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Leading role at JRT

Award-winning director, playwright and actor Christy Alaska Reece Vance is ready to bring a new vibe to the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre.
Vance’s selection as JRT director came in a somewhat roundabout way. She was named the theater’s new artistic director in February after having served as interim director for several months. The original choice for the position, Carmen Mandley, postponed her move to Jonesborough and later decided against taking the job due to health problems.
By then, 30-year-old Vance had already proven herself, guiding the first play under her interim leadership, “Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” to generate more than $9,000 in revenue.
Members of the JRT Board voted unanimously to recommend the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen hire her permanently, saying that she had already had a “tremendously positive impact” on the theater’s operation.
Vance is determined to continue that trend of success, which she says is the result of great teamwork.
“Everyone in Jonesborough is wonderful and very helpful,” she said. “And when we work together, it works.”
From house managers Jennifer and Mike Schmidt, to the volunteers and variety of directors for the various shows, Vance says that without the strong team, excellent board of directors and the Jonesborough community, “we couldn’t exist.”
Vance, the daughter of a career Navy man, has lived “all over the place,” but settled in East Tennessee during her high school years, living and being homeschooled in Blountville.
After graduation, she attended Northeast State Community College. It was during her first year there she discovered her passion for the theater.
“My first theater professor, Michael Aulick, inspired me,” Vance says. “When I got to Northeast State, I wasn’t sure what my major would be. I took a class with him and was thrilled with all aspects of theatre. I love everything about community theatre and how everyone works together to make something beautiful come into being.”
Vance continued her education, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from East Tennessee State University and a Masters of Fine Arts degree in acting from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
She has directed over thirty plays, many in the Tri Cities area including A Christmas Carol, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s Mulan Jr, Steel Magnolias and Twelfth Night which toured seven states in 2009.
Some of Vance’s favorite roles have included Rose in Dancing at Lughnasa, Elizabeth Procter in The Crucible and Miranda in The Tempest. She also played Laura in North Carolina Stage Company’s production of The Glass Menagerie.
As a playwright, Vance had several of her plays and screenplays produced at Regent University during her time there. She has also worked with The Drifting Theatre organization, which spends summers touring the East Coast and Midwest and conducting Actor Training Programs.
It was through her association with that organization that Vance brought her play, The Disorientation of Butterflies, to the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America.
There she was awarded an Overall Excellence Award in Directing. She served as both the writer and the director of the musical which tells the story of twin sisters, one who wants desperately to understand the mysteries of life and death; the other who is “uninterested at best”. Despite their obvious differences, the play reveals perhaps they are more similar than even they realize.
The creation of that play came as perhaps a form of self-examination, Vance says. “I was struggling with some personal issues at the time – depression in particular – and I had met and talked with so many others struggling with the same thing,” she explains.
Vance says she was inspired by those conversations to create what she calls “an edgy musical that deals with a topic not many people want to talk about.”
“A lot of people talked to me after the play and told me it helped them deal with their depression,” she added.
Even though she has a new job at the JRT, Vance says her association with the Drifting Theatre will continue, as she is currently making plans to bring the two organizations together this summer.
The Drifting Theatre group will be in Jonesborough and working at the JRT to produce a summer theatre camp during first two weeks of June, according to Vance. Classes will be open to students ranging in age from 8 to 19.
She also hints the JRT will soon announce next season’s play titles – shows she says she believes people will find very recognizable and exciting.
Vance says she will also be working hard to improve the education program at the JRT by working with former artistic director, Kathleen Buttolph.
“We have a lot of great teachers and classes and we’re hoping to build that program more,” Vance says. “We will be working with the Booker T. Washington School, producing one or two productions there.”
Other plans include making improvements to theatre’s existing space, starting a youth advisory board and developing collaborative relationships with other local theatres.
However, as Vance is fast becoming part of the community, there is a bit of confusion concerning her first name. Often listed in publicity releases as “Alaska Vance”, she is just as often referred to by her given name, Christy.
So does one call her Alaska or Christy?
Her answer, she laughs, is “yes”.
“I answer to either,” Vance says. “My stage name and pen name is Alaska Reece Vance. At other times, I go by Christy Alaska Reece Vance.”
“’Alaska’ is my avatar,” she added with a chuckle. “I used that as my handle when I was doing a college radio show. After that, it stuck. I like it because it’s different. It makes me think of freedom and the outdoors. It makes me happy.”
Time outdoors does make Vance happy, she says. When she isn’t working in the theatre, she says she enjoys spending time with her husband and their dogs and her family who all live in Bristol. She says she loves to hike, go camping and take part in other outdoor activities.
She also enjoys writing and has written two novels which she says need several more drafts.
“Maybe one of these days they’ll be good enough for other to read, but not right now,” she added.
But as far as her work with the JRT, there is no time like the present and she plans to use her best teamwork skills to make exciting things happen at the local theatre.
“I have a passion for bringing people together and encouraging people,” Vance says. “I love to see it all come together to make something wonderful happen.”