Josef taking Theater in exciting directions

May 6, 2021
Lauren Josef talks with a student

Theater and Dance Department Chair Lauren Josef graduated from James Madison University with a degree in musical theater performance and earned her master’s degree in costume design from Southern Illinois University. In 2015, she accepted her first part-time position at the Academy, collaborating with colleagues to create unified theatrical and dance productions and instructing Exeter Summer students in clothing design and construction. Josef joined the full-time faculty in 2018 and was named chair of the department in 2020.

“It’s important that we create an inclusive department where we’re telling stories from people of all identities.” In Josef ’s first year as Theater and Dance Department Chair, she found inspiration and opportunity working through the pandemic and channeling the famed theatrical expression “The show must go on!” Notably, she arranged a series of Zoom chats between current students and Broadway performers and crew members to share their experiences and oversaw the installation of live-streaming equipment that makes it possible for remote learners and family members to watch student productions. When indoor audience size was limited due to health and safety protocols, she spearheaded the build-out of a new outdoor stage on the David E. and Stacey L. Goel Center lawn.

“It’s important that we create an inclusive department where we’re telling stories from people of all identities."
Lauren Josef

With nearly a quarter of the student body collaborating on theater productions each year, Josef and her department think broadly about how to appeal to such a diverse group. “I see what a great institution Exeter is, and I also see the potential for change,” she says. “I want to serve our students in a way that is current and exciting.” As part of a new initiative in 2020, the theater and dance department began focusing on a singular, unifying theme each year. The inaugural theme was “identity,” and guided decisions about everything from which plays to read to the choreographers invited to campus. “We really want to honor the traditions of the school, that canon that the school has paid such close attention to,” Josef says, “but it’s important that we bring in new voices, that we create an inclusive department where we’re telling stories from people of all identities.”

Connecting a student’s intellectual and physical abilities is at the core of the theater and dance curriculum. “Theater and dance offer opportunities for hands-on learning,” Josef says. “When students are up on stage or working in the tech crew, they can be very present and focused. It really allows them to create relationships with each other and, depending on the play that we’re doing, it allows for some really great conversation and Harknessing on stage.”

Inspiring all of Josef ’s work is the student experience. “I have a card on my office wall that the “Wizard of Oz” cast gave me,” she says. “Katie Reid ’21, who played Dorothy, wrote, ‘I’ve never felt so confident in myself, thank you for bringing that out of me.’ That’s why I do this.

Wizard of Oz performed at Phillips Exeter Academy.

The Exeter Bulletin

Space that performs