Senior Barrett student Jessie Jo Pauley takes the stage in Phoenix Theatre’s Kinky Boots

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October 2, 2019

Since she was eight years old, Jessie Jo Pauley, a senior Barrett Honors College student and broadcast journalism major, has loved theater. Sitting in the audience of a production of Mulan Junior as a girl, Pauley turned to her mother and told her, “I love being in the audience. But I'd rather be on stage.”

Jessie Jo Pauley started her acting career at the age of 14. She has appeared in more than 40 productions. Photo by Jessica Frieling

 

 

At 14, Pauley’s theater career took off when she landed her first role as Chip in “Beauty and the Beast.” Since then, Pauley has appeared in more than 40 shows.

In 2015, she won an ariZoni Award as Best Actress for her role as Morticia in Actors Youth Theater’s production of “The Adams Family.”

She currently is an ensemble member and plays the character of Nicola in The Phoenix Theatre Company’s production of Kinky Boots.

“Kinky Boots is really fun because, you know, you have this whole element of drag. And so just to see all the angels walk out and they look fierce and they have their makeup and they're dressed to the nines and it's just a fun environment to be in,” Pauley said. “The score is so much fun to sing. I’ve really enjoyed myself.”

Being both a student and professional actress, Pauley manages a less conventional schedule than many of her peers. “Theater is not, per se, like a regular job where you have a certain amount of hours, you can take off hours, you can cover someone’s shift,” she said. “It's like, no, you have to be there three to 11 every single day. And there's no ifs ands or buts.”

Jessie Jo Pauley as Dorothy in the 2015 production of "The Wizard of Oz" at Hale Centre Theatre. Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw.

 

Though her work load is considerable, Pauley is used to balancing it all. Having begun her acting career at a young age, Pauley has had time to learn how to get homework done when she is not on stage. The most difficult part of her busy schedule is having so little time to rest.

“You really have to know how to pace yourself and when to take a step back and be like, I can't go out tonight. I need to sleep,” she said.

Along with working at the theater, attending classes and developing her honors thesis focusing on women in theater, Pauley holds an internship at Right This Minute, a nationally syndicated viral video show.

“I absolutely love it. I'm getting a lot of hands-on experience with editing and writing, which I think are probably the two most important tools that broadcast journalism students can have,” she said.

Pauley is the president of the ASU chapter of Asian American Journalists Association and worked at Cronkite News over the summer. One of her favorite projects from her time at Cronkite News is a story she did on a young gay black drag queen.

When she was working on the story, Pauley paid special attention to making sure she was portraying her interviewee accurately. 

“You don't ever want to offend anybody, especially when it comes to news, you always want to make sure you ask the right questions like, what are your preferred pronouns? Would you like me to address you as your birth name or your drag name?” she said. “I was really proud that all those components came to make I thought, a great package. And that's the one that you know, my family and friends were like, ‘Oh, I love watching that one.’”

People often ask her why she did not choose to study musical theater, but attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Barrett, The Honors College was a clear choice for Pauley. 

“After touring Cronkite, I just felt like that was where I was supposed to be. There were so many opportunities that not only came through Cronkite, but also through Barrett. And both Barrett and Cronkite are so well respected that I really kind of wanted to be a part of that legacy,” she said.

Pauley will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and will be faced with choices about where she wants her experience in theater and journalism to take her. For now, Pauley is unsure whether she wants to pursue one avenue over the other but wants to keep bettering herself in both theater and journalism. What she knows for sure is that her first big move after graduating will be to New York, where she says she feels at home, then see what happens next. 

“Everyone's dream is Broadway. And you know, that would be a dream come true, but I also love journalism and love working as a reporter and going out and finding stories that really matter to people,” Pauley said. “I don’t know, it’s really wherever my heart takes me, and I think my heart will know when the time is right.”

Looking back on her journey through acting and journalism to where she is now, Pauley says her biggest challenge was facing people’s preconceived ideas about her and reassuring herself that she could achieve what she wanted, even if others doubted her.

“It's kind of like you constantly feel like you have to prove yourself. But in my experience, once you kind of let go of the idea of proving it to other people, rather than proving it to yourself that, yes, I can cover this really in-depth story, yes, I can play this really quirky, funny role that needs to make everybody laugh. That's where you begin to find yourself as a person, as a journalist, or as an actress,” she said.

As she continues in her career, Pauley hopes that her peers in the competitive atmosphere of acting and journalism remember what she deems most important — being kind to others and saying yes to opportunities.

“Know your limits, but also always try to say yes to opportunities that come to you. Because I wouldn't be the performer that I am or the journalist that I am had I said no to things thrown my way,” said Pauley. “Whether that be when you're a freshman and you come and you make all these new friends, say yes to going out with them. Or say yes to the really hard story that your professor wants you to cover. Or say yes to the reading that the local theater is doing.”

Kinky Boots is playing Wednesday through Sunday at the Phoenix Theatre, 1825 N Central Ave. in Phoenix, until October 13. Tickets are available online at tickets.phoenixtheatre.com or at the box office.

 Story by Greta Forslund, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism.

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