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THE TALKING STUDIO [Ep.04] Allison Epperson, Jacob Brown, and Olivia Rocco

THE TALKING STUDIO [Ep.04] Allison Epperson, Jacob Brown, and Olivia Rocco

Daniel J. King | Mar 19, 2018

Talking Studio: Episode 4

From left: Olivia Rocco, Honors Tutorial College theater student (class of 2020), Allison Epperson M.F.A. candidate in directing (Class of 2018), and Jacob Brown, M.F.A. in scenic design (class of 2019). Photos by Rick Sheridan, Matt Love, and Logan Lirette. 



Ask anyone in the arts and they'll likely have a story to tell about the intertwined connections with other artists, and how almost any gig might present a door or a window to another project. This interwoven social fabric materializes in the college environment like no other. Today we present a conversation with three students of theater, who live, work, study and play together, in the Theater Division at Ohio University.

Allison Epperson, who is in her final year in the M.F.A. directing program at OHIO, brings an infectious energy to the underground recording room where we had our conversation. Scenic designer, Jacob Brown came to graduate school after what he describes as a work-induced heart attack, but shows no signs of slowing down. Olivia Rocco, a second-year undergraduate Honors Tutorial College student with an interest in directing and yoga shares how she brought Young Jean Lee's Church to life!

Allison Epperson
Third year M.F.A. candidate served as assistant director for Tantrum Theater's production of Caroline, Or Change last summer, alongside Robert Barry Fleming and an award winning cast, what she describes as “an amazing experience! Such a synergy of people. From day one, a different mix of personalities, ages, cultures, backgrounds and education, but we came together for this play that celebrates, and deals with the conflict of those cultures,” said Epperson.

“My husband and I had been working on tour for a children's theater for over a decade and we both wanted to become more involved with theater for adults. We hadn't used those tools in some time and wanted to make some new connections, so going back to school seemed very attractive. We looked at schools that were accepting students for acting (husband) and directing (me) at the same time or close to the same time, and OHIO was one of the schools that lined up with our search.”  

As Epperson puts it, her previous work “dressing up as a leprechaun, a star fish, and hanging out with sea horses, coyotes, and country folk,” was beginning to feel limiting!


TOP GIRLS, directed by Allison Epperson, 2017

Top Girls, as directed by Allison Epperson, November, 2017, E.E. Baker Theater, Ohio University. Photo by Sydney Honaker.


Epperson's thesis production, directing Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, November 2-11, 2017 in the E.E. Baker Theater in Kantner Hall at Ohio University. The play examines the role of women in society and what being a successful woman means.

“People responded most strongly to the fact that women are still struggling to break through the glass ceiling as they were in the 1980's.  Many parallels were drawn between it and the current climate in workplace as it pertains to women,” said Epperson.

A stint at the Actor's Theatre of Louisville is in Epperson's near future, as assistant director to Margot Bordelon on Mara Nelson-Greenberg's Do You Feel Anger, March 9-April 8, as part of the 42nd Humana Festival of New Plays.

See more of her work online:


Scenes from TOP GIRLS, directed by Allison Epperson, with stage design by Jacob Brown.

Images from the 2017 production of Top Girls, with stage and set designs by Jacob Brown 2017. Photos by Daniel Winters, artwork by Jacob Brown.


Jacob Brown

Jacob Brown began his second year as an M.F.A. scenic designer following a summer as assistant scenic designer with Tantrum Theater. From Bakersfield in Southern California, about two hours north of Los Angeles. Brown studied acting as an undergraduate, he fell in love with stage design. Before coming to Athens, Brown did 22 shows as a scenic designer with a community theatre called Stars Dinner Theatre, which he describes in detail in our conversation.

“The day I got hired, everyone quit. From then on, I designed the stage, built the shows, painted the sets, and everything in between. So was scenic designer, technical director, charge artist and more! With this experience I knew I was wearing myself out so I decided on grad school so I could refine my focus on just scenic design and let someone else worry about building and painting my work.”

He discovered The University Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA), which connected him to Tantrum Theater in 2016, Brown serving as charge artist/painter for the inaugural season. This connection in combination with his search for a graduate program led him to the Ohio Theater Division program.

For the recent OHIO production of Top GirlsBrown designed a rotating stage with multiple performance spaces supporting a wide variety of interior and exterior scenic locations within the narrative. Brown was concerned about how to display the world of the play without being overly literal about women's sufferage, and the themes buried in the narrative.

In December, he had the chance to continue working with Scenic Designer Jason Ardizzone-West, who he assisted on Tantrum Theater's Caroline, Or Change, this time in designing the set for Lana Del Ray's recent Lust for Life  national concert tour. 

Brown is excited to be working as Associate Set Designer for Jason Ardizzone-West on Three Wise Guys at the Beckett Theatre (New York City) running February 28-April 14, 2018. 

Find out more about his work here:


Scenes from CHURCH by Young Jean Lee, directed by Olivia Rocco, 2017.

Scenes from Church, by Young Jean Lee, as directed by Olivia Rocco at Ohio University fall 2017. Photos by Riley Perone.


Olivia Rocco

Currently a sophomore in the Honors Tutorial College and a theater major, Olivia Rocco has a focus in directing and devising, and a love for teaching yoga.

“I am from Ohio, so coming here was always on my radar, but once I discovered the Honors Tutorial College (HTC) program I was really intrigued. After coming to campus and meeting professors and faculty in both the HTC and the theater department, it was an easy choice. I always feel inspired in Athens and our department offers so many opportunities to young and eager artists like myself. The passion of the professors is what really brought me here.”

Last summer Rocco served as an assistant stage manager for Caroline, Or Change, with Tantrum Theater, working closely with director Robert Barry Fleming, to bring this Tony Kushner musical to life. 

“It was really incredible. It was my first time in a professional theater environment, getting to see the talented artists on the design, and directing side, and also the actors were amazing.”

As the assistant stage manager, Rocco was present behind the scenes, from actors scripts, to costume changes, to rehearsal spaces, she was there to keep things running smoothly. 

Last fall, Rocco was assistant director to Shelley Delaney, for the main stage play In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, by Sarah Ruhl, on stage from October 5–7 and 10–14 in the Forum Theater at Ohio University.

Rocco had the chance to direct and produce Church by Young Jean Lee, in November, an experience she shares in our conversation. With expert guidance from Rebecca VerNooy, associate professor of performance, and working with a tiny budget, Rocco dug into the script.

“Directing and producing Church was a truly amazing experience. Each person brought a different relationship to faith into the room, which inspired a lot of fascinating and difficult dialogue about how we construct, enact, and share our belief systems. I felt very lucky to work with such a dedicated, risk-taking team on the project. Ultimately we presented a work that opened up new conversations among the audience members, which was a major goal for the production,” described Rocco.

As for the rest of the year, Rocco plans to explore dramaturgy and design, while also spending some time devising her own original work, working closely with Dennis Delaney, her tutorial professor.



Talking Studio 
A project of the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University. 
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Talking Studio is an audio discussion series making space for the creative work and experiences of students in the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University. By engaging in discussion, Talking Studio hopes to acknowledge and illuminate the spectrum of interests and variety of concerns driving students in their research. 

Podcast Music: Snippets of music by artists Komiku and Pedro Santiago used under the creative commons attribution, and found on the Found Music Archive.

Production, Writing: Daniel King
Graphic Design: Shiva Ghasemi and Marylin Krupa

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