Casting Stars: Jaycie Cohen – Student Director & Nonprofiteer

A newspaper article about TAP. Photo courtesy of Jaycie Cohen.

         Jaycie Cohen ‘20 does a little more than your average student. Not only is she a theater arts major with a focus in directing, she also is the founder of her very own nonprofit organization, Theatre Arts Productions (TAP) where she directs almost all of the productions. 

         Cohen was inspired to start TAP after working at another arts company in West Palm Beach. She ended up quitting after a fight with the owner of the company. Afterward, some of the parents of the students at the company found out about Cohen leaving and called her. “They said ‘Please, Jaycie, please open this company. Our kids need it. We can’t afford it anymore. We can’t do this. The kids love you and you’re amazing and so talented so please do something because we’re drowning here.’” 

         After that plee, she and her family deliberated making an organization for these children for six months. “After those six months, my stepdad looked at me and said, ‘you know, we could keep talking about it or we could pull the trigger’ and I said, ‘so what do you want to do?’ and he said, ‘I think we should pull the trigger’ and I was like ‘okay let’s go.’ So, he helped me and he filled out the papers for a nonprofit and in a month or so we were approved.” She founded the company very recently in March of 2019.

         When I asked Cohen about the process of starting a nonprofit, she had this to say: “Oh. Hard! So hard. It was a huge process. Thankfully, I had a lot of help. My stepdad is a godsend when it comes to paperwork like that. He used to be a grant writer. He’s very into politics and all of those things so he knew exactly how to fill out that paperwork and everything. In creating a nonprofit, you have to file as a nonprofit with the state, that’s one application. But the second application is to get your 501c3 which is your tax reduction so people can donate. We got approved right away by the state as a nonprofit, [but] the 501c3 can take anywhere from six months to four or five years.” Cohen has received help in getting her 501c3 moved along faster from some other nonprofit organizations in the West Palm Beach area such as Little Smiles, which helps kids in tough situations. “We actually were just approved two or three weeks ago for our 501c3, so that’s really exciting!”

         Part of creating a nonprofit means having a name that will stick out from the crowd, and Cohen has a good reason for deciding to call her organization TAP. “One of the reasons why it’s called TAP is because my grandma was a professional tap dancer by the age of three. She danced with Bojangles and everybody you can think of back in the day. The second reason [is] we have an honorary theater fraternity on campus called Theta Alpha Phi, and we call it TAP for short. So it would be like when the kids go off to college they’re going from one TAP family to another.”

         TAP has some impressive names on their board of directors, including Tiffany Haas, who played Glinda in “Wicked” on Broadway and in one of the US tours, and Dave McMahan, a famous photographer who has one of his pieces hung up in the Stetson Mansion. Marlo Cohen, Jaycie’s mother, is also on the board as the treasurer and company manager. She is a talent manager for Mercury Entertainment, which is a talent management company with clients who audition to be on Broadway, TV shows, movies, Netflix, and TV commercials. 

         “We are on our ninth show,” Cohen said about TAP, “Of showcases, main stages, black box, anything you can think of we’ve done it so far, and I’m really proud of it and excited to keep pushing forward after school with it.” 

         TAP’s main focus is for children, especially those who are less fortunate. “Of course we do shows with adults and everything but part of our mission statement is to bring live quality theater to kids in less fortunate areas to show and help them get involved in the arts as an outlet for them.”

         Cohen was recently the director of the very successful production of “Mrs. California” at the Second Stage theater, which she directed for her senior research. This was her second time directing a show by herself at Stetson, but she has been assistant director for eight shows. She’s worked on every show, except for two, since she’s been at Stetson. She’s had roles such as working props, costume designing, or stage managing. Her senior research is about gender roles.

         “It’s going through and looking at how gender was perceived in the 1950s versus today, so it was really [about] breaking down gender roles,” Cohen said.

         The perception of gender roles is important to her because, she said, “I think that, of course, [in the] 1950s, gender roles were a really big thing. We just came out of World War II; they let women go back and work and get paid and do everything and then they kind of took it away, and they were like ‘ha, just kidding go back to your normal things of staying in the kitchen and watching the children.’ I don’t think in today’s society we are [like] that, but we definitely have a lot to still go towards. There’s still a lot and a big gap between gender and I just think that [“Mrs California”] is a really good story that should be told to women today to empower them because they should be and they don’t really need anybody’s help.”

         Getting ready for a show like “Mrs. California” is a long process. I asked Cohen about how long a usual rehearsal was, and she said: “During the week we rehearsed Monday through Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m. and then we rehearse on Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m..”

         There are 224 seats at the Second Stage theater and 218 people showed up for the opening night of “Mrs. California.” This is a huge success, especially seeing as this was a fully student-directed production. Cohen’s professor, Julie Schmitt, who is the director of the Creative Arts Department, said to her that it was, “the biggest opening night house she has ever seen at Stetson since she has been here, and she was also a student at Stetson.” That number of people coming for the show stayed pretty consistent throughout the weekend. “Every night was packed and basically sold out,” Cohen told me. Cohen was also the first student allowed to direct a mainstage play for their senior research in a few years. 

         I asked her if she had any advice for someone who would want to start their own nonprofit and she said, “Definitely. Go for it! Just go for it. You can keep thinking about it you can keep talking about it you can play the ifs and whys and why nots you can do everything in your ability, but at a certain point you need to just go for it. Try to find as many resources as you possibly can. Call people that you know. Call me,” she laughed. “I don’t know. I can give you a lot of advice. Just go for it. Do what’s right for the people. ‘Cause that’s what they deserve.”

         Cohen shows that being a student and a founder of your own nonprofit organization is really incredible. Follow Theatre Arts Productions (TAP) on Facebook!