Jess Ford takes on many roles in Department of Theatre and Performance Studies

Senior and acting concentration major excels as actor, scenic designer, writer, and director

KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 23, 2021) — Jess Ford (they/them) would have to agree with Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when he says, “Men at some time are masters of their fates.” (I,ii 139.)  Ford has certainly tried to be master of their fate, taking advantage of the many opportunities available as an acting concentration major in Kennesaw State University’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies (TPS).

image of ford in scene shop
(Image, above, Ford in the TPS Scene Shop.)

With a keen interest in both scenic design and acting, Ford was thrilled when KSU allowed them to take classes in both areas, and then asked them to become scenic charge of the KSU’s Scene Shop. “Going into college, I told myself that I think I want to pursue scenic design, but my first love was acting,” they said. They quickly realized they could do both with the unique nature of the B.A. program in TPS. “I can pursue whatever I want, take the classes that I really enjoy, and that are beneficial to me,” they added.   

playbill for porcelain throneThis realization set Ford on a course to pursue multiple areas of interest, including scene design, acting, writing, and directing. Ford's one-woman play, “Porcelain Throne,” centered around eating disorder recovery, was performed this spring at the Onyx Theater with encouragement from TPS assistant chair, artistic director, and professor Karen Robinson.

Robinson describes Ford as an “exceptional artist—and an exceptional human being—full of this energy and enthusiasm for many different forms of theatrical and performance expression. They have pursued a wealth of innovative and creative ideas and projects, and, as a result, have developed into a rich and well-rounded artist, in scene design, scene painting, performance, and writing. They are a great example of taking full advantage of a vast array of opportunities and diving right in and excelling.” 

Tapped to design the set for “Grace, or the Art of Climbing,” Ford humbly explains, “I’ve made a lot of models, but this one had to be built; the set had to be simple and functional.” They started in January of 2020 and designed the set for the Onyx Theater, an intimate, black box theater. When the pandemic hit, the decision was made to move the production to the much larger Stillwell Theatre, so Ford felt that she had to start over. Taking inspiration from a playground, Ford used bright primary colors to pop against the bleak, stark set meant to convey depression's grayness.

(Image, below, Ford on the set of "Grace, or the Art of Climbing" in the Stillwell Theater.) 

image of jess on stage of grace or the art of climbing

As actors would be climbing and acting at the same time, Ford took extra care to make sure the set was not too challenging to climb. “I wanted them to be able to tap into their emotions and feelings without being winded,” they said. They determined that the maximum height should be no more than 10’, except for the final climb, up a very tall truss. Along the way, their professors were invaluable to them, including Pamela Rodriguez-Montero, assistant professor of costume design, and Ming Chen, professor and resident designer.

“Ming has so much knowledge to offer, and ever since the first days of scenic design, she took a very strong interest in me and has been so very supportive of me,” said Ford. Chen said that Ford’s “spirit of experimentation and attention to detail are admirable. I would use 'explosive' to describe their working style. They contemplate a lot before putting their hands on a project. So, they were usually the last one to start, but the first one to finish a project, and the results were often impressive.”

image of jess ford on stage in cheerleader costume
(Image, above, Ford in "She Kills Monsters" produced by Elm Street Cultural Arts Center.)

What is also impressive is that Ford continues to act, never straying too far from their original passion, remaining the master of their fate. 

“A lot of times I auditioned, and I wasn’t what KSU needed at the moment, so I was like, certain roles are better than no roles at all, so I threw myself into auditions at community theaters, and was cast left and right.” One of their favorite roles was Meredith in “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” at LiveArts Theater; they also were cast in “Living Dead in Denmark” at Pumphouse Players in Cartersville.

Their plans after graduation include set design, although they admit questioning themselves as to whether or not they are really good. A recent accomplishment may provide affirmation: Ford placed first in Set Design, College Category, in the Georgia Theatre Conference.

(Image, below, of Ford's winning set design.) 

set design model of junked vw bug in yard

Rodriguez-Montero said, “Jess is a well-rounded artist who can navigate both design and performance in a bold and beautiful way. They have been a key component to our department and scenic shop. Jess is a fearless leader and collaborator, and I am so proud of their success and talent.”

--Kathie Beckett