What Happened When I Fell for “Smokefall”

By Jaclyn Jermyn

The first thing I noticed was the slanted set. Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet’s precarious depiction of a family home seemed ready to slide into the audience. I hadn’t seen anything like it before and it remained burned into my memory as a visceral metaphor for the characters that seemed so unsure of their footing.

This scene occurred roughly six months after the day I started writing for my college newspaper.

My editor had asked what I wanted to write about—what did I have a real interest in? Without thinking, I blurted out “theater!” At that point I had been doing theater for years, but what I thought was a way to stay in my comfort zone, set me on a career path that was anything but expected.

I’m not a native Chicagoan. I moved here to start college and by that point, had only scratched the surface of the local theater scene. Plus, I was working with the limited budget of a full-time student—I had no idea what options were out there for me. It was a friend who first told me about Goodman Theatre. One of her classes was going to a show for extra credit and they had an extra spot in their group. Tickets were only $10. Maybe I would like to tag along? 

How could I say no to that?

This wasn’t going to be just any night at the Goodman—this was College Night. For $10, college students could come to the theater, enjoy a pre-show reception that included pizza and a Q&A with someone involved in that night’s production and then, watch a play.

That first College Night production I went to—my first Goodman production entirely—was Venus in Fur. It was an experience so profound that years later, when I went to apply for my current role as Publicity Coordinator, I knew I had to talk about it.

When the College Night for Smokefall rolled around, I was hooked. This is one of the corniest things I will admit to, but the inside a theater is one of the spaces in which I feel most true to myself. Those College Nights nourished me in more ways than one. Sure, pizza being included in the cost of the ticket was a win, but those shows opened up doors to another world for me—one where I could keep watching and loving theater and make it a career. 

Each school year, the Goodman recruits 20 College Ambassadors. This select group of local, theater-loving college and university students help the Goodman with campus outreach and engagement, while also connecting fellow students with ways to interact with Goodman programming. 

In some of the same ways that my College Night experience helped me see future opportunities for myself, current College Ambassadors say that this program has expanded their horizons. “My favorite thing about College Ambassadors is being provided the opportunity to meet other students who also see theater as a vessel to talk about important issues in the world,” says Leela Wolgemuth, an acting major at Illinois State University. “I’m so grateful for the conversations we have shared.” 

For those who spend most of their time thinking about what happens on stage, being a College Ambassador is also a chance to see what happens off the stage at a theater. Maria Amenabar, another Illinois State University student who is pursuing her MFA in Directing for Theater, says, “this program has taught me a lot about the theater industry, from learning marketing strategies in our meetings, to exploring other areas like dramaturgy through conversations with Goodman artists. I have been a fan of the Goodman for years and it brings me so much joy to be able to show others the work that the Goodman does.” 

I’m not the only Goodman staff member who found a creative spark for  their future career through College Night—Institutional Giving Assistant Daryn Robinson was a College Ambassador when she was a student at Loyola University. “Being a student in this city made me constantly aware of professional development opportunities, especially from the many world-class theater companies here,” says Robinson. “This program prepared me for a career in theater by showing me all the behind-the-scenes and administrative positions that we don’t often hear about. It showed me all the possibilities, which I think ultimately landed me working in development!” 

I can still see that Smokefall set in my mind as clearly as if I was sitting in the Albert right now. It’s that fond memory and my winding path to working at the Goodman that makes me even more excited to revisit the play when it streams this month as part of the Encore series. Even virtually, I believe that theater has the power to open doors and open minds. So drink it all in and see if anything sparks—you never know what opportunity might fall right into your lap.