Soul Sister: Jessica Thebus, Theater Director and Professor
According to Shakespeare, "all the world's a stage," but when it comes to commanding the theater scene right here in Chicago, Jessica Thebus knows a thing or two about how to entertain an audience. The educator and theater director has taught extensively for the past 20 years and holds a PhD in Performance Studies. At Steppenwolf Theatre Company, she has directed Sex with Strangers, Intimate Apparel, Dead Man's Cell Phone, No Place Like Home, When the Messenger is Hot, and Sonia Flew. Thebus' production of Richard III (starring The Gift Theatre's Artistic Director Michael Patrick Thornton) opens in March in Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre.
At the Goodman Theater, she has directed The Clean House and Stage Kiss —both by Sarah Ruhl—as well as Buzzer by Tracy Scott Wilson. Thebus' work has also been seen at Northlight Theater, Writer’s Theater, The Piven Theater Workshop, About Face Theater, Lookingglass Theater, Next Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Redmoon Theatre, and Court Theater —whew! With all that time spent directing others, we found out how Thebus likes to decompress after giving so much of herself to others.
How she unwinds:
"Since I am a director and also a theater professor at Northwestern, I get used to a lot of adrenaline coursing through my day. Being in rehearsal and teaching theater both require not only energy but creative focus, so most often I want to try to create and maintain a kind of energized zone where I can connect with my instincts and impulses and not let doubt or self-consciousness get in the way. All to say that unwinding is both very hard and very important. There are a few things that work for me. I try to go for a walk every day, between 30 and 60 minutes. The more I maintain this habit, the easier it is to unwind. It’s a combination of being in my body rather than my head, being alone and quiet, and being mindful. If my mind is very loud with chatter about the play or the class or my meetings today, I listen to podcasts. There are so many that are amazing, but my favorite is On Being with Krista Tippet. The people she interviews are so brilliant and such deep thinkers, that I am able just to absorb a wise person's way of thinking and seeing with each one. This gives a great perspective to a wide world of visions and options, when I am glued to the tunnel vision of one play, one scene, one actor, one set of choices."
"I like making things and I make plays for a living, so sometimes I need to channel all that making-energy into something else to create balance. I love to make things with my hands that have no pressure or expectation around them. It's even better if it’s something I am not particularly good at. I crochet sometimes, and just make patterns up by myself so I don't have to think too hard. I sometimes paint or write stories, collages, linoleum cuts, making dolls with my daughter, little art projects, gifts, whatever. I love the process of creating without any doubt or consequence, and I think that lets me be more open and present to my family when I am not working."