Theater major adds directing to her resume before graduation
During her last semester, Wichita State senior Kylie Jo Jennings faces one of the greatest challenges of her career: directing the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide /When the Rainbow is Enuf.”
Jennings, a music theatre performance major, wrote a proposal to direct the play by Ntozake Shange as the last project of her college career. She wanted to expand her knowledge of the performing industry, and to make a positive impact on the audience.
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” shows the struggle of women of color in society. However, Jennings has focused on making the show an uplifting and empowering experience for both the cast and the audience.
“I want the audience to see the show as a piece of art, life and theatre with real women and to appreciate it as such,” Jennings said. “I expect every single one of the girls in the cast to grow as a person, to develop a character, not only on stage but off stage.”
Behind the scenes
Jennings’ transition from performing to behind the scenes has been the hardest challenge for her.
“With directing you have the control, but with more control comes more responsibility,” Jennings said.
Also, casting became a test of its own. The play tells the story of seven women, and the number of ethnic women in the music theatre performance program is scarce, which required the call for women of color on campus.
The cast was selected after two rounds of auditions, and includes a fusion of mostly Hispanic and African American women.
According to Judith Babnich, professor for the School of Performing Arts, Jennings is the first African American woman and student to direct an African American play at Wichita State.
“We are proud of Kylie Jo for reaching out to the community,” said Linda Starkey, director of the School of Performing Arts.
After graduating from Wichita East High School, where she was in the International Baccalaureate program, Jennings moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College.
After one semester, she transferred to Wichita State to start her degree in music theatre.
She has had the opportunity to play the lead role in the “Children of Eden” (2007), and “Madea” (2009). Jennings was also part of the “Hair” production in 2009, and has appeared in many other WSU plays.
Along with performing, she has also helped direct “Waltzing in Heaven” and “Urinetown.”
According to Jennings, the professors in the School of Performing Arts have instilled in her the values of hard work and integrity, which inspired her to improve the quality of her college career.
“They care about the students’ success personally and professionally,” Jennings said. “They teach us to not just perform for you. Act, sing, dance and enrich people’s lives.”
One thing she will miss after graduation will be the nurturing aspect of college theatre.
In the future, Jennings would like to be involved in ministry in the arts. She wants to use the arts to communicate with the community.
“A lot of people say that they want to move to New York and be on Broadway, and that’s great, but I really don’t feel like that’s where I’m called to be,” she said. “I like to fuse serving others with performing.”
However, she has not limited her options. She plans to move around and audition for different productions or go to graduate school.
She’s also planning her wedding, scheduled for March 2012. Jennings and her fiance, Nick Smith, a former Wichita State student, met during the development of a production.
After graduation in May, Jennings will perform in “Snoopy” and “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Crane River Theatre in Kearny, Neb., this summer.
Jennings is dedicating “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” to her father, who is serving in Iraq.