Faculty in Focus: Jeanne Willcoxon

Assistant Professor of Theater Jeanne Willcoxon has established herself as one of the most enthusiastic, entertaining and engaging professors on campus with an incredibly wide breadth of knowledge. For her undergraduate education, Willcoxon attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York where she studied generalized liberal arts, which was the only major the college offered at the time. After completing her BA, Willcoxon attended the American Repertory Theater’s Advanced Theater Training Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Later, she earned her Master’s and PhD in theater theory and history at the University of Minnesota.

Currently, Willcoxon’s studies focus on post-dramatic theater – she is particularly interested in how the audience and non-actors can affect how a production is viewed by others. She has also done extensive research on feminist performance and Jacobean masques, though she jokingly laments that “no one knows what that is today.”

Before she began to teach, Willcoxon spent time acting and collaborating in Chicago, New York City and Boston.

“I had no health insurance. I had no steady income. I was fine,” she said.

Most of her time was spent doing “off-off-Broadway shows” and pieces that were “weird, wonderful stuff.” Some of her favorite roles included Nina in The Seagull, Jordan in The Great Gatsby, and both Viola and Sebastian in Twelfth Night.

“I would not recommend ever doing both roles at the same time,” Willcoxon said.

In addition, Willcoxon spent time in Germany teaching English.

Willcoxon teaches a variety of courses in multiple departments at St. Olaf. She has taught theater and also taught for the American Conversation and Great Conversation programs, as well as teaching a First Year Writing course titled “The Monstrous” that “studied what monsters really are and what that reveals about us.”

Within the theater department, Willcoxon currently teaches “Text and Performance” and the senior capstone course that all senior theater majors take in the spring. For Willcoxon, the goal of the capstone is “to educate [the seniors] on what’s happening in theater now. We are trying to see who is doing what now.”

Willcoxon’s favorite part about teaching is her students.

“I think anyone you ask will say the best moment is the students . . . I feel enlightened by the students. And I hope my students sometimes feel enlightened by me,” she said.

Besides teaching theater, Willcoxon also directs a show every year, and this spring she will direct the musical Cabaret. For this production she is particularly interested in bringing the culture of Weimar Germany into the show. While Willcoxon does not have a favorite show she has directed, she noted that directing Spring Awakening helped her as a director.

“I kind of found my voice in that production. That production opened me up to what works and what doesn’t.”

When she isn’t doing something related to theater, Willcoxon enjoys gardening, going for walks and reading mystery novels. When asked what character from Scooby Doo she would be, she said, “Velma. It just seems to fit.”