San Diego State University College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Jesca Prudencio Talks Teaching, Directing, and Taking Risks

A Conversation With New Head of Directing, Jesca Prudencio

Jesca Prudencio Talks Teaching, Directing, and Taking Risks

Jesca Prudencio

February 20, 2019

Interviewed by Adam Parrocha (MFA, Scenic Design); edited by Dr. Katie Turner (TTF)

What interested you about SDSU?

This opportunity was really exciting to me because I care really deeply about the San Diego theater scene. I think it’s growing and it’s hungry and there’s a lot of really exciting work happening through different kinds of forms. After directing Vietgone at San Diego Rep in February [2018], I felt some unfinished business. It was so hard to leave San Diego after doing that production. So when this opportunity came up soon after that, it felt right to come right back.

So two parts, just artistically being excited about San Diego, the theater community, and also wanting and being excited to foster young and emerging artists in a school setting is a passion of mine. It’s always, always been a passion of mine because teaching, and my work as a director in creating theater…it’s the same, not two separate things. My classroom feels like the rehearsal room so it just feels right to continue my creative work here at San Diego State. I just finished teaching a site-specific Shakespeare class, mainly because I knew I wanted to teach Shakespeare, but I wanted to share our work outdoors. The campus is a fantastic place for performance. The school itself has inspired me in a lot of ways, especially wanting to bring the work outside, because we can.

Were you aware of any buzz about SDSU? Were you aware of the program and what was going on here?

I was familiar with the musical theater program, but not much more. When this position came about, I began my own research asking around the theater community. It was truly shocking and exciting how many SDSU alumni I actually knew. I have worked with several alumni just directing at San Diego Rep and seen several alumni perform just watching theater around town. The TTF alumni of State run this theater town, they seriously do.

What do you bring to TTF? What makes it a good program for students?

In addition to living in San Diego, I continue to maintain strong connections to the professional, larger theater community. I’m working constantly at regional theaters nationally, while producing my own work with my company People Of Interest, internationally. I bring connections and an awareness of the community on a global level. I’m excited to bring students into my creative process, and be part of my professional processes moving forward. But what I think is most exciting about State is the variety of classes we offer. Our students have so many exciting options to pursue

different interests and passions. It’s fantastic. That is so important, because at the end of the day when students leave SDSU, all they’ll have is their work ethic, their talent, their portfolio, and each other. SDSU is the ideal place to develop these things.

What’s the balance for you finding things that are commercially going to help the University but also pushing students to take risks?

We’re in a place where people can watch Netflix and Amazon Prime to experience these fantastic stories while sitting on their comfy couch. So I do think we have an obligation to create work that gives them a reason to be there…in person. I believe that entertainment is not a bad word, that work can be exciting and entertaining, but also have a lot of meaning.

I encourage my students to take risks every day. It’s harder to take risks when you have the artistic director breathing down your throat and they’re worried about reviews and selling tickets. I want SDSU to be a place where we can all take risks and it doesn’t mean we have to do something that’s always off the beaten path. Even within a Shakespeare or within a Chekhov, how can we make a leap? I personally don’t take on projects that aren’t difficult. School is the time to do the difficult and not fear failure. That’s where the real learning begins.

I hope to foster theater artists who are both dreamers and entrepreneurs. I hope to ignite a fire in my students to seek opportunities that fit them, or if not, make them! Any major opportunity I’ve gotten has been because I was passionate, personable, and prepared. My last two productions in San Diego were Vietgone and Actually at San Diego REP. My designers and I took huge risks with the design, and both productions received several nominations for the Craig Noel Awards by the San Diego Critic’s Circle. Taking risks pay off!

What’s it like to work with professional actors versus student actors?

For me it’s about knowing that they are in a process, that maybe the process of an actor is still new to them. I become part acting teacher, part director to them. I find that many student actors don’t know how to prepare for rehearsal. When I work with professional actors my assumption is that they do this work beforehand, they’ve figured out who they are, they’ve made choices, and they’re off book, so they come to rehearsal and they’re ready to work with me and begin the conversation and get it on its feet and try new things. But maybe for students they don’t know, or they’re still figuring out what that preparation process is. I know that I need to take a heavier hand in helping them. But otherwise I expect that same professionalism and respect in rehearsal here and in the real world. Especially if students are majoring in theater and this is something that they want to do. They need to experience what a professional setting is, so creating that space is important to me.

Do you have any audition tips?

I want to meet the human being, not the “actor.” I want to know, yes, what do you bring to this role, but also I’m going to be spending a lot of time with you, so I want to know who you are as an individual. Be comfortable in your own skin and be yourself from the moment you walk through that door. Confidence is essential.

How do you convey your ideas to the design team?

I begin with why this play is important to me now, personally. The big rule for myself is that I can’t direct anything if I don’t have a personal connection to it. That’s just who I am. I just create from my heart and from my soul. So I start with the personal and then from there I want to have a conversation with the designer on just that. Why is the designer interested in this play? What does it make them think of? It’s just a conversation about why the play is important to us NOW. And then from there I’ll have some images and say this is how I think I want to tell the story, this is the play-world we’ll create. Then I hope that the designer will be asking me a lot of questions and even pushing back and even coming up with more ideas. I want my whole design team to be obsessed with this play with me.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

I would say that directing Vietgone was my proudest project yet. It struck me on many levels, especially investigating being the daughter of immigrants coming to America, and how we own our parents’ narratives. Also, just the play itself…the love story. It was

incredibly physical and fun and wild, with hip hop and dance. It also had a lot of heart. Artistically it was very me on a lot of levels. It was the first Asian-American play San Diego REP had ever done, and it was the highest grossing show of the season. It sold out, and everyone, all audiences and everyone involved, was so proud of the work. It was then that I felt, ‘I don’t want to leave San Diego yet.’

If you could drop everything right now to go see a show, what would it be?

Oh, gosh! I would have to say… I would probably go to Sleep No More in New York City. That’s where I’m at right now – just the immersive and the intimate. This experiential dance theater adaptation of the Scottish play breaks boundaries, and I never ever get sick of it. That’s what I would like to see right now.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

More PSFA Stories