Seasoned Broadway performer visits King’s
Financial District, NEW YORK--Eighteen-time Broadway performer John Jellison visited Professor Virgina Pike’s Musical Theater Survey class Nov. 14. Jellison regaled his audience with humorous anecdotes and backstage wisdom.
Jellison, who grew up in an industrial town in northern Rhode Island, had minimal exposure to the world of musical theater until he attended college. One day, Jellison was walking past a door with a sign advertising auditions for a play; he decided to try out on a whim. Little did he know that his decision to open that door would be the catalyst to set the stage for a professional career of acting.
Eventually Jellison transferred to Boston University to pursue its excellent theater program, and has since been working in theater nonstop. His credits include Memphis, Caroline or Change, Assassins (the original cast), and Sunday in the Park with George (the original cast), among others.
Jellison noted that one of the biggest struggles for actors and actresses is not having job security and having to look for a new gig every few months. Although he finds his job very fulfilling, Jellison still feels uneasy when hunting for gigs because he never knows how much time will pass between jobs or whether the show he is a part of will be a hit or a miss. He said that being an actor or actress takes faith, but stress of job insecurity is worth it to those who love what they are doing.
The actor admits that although he loves all of the shows he has been in, Sunday in the Park with George is his favorite musical. He especially enjoyed witnessing firsthand its daily transformations, particularly musically, and participating in that creative process.
Jellison has acted in Phantom of the Opera; people are surprised to learn that it was not his favorite job because he does not understand the show. He enjoyed the experience nonetheless, hearing new things backstage and attending grand parties thrown in honor of the show's success.
The Capeman, written by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott, was unsuccessful, but Jellison greatly enjoyed acting in it because he loves the rock-n-roll music of Simon and had the privilege of witnessing his work and singing with him, as well as working with other music artists, including Marc Anthony.
Capeman was based on an actual event that took place in Hell’s Kitchen. Salvador Agron, a young Puerto Rican boy, shot and killed two white teenagers. At the time, the newspapers had a field day with the story and used it to reinforce the stereotype that white people had of Puerto Ricans at the time. While writing the play, Simon encountered considerable resistance because he ignored typical Broadway rules and customs.
Jellison welcomes applause at the end of shows but has remained humble because he views the applause merely as confirmation that he has done his job well. He laughingly admits, “I think my career has been [a success] because I can be funny.”
He also credits his career success to his versatility: he can dance, sing and more after taking classes to expand his skill set.
Jellison advised Broadway hopefuls to establish relationships with others in the theater industry. He said, “The theater by its nature is collaborative, and those who work in the theater know that. Often you learn that you’re not competing with everyone, but you’re competing with yourself and you’re really trying to be the best you that you can be.”
Theater goers can see Jellison at work in the musical Motown, now on Broadway.