Julia Aubrey has had the title of professor, singer, actor, director, writer, producer, president of the National Opera Association and many other roles in her career.
For the next several months, add the title of executive director of the Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
Aubrey, associate professor of music at the University of Mississippi, took over the position on an interim basis when Norm Easterbrook, who had headed the Ford Center since its opening in 2004, moved to Columbus, Georgia, to become executive director of its RiverCenter performing arts venue.
The most challenging part of the new position is “learning what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “There’s a great staff, and they know their jobs and have lots of ideas to help me as well. It’s very enjoyable.”
Aubrey transitions often between directing the Ford Center and her duties in the Music Building on the other side of University Avenue.
“I still have my fulltime job across the street. I’m director of the opera program, teach voice and am assistant chair of the Music Department,” she said. “I do lots of evenings and weekends, which is not unusual in my field. It’s kind of what we do.”
One grace in the transition is that Aubrey, who is not standing as a candidate for the permanent position, is not responsible for securing performances for the 2016-17 season – an effort that will likely start in earnest in February.
“They have a search committee already; hopefully that’ll be completed by the end of the semester or the very beginning of the next year,” she said. “That individual will do a lot more in terms of development and programming. We’re just handling the season that’s ongoing. We’re booked through the spring.”
Professor Aubrey, who holds three degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia, said balancing a host of competing priorities is a standard part of arts and arts education.
“I actually started out in the business world,” she said. “And I grew up in a workshop environment. My dad had every tool known to man. He was a mayor and a judge and a businessman, but he was a wannabe carpenter. When I wanted to build theatre sets, I knew how to use the tools.
“I have a master’s in theater as well as a master’s in voice, but I worked in accounting before I went back to graduate school. Everything you do prior to getting this job is useful to it in some way.”
Aubrey also has a book in progress titled “Creative Exercises for the Stage,” which is intended to be a college textbook for theatre arts classes.
Ironically, she had planned to slow down just a bit after serving as artistic director and stage director for “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” an opera written by alumna Nancy Van de Vate. The opera premiered at the Ford Center last spring, and then it was taken – with professional guest artists, faculty members and graduate students in the cast, orchestra and crew – to reprise the performance in Prague, Czech Republic. The process of producing a new American opera will be seen in a documentary produced by Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Southern Documentary.
“That’s a culminating project for my career. The students are still talking about it,” Aubrey said. She added, laughing, “I had planned to rest after that huge project, and then I took on the directorship of the Ford Center.”
While Aubrey may not be planning next season’s programming, she intends to promote the Ford Center’s offerings and its uniqueness, reminding North Mississippians of the cultural treasure that it constitutes. Just this week the Center hosted the Nairobi Chamber Choir one night and the Memphis-based PRIZM Ensemble the next, and this Sunday will host Thodos Dance Chicago.
“It is a magnificent facility. Those of us in the production world recognize that, because we go other places, how unusual it is for a town this size to have this kind of facility,” Aubrey said, noting the ease and economy of attending Broadway shows and comparable offerings in other media right here in Oxford.
“It’s an extremely important cultural center for our university and the region. I’d like to see more people take advantage of what we have,” she said. “Especially I would hope people would help give their children a lifelong appreciation for the arts.”