Joshua Jerome ’15 is an outstanding Centre College admission counselor, helping the College’s admissions team recruit the incoming Class of 2021 that is set to be the largest, most geographically diverse and academically gifted class in Centre’s history. Another of Jerome’s talents is acting, and he’s flexing those muscles again on the stage of Danville’s own Pioneer Playhouse in the award-winning play Death by Darkness by local playwright Elizabeth Orndorff.
During his time at Centre, the politics and dramatic arts double major performed in many productions. But this is only his second time to tread the boards at Pioneer Playhouse, the historic outdoor theatre owned and operated by the Henson family since 1950. Even still, it feels like a homecoming to Jerome.
“I’m really enjoying the chance to work at Pioneer Playhouse again,” Jerome says. “The Hensons have become family, and the playhouse is home. It really is a special place, and I am honored to have the opportunity to share the stage with all those who came before me and all who will come after.”
Orndorff’s Death by Darkness is the winner of the Southern Playwrights Competition in 2008 and the International Mystery Writers’ Festival in 2007. This is the play’s encore performance at the playhouse, which was originally staged in 2008. The story is a murder mystery that takes place in the Star Chamber of Mammoth Cave in pre-Civil War Kentucky. While the piece is fiction, Jerome’s character is based on an actual historical figure.
“I am playing Stephen Bishop, who is the most famous and impactful slave explorer of Mammoth Cave,” Jerome says. “Historically, we know that Stephen was responsible for many discoveries within Mammoth Cave.
“For instance, his courage and curiosity made him the only guide who was willing to cross the bottomless pit,” Jerome continues. “Stephen laid a ladder across the pit and successfully crossed over to the other side, making him the first person to do so. This feat opened up new areas of the cave for exploration. He also went on to discover the first body of water that had ever been encountered in the cave, as well as the eyeless fish that live in it. Scientists and tourists alike came to see and learn more about Mammoth Cave, and much of that was thanks to Stephen’s courage.”
Another plus for Jerome is the play’s director, Centre’s own Professor of Dramatic Arts, Emeritus Tony Haigh.
“Tony was actually my first director here at Centre, so it was really awesome to work with him again in a different setting,” Jerome says. “What I enjoyed the most about the experience was the level of instruction that Tony provided. He really pushed us to think about exploring the choices we were making as actors, and have us consider how those choices contributed to telling our story. Often as an actor, I would read the line or situation one way, and Tony would offer a different perspective—usually in a sassy British way—that would make a lot of sense. I really enjoyed that.”
While Jerome makes his portrayal of Bishop looks effortless, putting up a production of this scope is grueling work.
“It was a busy rehearsal schedule, but with only two weeks to get the show on its feet it had to be,” he explains. “We rehearsed three times a day, every day. Outside of company rehearsal times, we were expected to be doing the individual work necessary to drive the process forward. Everyone in the cast worked tremendously hard to bring this story to life, and it is a pleasure to work with all of them.”
Although the play isn’t a story about Stephen Bishop’s life, Jerome was drawn to the character by the many facts about him that are revealed through the story.
“Upon learning more about who Stephen Bishop was, what he meant to the history of Mammoth Cave, and above all, how his life’s work made strides towards improving the black experience in this country, I knew I wanted to portray him.”
Death by Darkness plays nightly, except Sundays and Mondays, at 8:30 p.m. through June 24. Visit Pioneer Playhouse for ticket prices and information.
Joshua Jerome joined Centre’s admission team shortly after graduating in 2015. He serves as the primary contact person for students and families from Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, as well as Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. In addition to acting in many plays while a student at Centre, he was a Posse Scholar, a member of student government and a summer intern for [then] Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Jerome hails from Malden, Massachusetts.
by Cindy Long
June 14, 2017