The stage. The spotlight. The sounds of applause.
This is where KeNiesha Zell, a theatre teacher at Jeffersonville High School, enjoys watching her students strive to be their best.
But this passion for theatre took time to come to Zell. Once she found theatre, though, she found herself.
From a childhood raised as a self-proclaimed military brat, to living in California and eventually moving to Louisville, Zell had a busy youth.
“I went to 10 schools before I moved to Louisville,” Zell recalls. “I was happy I moved here because this is where a majority of my family lives. And when I finally settled here, I went to the Youth Performing Arts School, (which meant) no more moving schools.”
Her passion for theatre led Zell to go to the Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville. But this desire to act came from the most unlikely of places: Indiana Jones.
“As I was growing up, I loved watching Indiana Jones movies,” Zell said. “This lead me to either looking into being an archaeologist or actor, and well, I chose acting.”
As she got older, Zell took part in many plays throughout her high school and college years. “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” and “Intimate Apparel” were two plays that Zell enjoyed the most growing up.
Even if she wasn’t the leading actor, she enjoyed being on the stage and part of a cast.
COMMERCIALS AND DIRECTING
The plays and the stage eventually led to a whole new stage for Zell: commercials.
Zell has appeared in multiple commercials during her acting career. From Bob Evans, First Savings Bank, the Kentucky Lottery Powerball, Marriage Works, Exxonmobil, and her latest commercial for Spalding University, Zell enjoys getting to act in commercials.
“I still act in commercials. When I have an off day, I’m always looking for different gigs,” Zell said. “Theatre teachers should always still work because there’s a lot that we can teach our students through how theatre is changing.”
Zell enjoys doing commercials, but admitted that they were surprisingly embarrassing.
“You do all this theatre training and then all you do is smile and nod at the camera,” Zell said, laughing. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of skill (to do commercials), as much as onstage work does.”
Zell finds that through commercials she is able to find new innovations and ways of acting that she can bring back to the classroom and the stage at Jeff as she goes from acting to directing.
“Mrs. Zell has not only grown as a director, but she has grown into one of my mentors,” junior Ellie Melin said.
Zell originally started her directing and teaching job at Parkview Middle School, where she brought life back to the stage there. After a few years, she found herself teaching at Jeff.
“Bringing theatre back to Parkview and watching kids from there come to Jeff and do theatre is awesome. Bringing theatre to Jeffersonville is so great,” said Zell. “I am one of those crazy people who likes teaching middle and high school. I loved teaching at Parkview, but when I got offered a job here, I couldn’t see myself teaching anywhere else.”
Zell has enjoyed being a part of the theatre program at Jeff, and enjoys the opportunities that it offers her.Especially one of the opportunities to teach the same students she taught at Parkview.
“I have had Mrs. Zell since I was in eighth grade and now I can’t imagine my life without theatre,” Melin said. “She gave me great confidence to come to Jeff High and reach higher in this craft.”
Zell found that through theatre she can teach so much to students.
“I love teaching theatre because when I was younger, I struggled with reading and theatre was how I learned to read well. And I feel like theatre just saved my life,” Zell said. “I like to teach through theatre because I feel like there’s a lot of life lessons you can teach because theatre is a representation of life -- you can teach anything through theatre. Like growing up, relationships, any topic could be taught through theatre.”
As a high schooler, Zell struggled, which makes her happy for the chances to get to change a high schooler's life. She has already been looking into popular plays like “Westside Story,” “The Addams Family,” and “Hairspray” to bring to the newly-renovated auditorium in the coming years.
The stage. The spotlight. The sounds of applause. Zell takes her final bow, and exits the stage.