Jan Powell hired as new Theatre faculty


Headshot located on Professor Powell’s website.

Madison Brown and Katie Dodge

Jan Powell, Ph.D. will join Randolph-Macon College’s faculty as the new theater professor. The position has been vacant since last spring when Professor Janet Hyatshahi left her position. Powell is a Shakespeare expert  who has put on countless productions, including  Randolph-Macon’s “Measure for Measure” show this year, and expresses an enthusiasm for classical texts. Like every great theater practitioner, Powell is earnest about her productions with a penchant to monologue.

“It’s my fault,” Professor Gregg Hillmar said of Powell’s hiring, “and I’m damn proud of it.”

Powell started her career in Portland, Oregon as an actress in musical theater, but grew disillusioned fairly quickly.

“I was frustrated as an actor,” she shared.  “I actually got cast in a lot of musicals, because I could sing and dance, but I’m also very tall. And you know, people like their ingenues to be tiny things. So I was always the mother, you know, or the aunt or something. And I was frustrated with the directing I was getting. I kind of wasn’t feeling really challenged. And I started thinking a lot about, ‘what’s the world of this whole play? What’s the message of this play? What can we create together,’ you know, instead of ‘move stage left and raise your arm.’”

Her first stab at directing was a community production of “Twelfth Night,” which she says “went ridiculously well.” The experience inspired her to continue her higher education and study dramatic literature further. “I was drawn more and more to these more classic texts, and Shakespeare in particular,” she shared .

Powell wrote a master’s thesis comparing Shakespeare’s original text of “Tempest” to another setting written about a hundred years later. “I was kind of trying to get at, you know, what’s in the text that makes Shakespeare so great and so popular,” she explained. “And I didn’t discover any universal truths. But I did discover that there is really something very special about Shakespeare’s language, the way it’s put together, the way it resonates with humans, the way the characters are three dimensional and surprising and amazing.”

While working on her thesis and later her dissertation, Powell worked with Shakespeare companies around the West Coast. She started her own company, Tygres Heart, and helped to build up other programs like the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. She was invited to direct a production of “Macbeth” in Richmond, which turned into a full-time position as the Producing Artistic Director for Richmond Shakespeare, and befriended Professor Hillmar when they collaborated on a production of “The Great Gatsby at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

“We had hired [Dr. Powell] to direct “Measure For Measure” before the official search to hire a new faculty member began,” Hillmar explained. “But as the search began, I kinda prodded her a bit — go ahead and apply! Which, eventually, she did.”

Powell shared that she pushed the send button on her application to R-MC on the last deadline day in December. “Getting to know the students that are in [Measure for Measure], they just grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. So I agreed to fly.”

“Measure for Measure” closed on Saturday. It was set 25 years into the future in “an American city called Vienna.” Powell expressed that this production showed her how much freedom she can have directing a college show.

“It’s just dawning on me watching the process of these performances,” she said. “We can do what we want and need to do, and what’s fascinating and what’s important and what’s fun and we don’t have to worry about ticket sales.”

Powell will begin teaching classes in the fall of 2023.

Measure for Measure production photos courtesy of Katie Dodge.