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Meet Christina Jensen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christina Jensen.

Christina, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My favorite pastime has always been losing myself in a story, be it reading a novel or sitting on the edge of my seat in the theater. From church youth pageants to high school honor choir (Arrowhead Christian Academy), I loved delving into the transcendental power of live performance.

But “performance” is a sea of complexity; it can be a piece of art or a French Grand Opera. It’s been a lifelong struggle of mine to nail down my devotion to a single performance art. I’ve always felt ripped between my dedicated love for plot and character arc and my emotional passion for music. For a long time, I wavered in between these behemoths of the art world.

When I went to Westmont College, rather than choose between my two passions, I graduated with a double major: a BA in Music, and a BA in Arts Criticism, a major I created in collaboration with five professors. It combined course studies from five different disciplines: theater, visual art, dance, history, and language.

Armed with a basic knowledge of various forms of art, I attended the American Repertory Theater/Moscow Art Theater Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University. (I figured that I owed my theater side more studious attention.) As part of this program, I spent three months in Moscow, studying art, culture, and, of course, theater.

Tit-for-tat, I was still dividing myself in two. One moment my passion for music would overwhelm me, the next moment I returned to my love for theater. I couldn’t image these two harmonizing in one art form. One evening, I attended a production of Gounod’s “Werther” at the Tchaikovsky Music Center in Moscow. It was a truly glorious production in and of itself. However, its impact on me was not only the beauty of the stage. It touched my soul in a way that I had never experienced art. For the first time, I saw music and theater intertwine in perfect harmony. I wept at discovering what I had been searching for: opera.

Finally, I had found my art form! The next question was, “what to do?” I’d studied singing since I was a child, but wasn’t confident enough to compete with the incredible talent that I knew was in LA. So I decided to look for work on the other side of the table. After completing my Master’s in Dramaturgy at Harvard in 2012, I returned home and began searching for avenues to start my directing career. I had directed the musical, “The Secret Garden”, for my college, but thought it was just a lark. I had no idea that directing was soon to become my true passion and that being behind the scenes was the perfect place for me to weave stories.

After some searching, I found a local opera company who was looking for a guest director. Redlands Opera Theatre hired me to direct their second full-length show, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” When they asked me back for a second production, I was thrilled. Soon after, they offered me the position of Resident Stage Director. I gratefully accepted and remained their stage director and dramaturge for their last four years of existence.

Through one of the founders of ROT, I met Galina Barskaya, the Artistic Director of Independent Opera Company. I have directed four shows with her company and am looking forward to the end of this season and next year! Her choice of operas, especially the under-represented Russian pieces, have filled my soul with joy! Every time I pick up a Russian opera score, I am whisked away to Moscow and all of the wonderful things I saw and learned there.

Content with my whole self, I love directing opera for IOT and other local companies. However, I also continue to look for opportunities to direct both straight plays and musicals. With their own unique voices, plays and music are the perfect conduits for encouraging and teaching audiences and actors alike. I do believe the Ancient Greeks were right: performances are a way for us to lose our collective selves in story. Reflected in the protagonists, heroines, and monsters, we see our own selves in a better light.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As strange as it sounds, I liken artistic challenges to childbirth. Many mothers have told me that after their beautiful baby is born, they don’t remember the pain of labor or pregnancy traumas. It’s the same with theater productions. Every day, theater practitioners, like myself, are faced with problems: budget issues, shifting schedules, last-minute changes, etc. Producing a show can be traumatic! But, the minute the overture begins something magical happens. The frustrations and struggles dissolve in the soft stage lights. The characters come to life on stage and we experience their hope and despair in real time, living each breath-taking moment with them.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I think what sets me apart from other directors is that I am a Dramaturge, as well as a Stage Director. I begin each project with dedication to research, starting with the source material. From there, I go to the score/text. When I finally start staging, I do it with a great deal of history in mind. The creative choices I make are based in the piece’s history.

I also insist that logic rules in the rehearsal room. I strive to make each movement, each gesture logical. Musical beats are strung together by logical thoughts. If the actors don’t live each moment on stage, the audience knows they are just counting time until their next entrance. We can lose the magic of the moment so quickly.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
As a child, I was quiet and studious. I loved to read and write stories. But, I also loved to sing and perform.

A good way to summarize my childhood and personality is this anecdote: When I was three years old, I was invited to a Christmas party at my dad’s work. Mom dressed me in a beautiful red-and-white striped dress, candy cane tights, and black Mary Jane shoes. I was quiet and obedient, trying to be a perfect little lady. During the party, one of my dad’s co-workers mentioned the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” My mom said that it was one of my favorite stories and that she had read it so many times that I had it memorized. Everyone smiled, not really believing her. Dad picked me up and helped me stand in the middle of the conference table. And I began, “‘Twas the night before Christmas….” To everyone’s astonishment, I correctly recited the entire tale.

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Image Credit:
Stephany Fashempour

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