I had always wanted to live in the area permanently, and when I heard through mutual friends of Craige’s intention to start a professional theatre company, I contacted him to let him know of my interest," Steele said. "When he filled me in on his plans, I was very enthusiastic. Of course at the time, I had no idea that my level of involvement would be so extreme." Steele and Hoover are the only two full time employees.
Her job responsibilities range from fundraising and bookkeeping to marketing and publicity. She also gets into the production side of the theatre. "It is an ongoing learning experience, one that I enjoy tremendously," she said
Steele is heavily involved in nearly all aspects at Seaside, a major difference from her days at Cowley. "Aside from the fact that Seaside Rep hires professional actors, designers, and directors, a personal major difference is simply my level of involvement and awareness of all that goes into producing theatre," she said. "As a Cowley student, I went to rehearsal, showed up at set building calls and learned my lines, but did not truly appreciate the collaborative efforts of those involved. I think at that stage in college, most students do not have that knowledge.
I’m still learning and will be for a long time." At times, Steele takes the opportunity to revive the actress within. She played the role of Meg in "Crimes of the Heart," a Seaside Rep production July 3-Aug. 2. "Meg is one of three eccentric Southern sisters," said Steele, describing her role. "She’s the middle wild child who has just returned home after a stint in Hollywood pursuing an unsuccessful singing career. I identified with her in some ways because I am one of four sisters and also because of aspects of my personality that constantly need validation. I am an actress, so I enjoy being in the spotlight, as does Meg, and it was easy for me to show that. But it was interesting to be the carefree, selfish, irresponsible sibling who separates herself from the rest of the family. In reality, I am the oldest sister and a natural caretaker. But in the end, Meg grows by coming to terms with her own fears and insecurities."
Steele said her goal was to help Seaside Rep become bigger and more successful with each passing year. "I know my future lies somewhere in the world of theatre and performing arts," she said. Born in Los Angeles, Steele and her family moved to Arkansas City when she was 2. After graduating from Arkansas City High School, she received music and dance scholarships from Cowley. "Throughout my career there, I was presented with opportunities and honors that I would likely not have received as a freshman and sophomore at a larger school," Steele said. "I was fortunate to serve on different committees alongside faculty and administrators, which was an enriching learning experience." Steele tries to make it back to Ark City at least once a year, "preferably at Arkalalah," she said.