Jordan Roth ’97
Vice President, Jujamcyn Theaters
I always knew I wanted to be in the theater. (Well actually, when I first got to campus I thought I wanted to be in the Woodrow Wilson School and then be president of the United States, but doesn’t every Princetonian have that idea for a second?) So, with the exception of that brief lapse, I always knew I wanted to be in theater.
I also knew that I didn’t want to go to a theater school. I wasn’t quite done with my academic work. I chose Princeton deliberately, knowing that there would be opportunities to participate in theater, but not to major in it.
There was something very liberating about going to a university that had no vocational departments for me. It meant I had four years to explore and think and study something simply because I found it exciting. It was a unique luxury.
Freshman fall, I thought that something was politics. Or maybe English. My adviser advised that I round out my schedule with a course from one of the core requirements that I knew wouldn’t be my ultimate major. Just to get it out of the way.
The first of many revelations
I chose “Moral Philosophy” with Professor Sarah Buss. And of course, it turned out to be the first of my many philosophy courses and my ultimate major after all. It was real for me. It was about how we live and how we behave. How we know what is right and what is wrong. How we treat one another. How we act in order to be the people we want to be in the world.
As I continued to study philosophy, I found it to be a discipline that taught me how to think with precision, how to unpack a text with diligence, how to construct an argument with rigor. And then it gave me the freedom to apply those skills to whatever I found interesting or perplexing in the world. There was no question not worth exploring. No idea not worth pursuing.
The questions that were most pressing and personal for me during college were questions of sexual identity. I came out sophomore year and found the tools of philosophy there to help me explore and understand. I spent my senior year writing a thesis on desire, guided once again by Professor Buss. What I wanted to know, what I needed to know, was how much of who I am is determined by what I want. I felt the desires I was coming to name to be completely inherent to who I was as a being, such that without them I would be someone else entirely. I grappled first with how to define desire at all, by synthesizing texts from various ancient and modern philosophers and then adding my own. And I ultimately attempted a theory of how to explain the intersection of desire and identity. The academic was personal and immediate and necessary.
Critical thinking in practice
Soon after graduation, I began producing theater in New York, first off-Broadway then on Broadway. I discovered during college that I didn’t want to be an actor but that I loved the big picture of theater. That is what I do as a producer—both the creative and the business of a new show. Putting it all together, assembling the team, developing the material, marketing the show. I am now vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters, a company that owns and operates five Broadway theaters. I develop new shows for our theaters as well as book other producers’ shows into our theaters.
Philosophy might sound as nonvocational as you can get, but I find I draw upon my training every day. Whether thinking critically about a new show and distilling it to its core meaning, articulating a persuasive argument to collaborators, or framing a business challenge from a new perspective, it’s all a way of thinking and looking at the world that I honed at Princeton studying something that on the face of it has little to do with what I do. But if I learned anything in the philosophy department, it’s that the face of something often has little to do with it.