As a child, Olivia Marie Jones “wanted to sing all the time.” She loved classics like “Annie” and “Aladdin” and knew she would pursue performing.
Of course, there are many paths to this career, and Olivia wasn’t always sure hers included college.
“I know that in this field, you don’t necessarily need the piece of paper to prove you’re good,” she says.
But she chose Missouri State’s musical theatre program, where she gained much more than that piece of paper.
She says, “I’ve grown exponentially.”
“It’s what makes me the artist I am today. I got voice lessons and acting lessons and dance lessons. I’ve gained confidence.”
Olivia credits the professional leadership provided by Dr. Kurt Heinlein and Robert Westenberg, coordinators of the acting and musical theatre programs, for this growth — along with the example and mentorship of the department’s many female faculty members.
For example, Sarah Wilcoxon, assistant professor of dance, gave her a boost of confidence at the moment she most needed it.
“She told me, ‘You’ve got to start believing in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will.'”
And she felt similar support in acting classes with Sarah Wiggin, associate professor of theatre, who Olivia says “is really rooting for us. She takes time to make sure we understand our characters. She always told us to never judge our characters.”
If it sounds like Olivia soaked up the knowledge and experience around her, it’s because she did. And her dedication paid off. She appeared in four departmental productions and won roles in four seasons of Tent Theatre.
Olivia also performed in productions around Springfield, such as “Ragtime” at Springfield Contemporary Theatre. She was a member of the Giving Voice performance company, which uses theatre to “assist leaders in the academic, business, and community fields to address issues of oppression, microaggression, and discrimination.”
Olivia found enormous value in the opportunity to receive feedback from industry professionals on both coasts. It provided new ways to think about her work and a deeper understanding of the audition process.
Despite considerable on-stage commitments, Olivia found time to pursue another interest: American Sign Language (ASL).
A family friend first exposed her to ASL, and “when I came to college, I realized it was something I could expand on” through courses in the department of communication sciences and disorders.
And Olivia hopes to knit this interest to her career in performance. “We need to keep opening up the incredible experience that is musical theatre to the incredible community that is the deaf community. I love learning how different a story can be based on the signs you choose and how you present your body. It adds another layer.”
It also resonates with Olivia’s commitment to inclusion and representation, something she felt deeply when she experienced “The Color Purple” in New York.
“I have never felt so closely related to a show in my life. All the people on stage looked like me, and I thought, ‘I can do that, too,'” she says.
“So I’m not just trying to prove this to myself, but also to someone else who wants to see a person who looks like them up there, too.”