Celebrating 15 Years of Jill Summers

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June 17, 2024 | By Eli Cunningham

Celebrating 15 Years of Jill Summers

  1. What was your first day at ACT like?
    I was involved in the dropping and smashing of a donated baby grand piano inside a U-Haul. I was convinced my first day was going to be my last. Lesson learned, no amount of successful loading procedure will account for a ripped out side rail, so always check for actual weight ratings.

  2. What was the first production you worked on here?
    My UNCA professor, now close friend, Rob Bowen brought me on when I was a junior to be his assistant designer for a play called Southern Hospitality. Working on the paint treatment, I met Jack Lindsay who would become a mentor for many years and teach me most of what I know about scenic design and painting.

  3. What got you into theatre?
    I got into it pretty late, seeing my first full scale live musical in high school. It was a tour of The Music Man, and watching that house appear out of the middle of nowhere and spin around and people making trains out of benches and trunks before sitting down to bounce in unison to the movement of the train changed my life.

  4. If you could travel back 15 years and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
    Don’t bother spending years hauling around those giant foam columns donated from the Richie Rich set. You will never use them, and they’ll just take up precious space until you finally pass the curse on to some other theatre.

  5. Of all the performances you’ve seen and worked on here, do you have a favorite?
    RENT, A Chorus Line, and Rabbit Hole hold special places in my heart. One singular performance that will always be with me is Bradshaw Call’s “I Am What I Am” during La Cage the night after the Pulse tragedy.

  6. Is there a show you haven’t yet worked on that you want to see at ACT?
    I’ve always wanted to design Fun Home and Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play.

  7. What 2024-2025 season show are you most looking forward to?
    I am both excited and terrified (excitified? terricited?) to take on the technical beast that will be The Play That Goes Wrong.

  8. What are some changes you’ve been proud to witness or be part of?
    It’s been amazing seeing how we’ve grown in the last 15 years. The growth of our education department, the challenges we take on with our mainstage seasons. And how that has engaged the community, and getting to watch them be a part of it.

    I’ve been able to see multiple renovations and upgrades. The 2017 renovation, everyone was so excited about new seats and aisles but the real star of the show was no more weekly roof leaks (just kidding, it was the walkable lighting grid).

    I’m also proud to be a part of the team that kept ACT alive during the shutdown. It was a very hard time, but we made it through that long intermission. We’ve been weathering a lot of changes since reopening, but I’m very proud of where we are now and the future we’re working towards.

  9. What are you most proud of accomplishing?
    I regularly refer to the new Studio space as my life’s work. It took me 7 years to reimagine how our production spaces could operate and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to rearrange the building to create that room. The idea was that it would function as an education wing and entry hall to the lower level of the building we started funding with the 2019 Capital Campaign. When the pandemic hit and the campaign had to be diverted to staying open, I realized there was no reason I couldn’t see out this part–empty that room to create a studio to give us three functional rehearsal spaces. Being able to see the space be professionally renovated has been amazing.

    The Studio used to be my shop, I spent so many hours there as an intern and when I was first hired because all I felt confident doing on my own was sorting hardware and organizing. And while I loved that space, seeing its transformation, seeing sunlight shining in a room that’s never seen it before, is a beautiful thing.

  10. What’s one skill you’ve gained from your experience at the theatre?
    I’m pretty skilled at fiddling with malfunctioning objects until they work again. This has led people to falsely believe I have many more skillsets than I actually do.

  11. What is your favorite thing about working here?
    The people. I’ve made so many incredible friendships here, particularly with the staff and regular volunteers. But I also love the ebb and flow of people coming and going– people who get one show a year they can do per their job or spouse, people who had something come up for a while but finally have time again, people who moved back to town or just only get the show bug every few years.

  12. Who are some of the staff members that have made a significant impact on you during your tenure?
    Susan Harper
    taught me so much during our decade together, watching her steer this organization was a graduate degree in arts leadership.
    The first day I met Jenny Bunn she poked her head in while I was painting a 35below set, and I was feeling really self conscious and negative about it, and she gave me an incredible compliment that made me feel like I could do anything. And I would say that would continue to describe how it felt to work with her.
    The irrepressible Chanda “The Hair” Panda Calentine. Stomped onto my stage from day one calling it hers, who needs to fill out volunteer forms? Not her, just let me make art with you already-–Hey! Get in my brain I need you to see what I’m seeing!
    Carina Lopez, my design and runway partner in crime. So many long tech nights and opening weekend Sunday matinees spent leaning on each other to keep our heads out of the mud.
    Adam Cohen has been working with me since my internship and I owe so much to his advice and expertise, not to mention willingness to brainstorm truly ridiculous ideas with me day in and day out.

    I definitely miss a great deal of people, but I am also thrilled to work with our current staff. The energy has been reinvigorating and I’m so excited for what we can accomplish together.

  13. Are there any ACT traditions you particularly enjoy?
    Well, the new ACT staff birthday song has become a favorite, especially when we get to “sing” it in front of guests.
    Our 11 year run of The Santaland Diaries–particularly the tradition of frantically loading in The Santaland Diaries (what do you mean the floppy drive with all the light cues is corrupted?? What do you mean the power just went out because of a snow storm???)
    Divalicious (I support more board members in unitards singing “Memory”)
    A Costume Drama (I’m sorry you need a how-many-foot wide radius for the path of your dress?)

  14. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
    Look a few inches ahead and keep your other hand in your back pocket.
    Wash until the water is clear because the state of your brush is a statement about you.
    It’s all the take offs and the landings.
    A good woodgrain is about inner glow.
    You have to imagine the whole life story of the tree.
    Always save gas in the tank for Sad Passage of Time.
    Keep your casters up for victory.
    You could spend your entire life just studying stairs.
    Unplug that thing before you touch the blade.

  15.  Do you have any advice for people just getting into theatre?
    Whatever you’re doing, whatever choices you’re making, make sure it serves the story. And don’t fall for this idea that art isn’t vital to our survival as a species.

    But above all, don’t let men at hardware stores talk down to you.

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