Multitalented wearer of many hats (sometimes literally), Urban Improv’s new Associate Director Jackson Jirard has worked, trained and served as a dancer, choreographer, actor, academic and more before joining our team late this summer. Here, Marketing Associate Emily Duggan asks him a few questions to introduce him to the Rehearsal for Life community. 

1. How did you first get involved in the arts?

When I was two years old, my mother accompanied me to what would become the first of many dance classes I’d take in my life. That’s not to say I fell in love at first sight, though.  In fact, I kicked and screamed for the ENTIRE 45-minute mommy-and-me class. I was such a terror that my mother kept me away from a dance studio for more than half a decade.

I did love art; it just came out differently when I was a younger person. I drew constantly, and I painted for elementary-school art contests —  even won some!  Eventually, around 8 years old, I did return to a dance studio, and there, finally, fell in love.

2. How have you carried art throughout your life? 

As I got older, dance, specifically ballet, transformed from my hobby into my lifestyle — thanks in no small part to the intensive training I received at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in south-central PA. I was always moving, a fact I loved, while perfecting my balletic and performing techniques. Despite hardships for my body type and skin color, I received encouragement from my mentors to continue pursuing dance as I graduated high school.

That said, I was also being encouraged to pursue higher education. I was blessed to have support systems, especially my momma, who in particular pushed my academic potential.  Thanks to her sacrifices, I learned what else beyond just dance that I held dear.  By high school, I adored learning about how and why people behaved the way they did. This affinity burgeoned from economics, settling soon after into psychology.

As the end of high school approached, I started looking for universities that could foster both my loves: psychology and dance.  Of them all, Stanford stood tall as my clearest choice. I applied Early Decision and got the acceptance letter on my 18th birthday.

My future wasn’t decided yet, though. What about dance? Many my age went on to try their hands at professional careers.  Should I do the same? Could I do the same? The answer was “yes.”

Approval for a gap year firmly in pocket, I began what was supposed to be my one and only professional dance year, with Ballet Austin in Texas. However, I then extended that time to dance with Sacramento Ballet — the most formative artistic year of my young adult life.

In the fall of 2013, I commenced an undergraduate career at Stanford University, and I’m very lucky to be able to look back on this time fondly. At Stanford, I began cultivating my dual identity as an academic artist, conjoining my passions for psychology and dance from their otherwise siloed niches. I won grants to research the social culture of ballet companies and conceive interventions for improving those organizations’ capacity for social and emotional wellness — in the same way that kids have counselors in school, I wanted not only dancers but every adult to have counselors in the workplace.

3. What draws you to Rehearsal for Life’s work?

Once I graduated from Stanford, I moved onto the Human Development & Psychology program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. I danced with Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, choreographed for a movie, taught many dance classes and performed in several musicals.  Unfortunately, when COVID-19 struck, all of that expression came to a screeching halt. When I came across RFL during my job search  — this small non-profit committed to uncovering students’ capacity for emotional wellness through art, all atop a platform of social justice — my curiosity was piqued. This opportunity to guide important work in spite of COVID-19, and our mission statement, drew me to Rehearsal for Life. And I can’t wait to make others just as curious about us.

4. How has fall 2020 been going for Urban Improv, and what are you most excited about as we move forward?

This fall has been full of amusing challenges, from learning to direct the filming of our video packages to figuring out how to get 8th graders to turn on their Zoom cameras! I’m excited to see how we position ourselves even more strongly in the Boston area — and beyond — and show everyone EXACTLY what RFL is made of.

5. What, generally speaking, are you hopeful for?

I am hopeful for the potential for interdisciplinary epiphanies.  Role play is what theatre will always be, and yet role-play is also a real, powerful tool used in psychology to facilitate cathartic conversations. RFL taps that truth, and I cannot wait to discover more.