SPOTLIGHT: UNLV alumnus and Children’s Theatre Company Director Jill Jensen shares her experience and advice for students

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According to the Children’s Theatre Company website, the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) is the largest theater company for young people in the United States. Serving over 250,000 guests annually, the CTC is the only young-audience theatre company to win the Tony Award for regional theatre. 

At its core, the CTC serves a wide variety of different young audiences and maintains its focal point of serving as children’s first theatre experience. To achieve this level of audience enthusiasm, enjoyment and success, a team of highly talented people is needed to pull off such an operation.

This team includes UNLV alumnus and Director of Finance Jill Jensen. Jensen moved to Las Vegas in 1990 with her husband and attended UNLV with a Master’s in Theatre in 1993. With a concentration in theatre, she also designed her master’s program to integrate management classes into her theater classes. 

“My master’s program really helped me. I had an undergrad degree [from] Concordia College, MN in accounting and theater and my master’s program helped me get a better perspective for playwrights and understanding the point of view of directors and playwrights helps me be a better finance director.”

In daily operations, Jensen is responsible for managing both theatre functions and their relation to the financial performance of the company as a whole.

“We serve a multi-generational audience. We are a $13 million dollar organization. As director of finance, I’m in charge of the accounting functions, along with the budgeting process and monthly financial statements,” Jensen said. “I help grant writers as they are developing a budget and reporting to our funders about the use of their money. It’s a numerical picture for the funders and their fund use.”

With any job, there are certain areas that bring a great sense of satisfaction and for Jensen, it has nothing to do with the numbers, but more about the core audience; children. She describes her great joy in seeing the children enjoy the show and learning to unleash their imaginations for the first time.

“The best part of my job is actually being able to watch children come into the theater. We have busloads of kids who come to see our performances at a greatly reduced rate. We have a balcony that overlooks the theater and sees the anticipation of the kids, knowing they’re going into an experience that will unleash their imagination and curiosity. Young people are some of the most important people on the planet, and instilling values of inclusion and respect for each other is the most significant part.”

Jensen points out that her two children are being raised to attend theater performances and seeing the positive impact it has on their life is something she wishes to bring to her community as well. Along with the main performances, the CTC hosts summer programs geared towards teaching children how to use their imagination and build up essential theater skills.

A key dogma Jensen offers to those in and outside of the theater is that theater skills are equally applicable off the stage: “Theatre skills can be applied to so many areas of a person’s life. I hope people will understand that theater skills are life. Theatre Shows are like complex life situations. If you’re learning about acting, you’re learning about improvisation. These are skills anyone can use in their life.”

Like most theatre companies, CTC experienced a plethora of difficulties and challenges during the pandemic. The CTC was shut down for 18 months, unable to have audiences or earn any income.

“The sheer amount of budgeting we had to do and cash flow analysis that helped sustain us and keep us going was challenging,” Jensen said. “We’ve been able to return to the full-programming model and make some difficult decisions to return back to our normal programming.”

“CTC, I like to think that we are being planful and being stable and trying to be very careful about getting around the challenges. We like to do shows that hit on important issues and make the audience think.”

Reflecting on her time at UNLV and CTC, Jensen emphasizes the need for networking and striving for excellence in whatever field you choose to pursue. She shares the following advice for UNLV students to consider.

“Networking is very important. Alumni will often like to help someone who came out of the same school they did. Find those people who will help you get through the door and help. It’ll help you in the theater since theater workers work in multiple theaters.”

“Empathy is super important. Understanding the story of those around you and how they want to be treated. It’s not just treating others the way they want to be treated,” Jensen concludes,  “but how they would want to be treated. Even if you’re not a theater major, go to performances and learn. If an accounting major can make it through an acting class, anyone can come out the other side with benefits.”

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