A fashion designer by trade, Viola Jackson graduated from Alabama A&M University, where she focused on fashion, with a concentration on design. She toured with the Ebony Fashion Fair, hitting 180 cities in nine months while having an "off-the-chain" experience right out of school. Later, she freelanced, taking advantage of behind-the-scenes opportunities.
Jackson always wanted to do movies and bowed to the suggestion that she first needed more costume experience. She thought about the circus and then about "Disney on Ice," which had fascinated her since childhood. She reached out to Disney and now the self-described "Southern girl" from Demopolis, Ala. is doing it with Disney.
The New Tri-State Defender: What is the first thing you remember that you ever wanted to be?
Viola Jackson: I've always wanted to be a fashion designer. That has been my dream since second grade. Now that I have been with "Disney on Ice," because of the fact that I love it so much and I am having such a ball, I actually love costume now. Fashion and costume is like two completely different industries. Fashion is very tedious. Costume is where you are able to go into fantasy and all that type of stuff. It's really, really cool... I get the best of both worlds.
TSD: Did you have role models and was there anyone doing something like what you do?
VJ: My number one role model is my mom. She is like "the bomb." My mom always stuck beside me, she always supported me, because like I said, I was into so much stuff. In high school, I was really into doing like all types of activities. I was in the band, I was in a boxing club, I was homecoming queen, I was (on) student council. ... Through everything I've done in my life, every extracurricula thing I've done, fashion design has always been there.
(My mom) would wake me up on Saturday morning ... everybody would be sitting there and we would watch black-and-white movies. She would always tell me, "Look at these costumes. Look at these clothes that they're wearing." So we kind of formed a bond right there. ... I have people in the industry who I really admire, but for the most part, my mom is number one.
TSD: When you come in contact with children, what do they think of your profession?
VJ: They always seem to be really excited about it, and I don't know what it really is. I just have this bond with kids. Maybe it's because of the artist in me, because I am able to just sit there with a child, like when they're jubilant or coloring and stuff like that, I'm designing, I'm doing the same thing. So I can get with a kid... sit there with my legs crossed and be on the same level. Get my little paints out. ... Seriously, it's cool with me. ...
I think they (children) are going to really, really love the show, the "Rockin' Ever After Show" that's going to be there (in Memphis). ... It's really young. It's the newest show that we have. It's really hip. ...Within the show there is so much going on, so many different surprise elements and all that stuff. We also have special guests with the Disney family that drop in at the beginning of the show to show what they've got, what they're made of.
TSD: What's next for you professionally and personally?
VJ: I really want to design a show. Yes, I'm putting that out there. I want to design a Disney on Ice show. I want to be the first one to actually design a show and travel with the show as head of wardrobe. It's like you'd have everything right there. I'd be there. If anything happened or whatever, I'd be there. It'll be a learning process for me too. I'd be able to see how my designs travel and work on a 9-month tour. ...
TSD: Are you the first African American to have this position with Disney?
VJ: There are a few of us here. It's actually open, there are more African-American people, people of all different backgrounds. It's really cool. It's a nice work environment.