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In My Own Words: Jessie McLaughlin '17

This past winter, with the help of a few friends, I adapted the 1971 play, Cowboy Mouth, by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, and shared it with the students and faculty of the Theatre Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers. Those who know the original play may no longer recognize it in this form. In this unique, physical adaptation, in which I take what was once a play and turn it into a dance piece (still making use of all original text), I wanted to explore the absurdity of reality as eight tangled limbs grapple with dependency, control, and what it means to be a savior. Staging this work was an exhilarating, breakneck process, but I found myself dissatisfied. My work with this piece was not over. 

I submitted my work to Gibney Dance—a movement organization whose work in social justice and the uplifting of new voices I greatly admire—never thinking it would go anywhere. Within a week of submitting the materials, I was invited to present Cowboy Mouth in September at Gibney Dance in New York City alongside a marvelous team of alumni from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Rutgers. 

I was thrilled for us to perform as part of Gibney's POP program (Performance Opportunity Project). POP serves the dance community by providing space and support for performances to non-profit companies and individual dance artists. It has certainly been a learning curve so far, but my time at Pingry has toughened me up for the stress of directing a dance show in New York! The workload is tremendous; but having a stage manager at my side certainly beats facing it all alone in high school! Managing the company as well as my education, however, has been a challenge. 

This past spring, I made the decision to leave Rutgers after completing two years in their acting conservatory at Mason Gross School of the Arts. Although I remain (at least in part) an actor, I found myself hungry for directing training as well as experience in live performance media. These interests I uncovered while working on my Independent Senior Project during my final semester at Pingry: directing Ballyturk, by Enda Walsh. Moving forward, I plan to take this time to broaden my artistic craft before returning to university to complete my undergraduate degree which, of course, includes my work on Cowboy Mouth

My spectrum of work or understanding, rather, of what is possible in the realm of live performance has certainly expanded since graduating from Pingry. Musical theatre no longer holds a place as my primary theatrical interest like it did when I was in Seussical, 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, Cabaret, or Curtains. Those years under the watchful eyes of Mr. Romano and Mrs. Romankow, however, set me up handsomely for the work I do. I know now to find my joy and fight for it. To those Pingry artists who are scared to do what you love: find it, fight for it. It's worth the struggle.

Cowboy Mouth will run from September 5 to September 7 in The Theater, Gibney's performance space at 280 Broadway. 
Purchase tickets today!

Photo: Jessie performing in Dead End at Rutgers University, November 2018.

Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer,