Director | Educator
Burr was born in the woods of New Hampshire and was educated at P.S.34 (Brooklyn), Arts Educational School (London), and St. Stephen’s International School (Rome). She has explored much of Europe and North Africa, including having taken a boat to Albania shortly after the fall of communism. She spent a year as a traveling street performer, living and working on sidewalks from Scotland to Morocco, and another year teaching English in Poland. She graduated from Bard College with degrees in Theatre and Dance.
Jessica Burr has been honored with the 2019 Kennedy Center ACTF Commendation for Distinguished Leadership, First Prize at the 2016 Secondo Festival (Switzerland), the 2011 LPTW Lucid is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women.
Burr’s work has been seen at New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theater, P.S.122, Baruch Performing Arts Center, New Ohio Theatre, Frederick Loewe Theatre at NYU, Manhattan School of Music, Interart Theatre, Emelin Theatre, Bedford Playhouse and on international tours of Switzerland, Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo.
Burr is the founding artistic director of Blessed Unrest, for whom she has directed and choreographed over 20 productions, including 13 world premieres. Productions include The Snow Queen (2018 IT Award winner for Outstanding Production, developed in a New Victory LabWorks residency), Doruntine (First Prize, 2016 Secondo Festival, Switzerland), Body: Anatomies of Being (New Ohio/IRT Theatre Archive Residency), Lying (2015 IT Award nominee), Eurydice's Dream (2013 IT Award winner for Outstanding Movement/Choreography).
Burr has led workshops in physical and devised theatre culminating in fully realized productions at Western Washington University (WA), Stephens College (MO) and Eastern New Mexico University, and has taught the same at Prishtina University (Kosovo), Presbyterian College (SC), Centenary University (NJ), and to student groups from the University of Seoul, South Korea. Burr co-developed curriculum with permanent faculty and led workshops in physical and devised theatre at Texas Tech University’s WildWind Performance Laboratory, and led a workshop in team building and communication across language and cultural barriers for New York University’s College of Global Public Health, sponsored by UNICEF. She teaches, adjudicates productions and the Irene Ryan Awards, and hosts roundtables for The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, for which she received the 2019 Kennedy Center Commendation for Distinguished Leadership.
Principles of pedagogy
Grounded in breath and the body, my work strives to empower students, and ranges from the sensorial experiential to the rigorously physical. I challenge and inspire students to be proactive theatre makers, and to find their voices as individuals while also cultivating a heightened awareness of the ensemble. I give them creative tools, including the Viewpoints technique, applicable to every process, from the traditional to the experimental. Workshops are tailored to the skills and needs of each group.
My educational work can take a variety of forms, which will be determined by the context and specific requirements.
For colleges and universities
one-day workshops and lecture demonstrations
one- and two-week intensives
semester-long classes at schools in the NYC area
devising intensives, in which original devised pieces are created with students
guest direction of productions
For professional artists
one-on-one monologue coaching
group workshops for individual artists or existing ensembles
movement coaching and direction for productions
For corporations and non-theatre professionals
I bring my methods to teams working together on any task across the corporate world, and individuals preparing for presentations. No theatre experience necessary! Workshops are tailored to the needs and interests of each group. I offer:
For corporate teams (team-building / leadership)
seminars in collaboration, team-building, and creative problem-solving
workshops in presence, and confidence in public speaking and presentations
ongoing classes to foster communication and collaboration, or to focus on a particular issue or challenge
For non-theatre professionals (one-on-one)
one-on-one sessions to enhance physical and vocal presence, and to build confidence when entering any room
coaching for presentations and speeches
The two-week immersive physical theatre training developed by Blessed Unrest stands among the most essential and effective training for young theatre artists I have encountered in over 25 years of college and university teaching. Under the guidance of the brilliant team of Jessica Burr and Matt Opatrny, the visionaries behind Blessed Unrest, students are challenged to create an original, company-driven devised physical theatre piece while being introduced to cutting edge movement modalities, and a variety of story-telling techniques. What emerges in performance is an electrifying synthesis of theatre, dance, movement, music, original text, and design – a journey which not only inspired our students, but changed the creative trajectory of our program as well. Highest recommendation!
Lamby Hedge, Artistic Director, Summer Theatre Institute
Associate Professor, Theatre Arts, Stephens College, Missouri
Blessed Unrest indeed. They have brought our students training in everything from playwriting to devised theatre, from movement to intention, from creation to dissection. They do exactly what the title of their innovative theatre company suggests—inspire the sort of unrest that serves as a catalyst, encouraging students to explore how their inner psyche interacts with their physical presence. They are truly “blessed” in how far they take our students in only a few days.
Hired to help kick off WildWind Performance Laboratory, a month long intensive in June, Jessica and Matt were instrumental in finding how to best reach students, to push them hard without pushing them away, and to foster growth in a challenging but safe environment. Innovators in theory and practice, Blessed Unrest will shake your educational foundation to the core, and then help rebuild it, better and stronger than it was before.
Mark Charney, Director, School of Theatre and Dance, Texas Tech University
NYU’s College of Global Public Health offers a unique course called Behavioral Communications Strategies for Epidemics that brings behavior change communications specialists working in high-risk areas around the world together with graduate students to design innovative communications strategies. Blessed Unrest ran a workshop for the course recently on how to use collaboration and theatrical tools to communicate sensitive messages to vulnerable communities. The workshop was a big success with the class, especially due to the professional and thoughtful program that Blessed Unrest put together, and a number of the final proposals reflected what students learned from the team. I have no doubt that it resulted in better public health options for many people.
Chris Dickey DrPH MBA
Director of Global Health, Director, Global Professional Studies and Entrepreneurship
Clinical Associate Professor of Global Public Health
New York University