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Meet new theatre professor, director of upcoming play about air guitar
FIU Theatre assistant professor Justin Packard.

Meet new theatre professor, director of upcoming play about air guitar

January 20, 2023 at 11:41am

The theatre department received a fresh bolt of energy when Justin Packard joined the faculty this past fall. Six months into the job, he is set to make his FIU Theatre directorial debut this February with the raucous, high-octane play, "Airness" by Chelsea Marcantel, about competitive air guitar and finding the “airness” within.

Packard joins FIU with an extensive professional acting career, which includes the first national tour of Matilda and multiple roles at the American Repertory Theater and Irish Repertory Theater. The upstate New York native (and Giants fan) moved down to Miami with his wife and their young daughter.

We sat down with him recently to get to know him a little better ahead of next month’s play.


  1. What has surprised you the most about Miami?

 The massive spectrum of diversity. I guess it wasn’t really a surprise, but the surprise I suppose, is my continued education on how much of a melting pot this community is and how many first generation students and first generation families are able to bring their perspective to this university. I think I can learn a lot from all of them and all of our experiences can benefit from that.

  1. Your favorite theatrical experience as an audience member?

Watching my twin brother debut on Broadway was pretty incredible. His debut was – I think it was in "Phantom of the Opera" (God, if I’m wrong he’s gonna kill me). It’s my twin brother, we went through all of our theatre classes and shared a womb together, so watching him debut was pretty meaningful.


  1. A character you’ve played that has taught you something?

Mr. Wormwood – I understudied Mr. Wormwood and Miss Trunchbull in the national tour of "Matilda". Playing Mr. Wormwood taught me the parent I don’t want to be. It taught me that just because you’re louder doesn’t mean you’re more powerful, and that patience and listening are key in parenting. He doesn’t exhibit those things until perhaps the end.

4. If you were coaching in the Super Bowl and you could have any player who has ever played – in their prime: Who’s your quarterback, your running back and your wide receiver?

First of all, how did that happen?! Okay, you have to think of the cohesiveness of those three as a unit because I can’t have divas at all three positions, that would just be toxic. I think as a field general, in his prime, I’d have Peyton Manning because that makes my job as a coach easier. I can just back off and let him be the field general. As running back, there’s no one I liked watching more than Barry Sanders. He was just so elusive and did things that I thought were physically impossible. And as receiver, it’s hard to go against prime Randy Moss and how much he stretched a defense. I think with Peyton’s ability to audible and Omaha and those dynamic talents, I’d have a good shot. Sorry, no Dolphins, but also no Giants.

5. You’ve made the air guitar national championship, what song do you choose to shred with?

Oh man! Good question. It has to have heart, it has to have technical proficiency, it has to be complicated in some way. Oh geez. Nostalgically, I grew up in a household that was playing Doobie Brothers, Huey Lewis and the News, Journey and that vibe, but I’d have to defy that. I would probably stick with the Van Halen guitar solo in the middle of Michael Jackson’s "Beat It" and I would find a way to make that work.


6. What were you drawn to most after first reading "Airness"?

Before I read it I thought it was gonna be competition heavy, but it's really more about community than it is about competition. I like that vibe, especially in the arts. I think the subjectivity of the arts is not conducive to competition and we try to push this competitive idea because its such an American idea that “if you’re not first you’re last” or whatever.


7. What can audiences expect from the show?

If we can provide an afternoon or evening of positive escapism for them, where they can enjoy some high-flying, high-octane music and also find that their heart has been affected, I think we’ve done our job.


"Airness" opens February 17th at The Wertheim. For tickets, visit this link.