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Montezuma-Cortez thespian heads to CU Boulder

Koral Jackson during the Montezuma-Cortez High School production of “Mary Poppins” in 2022. (Courtesy photo)
Koral Jackson plans to continue acting, stage work

Koral Jackson is taking her talents up north.

The recent Montezuma-Cortez High School graduate and theater star is headed to University of Colorado Boulder, where she will continue to study acting. She made her mark on the M-CHS department as a versatile actress who delved fully into embodying every character she portrayed.

“Being able to dress up in a costume and play pretend is just awesome,” she said. “And to become a different character and try to get into the mind of that person, while bringing joy to other people is just so great to me, and I’m just so drawn to that idea.”

She was one of three seniors to receive the “Best Thespies” award at M-CHS, which honors seniors for exceptional contributions to the theater department.

“I think she’ll be a really good fit there, and I think she’ll definitely be successful in whatever she chooses to do,” said M-CHS theater director Nicholaus Sandner.

Koral Jackson during a scene from the Montezuma-Cortez High School production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in 2020. (Courtesy photo)
Koral Jackson, center, during rehearsal for Montezuma-Cortez High School's production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” For the 2020 production, Jackson learned about dialect and Yiddish culture. (Erika Alvero/Journal file photo)
Koral Jackson, left, in the Montezuma-Cortez High School production of “The Isle of Skye” in 2021. (Anthony Nicotera/Journal file photo)
Koral Jackson on the set of Montezuma-Cortez High School’s “The Play That Goes Wrong” in 2022.
Koral Jackson on the set of “The Play That Goes Wrong” in 2022.
Koral Jackson, then 10 years old, belts out “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden during a contest at Blondie’s Trophy Room in 2015.
Koral Jackson with her Montezuma-Cortez High School diploma in 2022. (Courtesy photo)
Koral Jackson auditions for the Voice-Sing Out for Families in 2013. (Journal file photo)

Savannah Story and Brooklyn Harper were the other two “Best Thespies” of the year.

Singing initially drew Jackson to theater.

“I’ve been singing karaoke at Blondie’s forever, singing competitions, and eventually when I got to middle school I really got into the drama program,” Jackson said.

Her first role in a play was as an elf – and Mrs. Claus’ understudy – in a Christmas pageant in fourth grade. She was hooked and continued bringing her charismatic personality to the stage throughout middle school.

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Once she arrived in high school, she further developed her craft through a range of different roles and theater-related opportunities.

“Skill-wise, she’s definitely grown in terms of her ability to be subtle,” Sandner said.

Part of this subtlety also involved fully understanding her characters’ backgrounds and the play’s setting, a task she took very seriously.

“If you don’t understand the reasonings why this person does this, or this person is playing this role, then it’s not going to come off right,” Jackson said. “You definitely have to dig a little deeper than what is seen on stage.”

For the 2020 production of Fiddler on the Roof, Sandner brought in a dialect coach, and a parent spent a lot of time speaking to the students about Jewish culture and the Yiddish language.

“It’s amazing how something as simple as having to speak a different way can really pull you out of who you are and allow you to create somebody different,” Sandner said.

During her junior year, Jackson played the part of Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible, a play set during the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s. For this production, Jackson was really forced to think about the underlying emotions and motivations of her character, in addition to embracing the sensibilities of 17th century Puritan life and learning to play a reserved, married woman.

“Because she hid so many of her feelings, you really had to dig deep into her motivations and why she did the things she did, why she acted toward certain people the way that she did,” Jackson said.

Her recent role playing the mother Winifred Banks in Mary Poppins was perhaps the perfect exhibition of the subtlety she developed as an actress throughout high school: someone who interacted with silly characters while remaining serious herself.

As with everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the M-CHS theater department’s plans in the past two years.

“We just had to have a flexible mindset, knowing that at any moment we could have to postpone or shut it down,” Sandner said.

In one such instance, after months of preparation, all schools and activities shut down the night before Fiddler on the Roof was set to open in March 2020. In anticipation of the closure, families and community members were invited to the musical’s dress rehearsal, but Jackson said she never “got to close that show,” and because of that, she feels “a strong emotional attachment to Tzeitel,” the eldest daughter whom she played in that production. Similarly, postponing the performance of The Crucible from winter to spring during the 2020-21 school year meant a prolonged emotional connection to her character in that play.

“We had to hold on to that show, that emotionally heavy show, for months,” Jackson said.

In addition to acting, Jackson was heavily involved in other aspects of the theatrical department, including costume crew, the school’s improvisational troupe and scriptwriting for The Isle of Skye, a sea shanty-based production, which the students and Sandner wrote and performed in March 2021. Jackson was “very instrumental in that process,” Sandner said of her screenwriting. Throughout high school, too, she was always happy to help others, he added.

All this involvement earned her over 200 points through the International Thespian Society, the honor society for theater students. To qualify for the highest ranking, students need to earn 180 thespian points, Sandner said.

In the fall, Jackson, the daughter of Patrick (P.A.) Jackson and Jeannie Gleason, is headed to CU Boulder, where she will continue to pursue acting and theater. She’s excited to experience a new environment and get involved in the new program.

“I’m pursuing acting, I definitely want to end up doing stage theater professionally,” Jackson said. “Stage theater is really, really authentic to me; you have to come up with practical ways to create certain parts, and you don’t have cue cards, and there’s no cut and action in stage theater. And I think that is what makes it as big of a deal as it is and as it should be.”