Chris Jackson ’20 remembers being a first year and meeting new people on Fountain. As a senior, he’s still talking to, engaging with, and collaborating with new people all the time, but in ways his first-year self would’ve never imagined. If he’s not working at the Center for the Arts (CFA) Box Office or sound designing for a Second Stage Production, he’s probably hanging out with his fellow Alpha Delta Phi members or working on a TV pilot for his senior thesis as a Film and English major. The Argus sat down with Chris to discuss how his college experience has truly been one that he’ll never forget.
The Argus: I know you’re an assistant manager at the Box Office. How’s that going and what made you start working there?
Chris Jackson: I have been working in the Box Office since my very first semester at Wesleyan. It’s a really cool job because you see so many people moving through Usdan and get to meet a lot of people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. I am a very sociable person—I like talking to people, so a public-facing job is something that really makes me happy and is something that I really enjoy.
A: Have you had any memorable experiences whilst working there? Is there anything that sticks out to you as a memory that you look back fondly on during your time at the Box Office?
CJ: Probably my most memorable experience was—I think this was my sophomore year maybe—we were selling tickets for the stuff that happens for senior week, back when you had to buy tickets for that. It was finals week. I was the only person in the Box Office, no one was working with me. My boss had gone to get lunch or something, and I ended up selling $1,300 worth of tickets in a two-hour span. It was just people coming up back and forth. So I was completing orders, taking WesIDs, handing out waivers to people, moving back and forth, and left and right. It was crazy. When my boss came back she was just like, “Oh, how was everything?” And it’s like, I literally don’t think I have worked that hard in my entire life. It was kind of crazy to be doing that whole thing by myself. But it was fun.
A: Obviously you spend a lot of time at the CFA, and part of your nomination had to do with your involvement in Second Stage. Is this something you pursued before coming to Wesleyan, or did you just become involved once you started at Wesleyan?
CJ: Before I was at Wesleyan, I worked on one show back in high school. We had to take an art class for a graduation requirement, and I got roped into being a stage hand and helping build set for a play that we were working on. I got started at Second Stage here when two friends of mine—back in my sophomore year—wrote a musical, and they were like, “Hey, we need a sound designer to work on this,” and I was like, “I literally have no idea what that entails.” I have never done that before but I thought,“Eh, why not?” So that was my first time jumping into it, and I have worked on five Second Stage Shows up to this point. I am working on my sixth and seventh—I’m working on “Nine” and “Time Again.”
A: And what have your experiences been like working on those productions? What is your role specifically?
CJ: So, for the vast majority of productions that I have worked on, I have been the sound designer. I’m doing publicity for “Time Again,” which is a little bit of a different experience. Sound designing is basically, I go through a copy of the script and I look at all the different places where there are different sound cues—so a knock on a door, a phone ring, and stuff like that. I’m the person in charge of gathering all those sounds and putting the whole thing together. Needs vary from show to show. For “Snake Oil,” there was one sound cue that made it into the show. For something like “Smart People” which I did back in junior year, it was this whole really intense production where besides just having regular door slams and phone ringings, we had this thing where—because the play took place in the time period around the 2018 presidential election in the US, we had these clips from news stories from the election—we had speeches from Barack Obama and stuff like that mixed in. That was probably the most extensive sound design I have had to do. It’s a lot of fun. It’s very interesting to see the way that you’re using sound to shape the experience of the people, and inform the way the actors are moving in the space, and stuff like that. It’s something I never really thought of before coming to Wes, but it has been something that I really enjoy doing.
A: That’s amazing. Did you have any help with this, as it’s something you said you had not done before, or did you just get thrown straight in and learn as you went along?
CJ: Part of it was learning as I went along, but I had some really good people that I learned from. I got a lot of help from people on Second Stage, but a lot of it was just me experimenting, but also just looking at what other people had done in different shows.
A: You’re also a Film and English major—how does that combination work, and how did you get to that choice?
CJ: When I came into Wesleyan, I knew that I was going to study Film for sure. I applied to Wesleyan knowing that I wanted to be a Film major. I originally wanted to double major with Computer Science because I thought one of these things is something that I am really passionate about, the other thing I’m also really interested in and it had great job security. So I felt like that would be a good road to go down, and so I took all the Computer Science prerequisites and then realized when it was time for me to declare my major that I really don’t like [it] at all. So I considered English, because a friend of mine was like, “You know English has one pre-req class?” and I was like, “Really, one, literally just one?!” Apparently, it’s a very common combination. I was doing Datamatch and one of things on there was “Actually, I’m an English and Film major,” so I guess I am like a walking cliché or something. But it’s been great. I feel like the two fields work very well together. I am very interested in creative writing personally, so the classes that I have taken have really helped me improve as a writer and also improve the skills in which I look at a piece of literature or a movie or TV. Those things are super important and I feel that doing those two majors together has been really beneficial for me.
A: Part of your major is Film, and Wesleyan has an amazing Film department. What kinds of things have you been able to pursue through that, maybe in the classroom or outside of it as a Film major?
CJ: I have worked on two different senior film theses. I assistant directed one of them last year, and this year I was a producer on my friend’s film, which is such an amazing experience. It is sort of crazy how much freedom a bunch of college kids can have just getting together, getting a crew together and making a movie. It’s sort of amazing to think that this is something that you can do while you’re still pursuing an education and getting this whole thing done, so that was a really fantastic experience. I’m working on a thesis of my own—I’m writing a TV pilot.
A: Wow amazing! What’s it about or is it a secret?
CJ: No it’s not a secret! It’s about this 21-year old Black guy who goes to a liberal arts college—very similar to Wesleyan—and because he grew up in this privileged background, he has these very specific views about race and he never thought that racism was going to be something that would be his problem. He has a younger brother who is sort of the opposite of him, where he is very politically active, very into social justice and stuff like that. When the two of them go to a party on campus, the older brother gets his younger brother really drunk, the cops show up, the younger brother mouths off to the police and he ends up getting killed in this absolutely tragic accident. So, in the aftermath of that the older brother is picking up the pieces and trying to understand what the world is really like and how his blindness of race has affected the way he has been living up to this point. He partially resolves to do the work his brother has been doing in terms of social justice, and the the big thing that he works up to is he and a larger group mastermind this plan to get the first Black female elected governor in the state where they are.
A: How did you come up with that? Does that reflect personal experiences or experiences of others at Wesleyan that have been shared with you?
CJ: I got the idea while I was taking an English class in the fall about modern narratives about slavery and my professor told us about this guy named Fred Hampton who was a member of the Black Panthers, back in the ’70s in Chicago. He was this 21-year old guy—super charismatic, super popular. The FBI was surveilling him, and the other Black Panthers at the time, and the president basically sent an order down to assassinate him because they thought that because of this charisma that this guy had, that he was going to be a messiah figure to the Black community and lead this charge against white supremacy. When my professor told me about that story something just clicked in my mind. I was throwing a bunch of different ideas around for my thesis and the fact that my professor said this idea at this time, I was like, “I have to do something along these lines.”
A: Yes, and it is so pertinent nowadays as well, which I guess really helped too. So I also know that you’re in a Greek society. Before we get into your role in that, what are your thoughts on Greek life at Wesleyan? Is it something that you thought you would be a part of when you were a freshman?
CJ: I feel like, like a lot of people at Wesleyan, I came in not being very interested in Greek life. I feel that the sort of people Wesleyan attracts are those that have a bias against Greek life in general and I really never thought about it. But I ended up—I’ve been a member of Alpha Delta since my freshman spring, so I went through and rushed as early as you possibly could. It has been an amazing experience, honestly. It’s something that has enriched my time at Wes in ways that I never thought possible. I have met so many interesting people and had so many great experiences that I feel like I would not have had, had I not been a part of Greek life. I think that Greek life is a very interesting thing especially at a place like Wesleyan, where it has the ability to be able to do a lot of good if the people in it are actively seized in making sure that it is doing those good things. So, having a space open to the greater Wesleyan community for events and parties and talks and giving back in whatever ways you can. I know that there are definitely ways in which Greek life can be harmful and perpetuate those harmful stereotypes, but I think there are a lot of good things that Greek life can do. I am incredibly happy to be a part of Alpha Delta Phi.
I think one of Alpha Delt’s strengths is that it is gender-inclusive. We have so many different types of people coming in with so many different kinds of ideas about what Greek life is and the different ways that we should be doing things on campus. I think that has made us a stronger institution as a whole because of the fact that we have so many different kinds of voices.
A: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Wesleyan community about your time here as you near graduation?
CJ: I don’t know. Being at Wesleyan has been such a weird experience as a whole. I feel like it was just yesterday that I started and I feel that I have seen how much I have changed and things have changed. I remember when I was a freshman who just had boundless amounts of energy and was on Fountain every single weekend meeting so many people, which I think is part of the reason why I got nominated—because I was always just everywhere all the time meeting so many people. It has been great. It has honestly been an amazing experience being here at Wesleyan. I’m not sure I would have had the same kind of enjoyable experience that I have had here had I gone to any other university because I think that there is something so unique about Wesleyan, the people here, and being in Middletown that I don’t think a lot of other universities can really offer.
Tiah Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.