We met half-asleep, early in the morning, cups of coffee clutched in our hands.
The interim artistic director of New Stage Theatre, Francine Thomas Reynolds, has been at the theater for a number of years, involved in teaching, acting and directing. She was the education director from 1989 to 1995.
Earlier this year, she received a call from New Stage asking her to consider becoming interim artistic director because Patrick Benton, the previous director, was leaving. "If they do open up a search for a permanent director, then I will apply. It's a big job," she says.
Reynolds is originally from Michigan and has a theater degree from Northern Michigan University. She went to graduate school in Boca Raton at Florida Atlantic University.
"I had to do an internship at Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock," she says, sipping her coffee. While there, she met people from New Stage and they brought her in to audition. They cast her in "Steel Magnolias," as the hairdresser, in 1989.
"I was just happy to have work in a professional theater," she says, "because in my mind, I was going to hang onto it for a while. I was never one of those to say, 'I'm going to New York or L.A.'"
Reynolds' goal was always to be a working theater artist, doing what she loves.
In college, she attended the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford, England. For six intense weeks, she studied Shakespeare's literature, deepening her understanding of the master beyond drama.
To add to her knowledge of all things dramatic, Reynolds has also done casting for commercials, movies and theater since 1995. "People were calling me back in 1989 while I was working at New Stage and asking for actors. They always wanted them to work for free, and I didn't think that was right," she says. So she started Connections Casting, which pairs actors with businesses and directors, and ensures they are paid.
Reynolds helped cast "My Dog Skip," "The Ponder Heart" and "Ghosts of Mississippi," among others, when the movies were being filmed in Mississippi.
She directed "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" at New Stage, and directs "The Crucible," their current production.
"We had open auditions recently, and we were so thrilled and impressed with all of the talent," she says.
Reynolds says she wants to stay in Jackson and pursue an artistic life for as long as the city will have her. "It's a challenge, because we have a small staff and there's a lot to get done," she says. "It's fun though—lots of fun."