Alum spotlight: Jody Smith Strickler (MFA ’80)

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Jody Smith Stickler, MFA in performance, 1980

Jody’s dad was in the foreign service (CIA), and she was born in Turkey. This sparked her interest in the country’s cultural roots, and she earned her undergrad degree in Ottoman History from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. While living in Atlanta, one of her roommates’ boyfriends was teaching adult acting at the Academy Theatre and that was her first exposure to professional acting.

She auditioned for the company with an improv piece—Jody says, “I didn’t know any better”—and ended up as an apprentice company member and House Manager. After two years, she left with five other members of the company for Sarasota, Florida where they helped establish Palm Tree Playhouse, which evolved into the Florida Studio Theatre.

The Palm Street Playhouse in the 60’s

She spent time in Europe as a chamber maid in Amsterdam and as an au pair in Heidelburg, but she came back to the states when she ran out of money. After moving to Richmond, Jody set out to get a job as a waiter. One of her interviews was at the Pizza Connection on Broad St, and she noticed a theatre on the second floor called Stage Center. She ventured up the stairs and was greeted at the top with the question, “’What role are you auditioning for?’ I said, ‘What play?’ He said ‘Butley’, so I went in, auditioned and got cast!”

While at Stage Center she was the lead in Judas is Laughing by Leo Maury Erickson (retired Acting Professor).  During rehearsals they redeveloped the ending to make her character stronger. Maury said, “why don’t you do this as a graduate credit,” and that’s how Jody ended up at VCU.

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Jody (third from left) in Quilters in 1986 at Theatre IV

After graduation, she taught at VCU part time (Acting For Non Actors), ran the Box Office and handled publicity for the department. She continued to act in shows all over Richmond, and like Jo Anne Draucker, she also had a part-time job for Jerry Williams at Heilig-Meyers.

Jody working on set as a script supervisor

When Jody auditioned for a commercial with Hoey/Silverman Productions, she didn’t get cast, but she was hired as a PA, “and that’s how I got into film work. On another job Greg [Greg Hoey, film director and DOP] needed a script supervisor and he trained me.” Later that expanded into script writing.

She and her ex-husband Frank also formed their own production company, Independent Production Services. They produced commercials and training videos for 18 years. Jody continued working as a freelance script supervisor and is now retired after more than 30 years in the business. Commercial and industrial clients include Colonial Williamsburg, Circuit City, Walmart, Titmus Optical, Hardee’s Food Systems, the US Navy, and Virginia Lottery.

Jody on set

Jody also worked for an organization doing psychological role playing to help assess management styles. This eventually led to being one of the first actors in the VCU Medical School Standardized Patient Program, where actors (still today) act as patients in exercises for medical students, in order to help develop patient relationship skills. These standardized patients are carefully recruited and trained (current Associate Chair Aaron Anderson, PhD, helped start the program as a collaboration between the School of Medicine and School of the Arts to improve medical communication skills and provide an employment opportunity for theatre alumni.)

Jody (far right) in Always a Bridesmaid at Swift Creek Mill in 2018.

Jody also still acts on stage and on camera, “I’m happily retired, but I still watch casting announcements for commercials.”

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Jody in Quill Theatre’s production of Holiday Memories in 2015

Compiled by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the December 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter