James J. Ruscella

Director, Writer, Producer, & Educator

An innovator in live action simulation and training, J.J. Ruscella leads next generation acting programs at one of the country’s oldest conservatories at Shenandoah University. Prior to Shenandoah, he served for twelve years as a Professor of Theatre at the University of Central Florida, where he held joint appointments in the UCF School of Film and Digital Media. He also co-founded the Interactive Performance Lab, where he was a pioneer in the emerging field of live simulation. During that time, he also served as Director of the New York Film Academy’s summer acting program at Disney/MGM Studios for six years.

Professional 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. 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.

In 2007, Ruscella’s non-traditional applications of story allowed him access to the Marshal Center outside of Munich, Germany, where he advised the U.S. military on simulations in counter terrorism. In the same year, his work with Jeff Wirth in interactive performance created the opportunity to help design one of the first live simulation stages, StoryBox.