Thursday, January 27, 2011
New theater chair embraces energy of the Patel Conservatory
Gigi Jennewein is still catching her breath. Since the beginning of January, when Jennewein officially joined us as theater department chair, it’s been a whirlwind of activity.
Coming from an academic environment to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where touring casts of Broadway shows might drop in to your class unexpectedly, has been surprisingly challenging and exciting.
“I didn’t necessarily realize we’re so open to spontaneity. We respond to opportunities and offer those to our students,” she said as we sat out by the river at the Straz Center last week.
It was a warm day, so she was thrilled to be outside. Though she grew up here in Tampa, she’s been in Indiana for the past 16 years, so the concept of sitting outside in January is still a novelty.
Being new to the Patel Conservatory, Jennewein appreciates the things that make us so unique, like being connected to the Straz Center.
“The environment here mimics more closely what a performer will experience in a professional environment,” she said
“When the cast of Wonderland came in and worked with the students for two hours, they were enthralled. We’re extremely lucky to have access to working artists who both inspire young artists and reinforce what we teach.”
While Jennewein has worked as an actor and director over the years as her former position at DePauw University would allow, she’s been more rooted in academics and felt that she was losing touch with the business side of the performing arts.
Show business is fast-paced and exciting, and she definitely gets that energy at the Patel Conservatory, where there’s a constant stream of activity from live performances at the Straz Center to educational outreaches and events.
“It’s been challenging yet thrilling at the same time. I’m glad to be a part of it again.”
Jennewein has a 7 year-old black lab, Abby and loves to run and sail. She has two children, Hannah, 24, who lives in Chicago, and Quinn, 22, who lives in Providence. While she’s happy to be back in Tampa, she still commutes to Indiana often to spend time with husband Bill Fenlon, head coach of the DePauw University basketball team.
“I’m actually living with my parents, in the same room I grew up in,” she laughed. It’s definitely been an interesting month as she figures out a new job, new home and a long-distance marriage.
In addition to teaching the high school acting class, she’s been working with the education department on developing a stronger theater curriculum and helping with the accreditation process. The Patel Conservatory is working towards offering academic credit for its performing arts classes.
All she can share at this point is, “Look for exciting changes in our theater program!”