Honoree: Courtney Ffrench: Renaissance Man Oversees Jamaica Performing Arts Center

BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ

BHM-CUBEAlthough he is now the vision behind one of Southeast Queens’ most prominent performing arts centers, Courtney Ffrench said that his current work is a chapter in an unfinished book.

Ffrench, who is the general manager of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center and artistic director and founder of the internationally renowned dance company Vissi Dance Theatre, said he became interested in the arts at Queens College.

12 Courtney Ffrench“I took theater and dance as electives and my love affair with the arts grew from there,” Ffrench said.

Prior to his education at Queens College, Ffrench was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He said he has long used Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” as a source of inspiration on how to live his life.

At age 12, Ffrench passed the Common Entrance Exam, earning him a place in the prestigious Ardenne High School in Kingston. While at Ardenne, Ffrench studied religion, agriculture, civics, literature and other liberal arts disciplines, although his childhood dream was to be an airline pilot.

“I would stand at the fence looking at planes take off and land at Tinson Pen, a local airport for small planes, and imagine myself flying,” Ffrench said.

However, at age 13, Ffrench’s optometrist told him that he had an underdeveloped left eye and that flying a plane wasn’t a possibility.

Although his dream didn’t go as planned, his career in the performing arts quickly took flight. In 2000, his dance company, Vissi Dance Theater, premiered “The Hoarde” at The Theater of The Riverside Church in Manhattan and has since performed across Europe, Asia and the United States.

Ffrench said his motivation came from his upbringing in Jamaica.

“My roots drove me to express my thoughts on social issues, cultural and political dynamics in our society,” Ffrench said. “It is important, I believe, for the artist to reflect the human condition and encourage thoughtful advocacy for compassion and dignity towards all.”

Not only has Ffrench written two plays, published a novel and been featured in Sally Sommers’ documentary “Check Your Body at the Door,” but he has also served as an educator at J.H.S. 56 on the Lower East Side and I.S. 8 in Jamaica. Ffrench’s résumé also includes a stint as a social worker for children in foster care.

“My sense of ‘I can do anything if I try’ is deeply rooted in me from my early years at Denham Town Primary School in Kingston,” Ffrench said. “I have never had a realization or epiphany on a career choice. I have always done what I like doing at a period. I believe we have many chapters, though one book. I’m still writing.”

Even though he has tried his hand at a variety of careers, Ffrench said that he has never felt hopeless.

“I have been frustrated, angered, annoyed, but I’ve never felt broken,” Ffrench said. “When I need clarity on my position and place in this world, I look at the ocean and I am humbled.”

Although Ffrench is open to a number of career paths going forward, his number-one priority is to be a great father and raise his children to be active citizens and compassionate beings, which he said he would do by instilling in them his mother’s kindness to others.

Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or ahernandez@queenstribune.com

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