Born and raised in Kansas City, Mo., James earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Rockhurst University, a Jesuit College in Kansas City. He went on to pursue an M.F.A. in directing at Florida State University. Before arriving at Juilliard, he was working as a bartender on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and travelling the Caribbean.
How long have you worked at Juilliard, and what do you remember about your first day? What is one of your favorite memories from your years here?
I started my Juilliard career through the Professional Internship program in 2000, serving as a production management intern. I chose this internship to learn everything beyond directing, and it proved to be an excellent choice. My first experience was a tour of the building by the internship program’s director, Helen Taynton, where every floor, every hallway, and every door looked the same. I met Greg in electrics and Hal, who was in charge of the scene shop at the time, on the floor of what is now the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and we talked about the light plot they were in the process of hanging. There are too many memories I cherish; Juilliard has been more of a family to me, with fantastic experiences occurring on a daily basis. Watching the Rolling Stones play a set from the Milstein Plaza (under President Polisi’s balcony) sure tops the list, though.
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day and why?
President Polisi’s. Who wouldn’t want to sit in the president’s chair and see what the interesting facets of a board meeting might be during a day?
What is the strangest or most memorable job you’ve ever had and what made it so?
I was the Drama Division production manager for the centennial tour of 2005 in Chicago and Los Angeles. Coo-coo crazy time! The tour was a wonderful exercise with myriad challenges, but at the core was a great team able to troubleshoot in the moment and tackle all levels of obstacles. Being in charge of the team gave me a great sense of pride in the production department and the professionals who fill the halls of this building.
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do with your free time?
I would take the train to the Bronx and stop by my girlfriend’s office and take her to lunch, then catch a Yankees game with a few friends.
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
Traveling, skydiving, sports, and bartending.
What was the best vacation you’ve had and what made that trip so special?
Machu Picchu, Peru. My girlfriend and I hiked parts of the Incan Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The sites, the altitude, the wonders of the Andes were beyond words. It was exhausting yet nearly spiritual. As we came through the Temple of the Sun and came upon the site, I was left speechless. We arrived at dawn with the sun rising. A thick mist floated above the site that gave it an otherworldly glow. By mid day the mist was burned away and revealed the massive ruins.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
I love the restaurants. To dine in New York is like no other place on the planet. Every night you can sample a different country. From Indian Row to the Seaport to Peter Luger’s Steakhouse, the food is incredible.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I am the coach of the Juilliard softball team. We play over the summer all around the island of Manhattan (in Central Park, Riverside Park, downtown and uptown). Almost all areas of the School are represented—I.T., drama, the costume shop, finance, the prop shop, electrics, development, the scene shop, student affairs, special events, communications, publications, etc. If you would like to sign up, drop me an e-mail. Did you know we made the playoffs this year? And yes, our rivals are from the Manhattan School of Music.
Have you continued your artistic endeavors, and if so, how do you balance them with your job?
Pursuing my art is something I imagine every day doing, but the hours, weeks, and years flow by so fast. The last few years have been very tight in getting out there… but the ideas persist, and one day they will come to fruition.