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Award-winning director leads WVU students for “Topdog/Underdog”

Jade King Carroll

Jade King Carroll is a noted director who has worked in theaters across the country. For the last month, she’s spent her days working with students in the School of Theatre and Dance at West Virginia University. 

A rising voice in the national contemporary theatre scene, Carroll is a Theatre Communications Group New Generations Future Leader Award recipient and was presented the Paul Green Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Professional from the National Theatre Conference and The Estate of August Wilson. 

Carroll happened to be free for part of the fall when WVU alumnus Eric Ting recommended the open guest-directing position at WVU for the play “Topdog/Underdog.”

“I have never worked on a Susan-Lori Parks play, and i really enjoy working with graduate students, especially graduate acting students,” Carroll said. “I love this play so I thought it was the perfect way to spend my fall, bringing my knowledge to these students, but also learning myself at a place I’ve never been.”

“Topdog/Underdog” is a historic piece that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002. The play shows audiences a slice of life between two competitive African American brothers, orphaned as children. Parks symbolically examines United States history and the power struggle between cultures and ideals with the two brothers crammed together in a studio apartment.

“The school is a safe, exciting place to attack a play like this, not that the play is safe at all, but the environment is,” Carroll said. “It feels like a necessary story to tell right now and with these students.” 

The play touches on many themes including missed opportunities and connections, self awareness and criticism and brotherly love and hate.

“There’s a lot in this play, and it eventually all comes together with the idea of the top dog, and what it costs to be the top dog, and then what it is to be the under dog and that shifting paradigm,” Carroll said. 

According to Carroll, working with WVU students has been the highlight of her residency.

Jade King Carroll with students

“The actors in the play are graduate students, and they are just about to graduate, so they’re at a point where they’re ready to go out in the world and flex their muscles, they’ve got all the tools,” Carroll said. “Then, we have undergraduate students working as designers and stage managers, so they’re in a different stage of their education. It’s exciting to watch them come into their own as they’re finding their voice and how to use it in a room.”

Jerry McGonigle, professor of acting and directing at WVU, said bringing in guest directors for students provides an unparalleled real-world experience.

“When a guest director comes to campus, they bring a different perspective and a different voice,” McGonigle said. “The experience gets our students familiar with working with a new leader, which is practical in the real-world of theatre." 

“Topdog/Underdog” begins at 7:30 p.m. September 27 and 29 and at 2 p.m. October 1 in the Gladys G. Davis Theatre at the Creative Arts Center. Tickets are available through the WVU Box Office at 304-293-SHOW or by visiting Ticketmaster.com.