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Therapeutic theater: Jazzma Pryor’s mission in creating a more equitable and supportive art world

Jazzma Pryor fell in love with theater during her junior year of high school when she was asked to put together “a little something to keep the student engaged.” Discovering her interest in the theater after her first show, Jazzma went on to Beach Drama, a theater summer camp, under the encouragement of her Gunnery Sergeant in MCJROTC, completely unaware that it would change the trajectory of her life forever.

Being a top student in almost every school course, Jazzma majored in premed chemistry entering college and was ready to become Dr. Pryor, but she never felt the passion she once experienced in that theater camp: “I’m actually pretty good at chemistry and math, but they didn’t bring me joy like theater did, and that joy was what I was chasing. I wanted that feeling again. So I contacted the theater department and told them that I wanted to audition to change my major,” she says.

Having her eldest brother violently murdered during her sophomore year of high school, Jazzma described her relationship with theater as “therapeutic”: “Theater is therapeutic for me[…]I didn’t realize how much anger I had, and theater helped me express the feelings that I didn’t have the words for at that time,” she adds. Jazzma’s eyes sparkle when she describes her experience being on stage. “I get strong butterflies in my stomach, almost to the point that I’m afraid to go on stage, but when I’m on stage, everything disappears. It’s like magic. You are so in the character that you don’t even notice the time passing,” she says.

Needing to take on a full-time job outside of her acting career to cover everyday expenses, Jazzma cares deeply about getting fair pay for the artists and equity in the art world. “Artists should be paid more. You can’t walk around without experiencing some sort of art, it’s everywhere.” She expresses her theater journey as “life-changing,” and she wants to provide the same opportunity she once kindly received to other people who lack access to resources.

Wanting to be an entrepreneur and to have her own theater one day, Jazzma came to the MSLCE program to learn about how businesses work in the creative industry. “I’d like to own a theater that is the pillar of a community. I don’t want people to just go to the theater to watch the show and that’s it […] I also want to provide educational programs and make it a space for the community. I want it to be an equitable theater that provides competitive wages, good benefits, and good retirement matching. I want it to be something the community is proud of.”

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By Olive Mingxuan Ju