Theatre Graduate Heading to Ohio to Train in Prestigious MFA Program

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For Kristina Jaime, acting has been her calling since the tender age of 8 when she played the role of Hodel, one of protagonist Tevye’s five daughters, in the Laredo Theatre Company’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Today, she’s one giant step closer to realizing her life’s dream of becoming a professional actress. The Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Theatre senior is one of just eight students who have been accepted into the prestigious Master of Fine Arts in Acting program at Case Western University, which is housed in the Tony Award-winning Cleveland Play House in Cleveland, Ohio, and includes a tuition waiver and a competitive stipend for three years of study and training. Jaime is one of more than 1,160 Island University graduates who will walk the stage during Spring Commencement on Saturday, May 11, at the American Bank Center in Downtown Corpus Christi.

Theatre & Dance Department Chair Don Luna said Kristina was one of more than 850 undergraduates who auditioned to the MFA conservatory program, which only admits a handful of students every two years, and added that Jaime is only the second Islander to be selected for the program.

“It was so exhilarating to be able to share this news with my family and friends – it’s like winning the actor’s lottery,” Jaime said. “I was totally crying when I got the news in the middle of a rehearsal.”

“I cannot tell you how proud I – and the rest of the faculty – are of Kristina,” Luna said. “Jeremiah Clapp, the other Islander previously admitted to Case Western, has been working professionally continually upon graduation from their program. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Luna said Case Western MFA graduates work in the Cleveland Play House in its Equity Theatre and gain membership to the Actors’ Equity Association, which will enable Jaime and other graduates the opportunity to audition for the intensely competitive professional theatres in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, to name a few.

“Like the Screen Actor’s Guild, or SAG, you cannot audition without an Equity union card and you cannot get an Equity card without acting professionally,” Luna explains. “This is what’s known as the ‘Catch 22’ of film and theatre union requirements.”

Jaime credits her original inspiration to explore theatre after she was taken to see a family member perform in a production in Laredo, Texas, where she lived until her family moved to Corpus Christi when she was 9.

“I saw my uncle Ricardo perform in a high school play when I was about 5 years old, and I was inspired by the experience because it helped people escape for a brief hour and a half; everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves and everyone had a connection with these five people on stage,” Jaime said. “I knew right away that this is what I want to do.”

In middle school, Jaime participated in speech and debate activities as well as school theatre productions. In addition, she broke into community theater portraying Gingy, the gingerbread man, in “Shrek the Musical” as well as Kate in “Legally Blonde” in productions staged by the Harbor Playhouse.

After graduating from King High School in 2015, Jaime sought to immerse herself in the thespian life at the Island University. During her freshman year, Luna staged the rock musical “Rent” and cast Jaime as Mimi Marquez, a dancer who is HIV positive and is dating Roger, another key character in the ensemble production. Jaime said the experience proved to be a transformative one. 

“I was in a shell as a freshman but acting in ‘Rent’ helped me to break out of that shell,” she said.

Many more productions would follow. Over the course of her four years at the Island University, Jaime has appeared in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Hands on a Hardbody,” and “Good For Otto,” to name a few.

This semester, Jaime was one of 22 theatre students who performed in the rock musical “Mamma Mia,” which was directed by Luna and featured choreography by Associate Professor of Dance Jilissa Cotten, scenic design by Assistant Professor of Theatre Kevin Loeffler and lighting design by Professor of Theatre Philip Johnson. The production served as the first collaboration between the Department of Theatre and Dance and the Harbor Playhouse, where the musical was staged in March. 

“Musicals in general are really fun to do, and I enjoyed the experience because it was a joint production between A&M-Corpus Christi and the Harbor Playhouse,” she said. “So, it took me back to where I started doing musical theater in Corpus Christi for my last show in my B.A.”  

Jaime noted that there were several key differences between a community production and one staged by the Department of Theatre and Dance for a campus audience.

“The experience was different because unlike our productions on campus that only last a week, we staged ‘Mamma Mia’ for a month at the Harbor Playhouse,” Jaime said. “We had longer rehearsals – over there, we had seven-day rehearsal weeks for a few weeks – so it was a little challenging at times, but I liked it because this is what I want to do.”

Even as she poured every bit of energy she could muster into her role, Jaime still maintained her focus on her coursework and continued to work part-time at Small Planet Delicatessen & Bakery, where she has been an employee for the last year and a half. A longtime dance student, she performed in her third Island Dance Demo at the Performing Arts Center in April as well.

Her hard work has paid dividends. In April, she accepted the award for Outstanding Actress even as she served as a co-emcee for the seventh annual School of Arts, Media, and Communication Awards on April 28.   

Following graduation, Jaime will serve as a specialist for musical theater camp at the Harbor Playhouse, which will help her financially prepare for the move to Ohio in August. Beyond her own aspirations, Jaime sees her opportunity not only as a chance to become a working actor but to also help increase diversity in the wider world of the professional performing arts.

“As a Latina, I want more representation of myself in the arts – in plays, in Hollywood – because I don’t see enough of it,” she said, adding: “It’s all because of the theatre department here at the Island University. Out of all the theatre programs in Texas, I think this is the most intimate one. We get quality one-on-one time with our professors and more opportunities to perform, and I think that’s what made the difference.”