James J. Ruscella
Educator, Producer, Writer, Director
An innovator in immersive learning and experience design, J.J. Ruscella leads the Shenandoah Center for Immersive Learning (SCIL) as Executive Director at Shenandoah University. As Director of Acting at one of the country’s oldest conservatories, J.J. was tapped to found SCIL Labs as an outgrowth of his work in simulation and training. Entities served include: the State Department, United Nations, Border Patrol, George Washington University, as well as various law enforcement, fire, EMT departments and hospitals. His unique application of digital stages and role player training creates opportunities for arts students to enhance STEM educational experiences. Most recently, his VR 360 experience “An Atmosphere of Hate,” was featured in USA Today’s 5th Annual Black History Month magazine, recognizing the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
Prior to Shenandoah, he served for twelve years as a Professor of Theatre at the University of Central Florida, where he held a joint appointments with the UCF School of Film and Digital Media. While there, he co-founded the Interactive Performance Lab, designing one of the first live simulation stages, StoryBox, which was housed at Lincoln Center in 2016-2017.
An award-winning director and writer, at 21 years old Ruscella directed the international theatrical premiere of Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, adapted from the novella that spawned the cult film Hellraiser. His first film, the critically acclaimed Civil War piece Miss Julianne participated at the Short Film Corner Festival de Cannes in 2008. In 2010 and 2011, Ruscella won two Bronze Telly Awards and a Gold and Silver Communicator Award for acting/directing/writing the Santa is Real web series, which has been seen globally throughout North America, Russia, China, and Africa. Ruscella’s novel, Kris: The Legend Begins, hit bookshelves across America in 2012, and his feature film The Karaoke King won the Skyline Film Festival award for best picture in September 2013. Additionally, he has directed numerous live and illustrated commercials.
During his time at UCF, he also served as Director of the New York Film Academy’s summer acting program at Disney/MGM Studios for six years.