Eighth grader Jackson Bush hustles down the sidewalk on Mission Road, his blonde hair flopping and friends following. A new face from within the crowd of teenagers greets him. Bush instantly sparks a conversation with the freshman girl, Kylie Ledford, based on their shared passion for music and theatre.
Late for his piano lesson, he wraps up the discussion and swiftly runs to the Tune Shop in the Village. The freshman girl, Ledford, waves goodbye and yells after him, “You should really consider trying out for the musical next year!”
Almost seven shows and three years later, being “just friends” didn’t seem to work out. Now in their last years of high school, it’s still the two of them. Boyfriend and girlfriend, Horton and Gertrude, Jackson and Kylie.
After eight months of dating, junior Jackson Bush and senior Kylie Ledford have become practically inseparable. With around three hours of “Seussical” rehearsals per day, show choirs and activities with Stage Right, a performing arts program, their schedules do not allow a lot of free time.
“We honestly do everything with each other, like when it comes to extracurriculars we have activities that’ll go pretty late almost every night per week,” Ledford said. “Basically everything I do, I do with him.”
In 2014, Bush joined Ledford at Stage Right and their first show together at the company was “Legally Blonde.” That’s where their relationship first developed. Through the program, they participate in the show choir, Vocalocity, and act in summer shows.
Last May, not even a month after the two had started dating, they were cast as feuding couple, Chuck and Ariel in a Stage Right production of “Footloose.”
Jackson and Kylie playing Chuck and Ariel in "Footloose".
Stage Right Director Donna West said that throughout the show, it was challenging to get Bush and Ledford to appear as though they disliked each other, especially during the intense fight scene between the characters.
“I was cast as the abusive boyfriend in ‘Footloose.’ She was Ariel and I was Chuck and it gave us a weird dynamic,” Bush said. “Off stage it’s like ‘Wow we’re dating and I really like you’ and on stage it was like ‘Well now I’m supposed to hate you.’”
However, “Footloose” was only the beginning of their on-stage relationship. Late last November, Bush and Ledford sat down at their first table read for this year’s East production of “Seussical.” When the couple had gotten the news about their roles as love interests, Horton and Gertrude, their cast mates couldn’t stop laughing at the irony of the situation.
Kylie performs the song, "All for you" that her character, Gertrude McFuzz sings to Jackson's character, Horton, the elephant.
The show follows a complex storyline mainly based on the Dr. Seuss books “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “Gertrude McFuzz.”
“In the show, I’m obsessed with this clover, and well, she’s obsessed with me,” Bush said. “It’s funny because the whole time, her character, Gertrude, is just trying to get me to love her, but I just ignore her until literally the last 10 minutes of the show. We like to think that our relationship does not relate to theirs. Hopefully.”
Though their on-stage relationship in “Seussical” does not mirror their own, the roles are comfortable for them due to their chemistry and playfulness of the characters.
In between takes, Bush spins around in a circle and dramatically bops his girlfriend on the nose as she tries to hold serious face but cracks up with laughter instead. The two often tease each other on set and come up with different voices for their characters just to see their directors look at them and scoff.
Co-director Ken Foley said they did not receive the parts because they are dating – they received the parts because their chemistry on stage shows a natural connection. It allows their emotions to translate into the songs they sing throughout the performances.
“Seussical” debuts at East Feb. 1. Until then, the couple will continue doing what they love: performing on stage together.
“Our entire relationship is based on the things we do together,” Ledford said. “Acting in plays and singing is what we both enjoy doing. It’s just an added bonus that I get to share it with him.”
Story by Lila Tulp; Photos by Sophie Storbeck and Katherine McGinness, and Interactive by Brooklyn Terrill
Kylie and Jackson laugh together during a vocal rehearsal for "Seussical".