It goes without saying that Sept. 11, 2001 was a traumatic day for the nation. But for Jessica Raynonvil, it became extremely personal.
“I actually watched the second plane hit the second building,” recalled Jessica, a Brooklyn native and Pace University alumna. She was a freshman at Pace and on her way to class the morning of the Sept. 11 attack. “I had just gotten out of the train station. When the buildings were collapsing, we were all trying to run.”
Her school sequestered students in a lower-level bunker for their safety. “We didn’t know what was going on. We thought we were being [militarily] attacked,” said Jessica. “You thought you were going to die.” The fact that Jessica was unable to contact family members in Brooklyn to make sure they were safe added to the trauma.
That experience and its aftermath caused Jessica to experience heightened anxiety her first year of college.
“I was an honors student in high school. But my first semester of college, I got all C’s. I got on probation,” said Jessica.
Eventually she began to recover from the shock of that event. Among aspects of her life aiding that advancement is the arts.
“I love it,” said Jessica about participating in the arts. A dancer who also dabbles in piano, she said performing and seeing others perform “does something for my soul. Being able to express yourself through dance and music without words, and getting that [message] across.”
Jessica took piano lessons as a child. She became interested in dance when she got older.
“I had a friend who attended Hunter College who was a dance major,” said Jessica. “She also started a praise dance program at church, and I got involved in that. When I learned they were offering free African dance classes at Hunter College, I took that.”
Helping out with dance productions backstage came naturally to Jessica. That led to stage managing not only dance events, but plays and musicals as well.
“I just started doing it. People said, ‘You’re good at this,’” noted Jessica, who serves as stage manager for the Oct. 22 production of “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou.”
“I guess I’m a facilitator. I love making things happen,” she said.
She’s also empathetic, moreso now, after her experience on Sept. 11, she said. Although she majored in mass communications as Pace, she decided to pursue a career in emergency medicine after graduating. She’s been an EMS professional the past four years, and she also cares for her mom, who has a chronic illness.
By going through her own trauma on and after Sept.11, and then become an EMS specialist, “I connected with my mom after she got sick,” said Jessica. “I could understand more, and give her better care.”
Jessica is perfect as the stage manager for "Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou," said Felicia Hunter, composer/lyricist/book writer of Fannie Lou.
"She has a wonderful temperament, and it's obvious that she enjoys being involved in the arts," she said, adding, "Jessica actually is the first official stage manager. In the past we've had people who were working in other capacities kind of fill in and do stage manager duties, but Jessica is our first person to fill that post. We're very lucky to have her."
One of the things Jessica would like to do for herself is return to an early arts discovery, the piano.
“My desire is to pick it back up again,” she said. For now she can take pleasure at home listening to her musician-husband, a pianist.
And outside of the home, she’ll always participate in the arts in some way, she said.
“It calms me. With all I’ve been through in life – being a caregiver, daughter, wife – I’ll always [find expression and solace] in the arts. I love it.”