By Jamon Smith
Like many boys growing up in Tuscaloosa where football is integral to the cultural identity of the city, Jake Boyd’s parents encouraged him make his mark on the gridiron.
But he didn’t love it.
“I remember the schools would take classes on field trips to see shows with Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre,” he said. “I remember being fascinated by it and thinking, ‘I really want to do that.’”
After a couple of failed auditions, Boyd made the cut. And though he wasn’t very good at acting initially, it was fun and he loved it.
That love and passion for theatre, as well as the training he’s received in it, has carried the 2010 University of Alabama theatre graduate into many big-production plays and musicals, including working on Broadway in “Rock of Ages” and off-Broadway in “Carrie” and “The Last Smoker in America.”
“Definitely the first really big breakthrough I had was as an understudy in a new off-Broadway show ‘Carrie’ the musical at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York City in 2011,” he said. “… That project led to ‘Rock of Ages on Broadway.’
“My work has been steady. I’ve been fortunate in that area. It’s definitely been tough sometimes, no doubt.”
Boyd said the highlight of his career thus far was playing Fiyero in the musical “Wicked” from August 2015 to August 2016.
“’Wicked’ came out when I was 14 years old and I loved the show,” he said. “There’s a character I loved, and I got to play that role. It just felt full circle playing a character I liked in a show in my own career.”
Seth Panitch, a theatre professor and director of the University’s master of fine arts program, directed Boyd in shows from his sophomore to senior year at UA. He said Boyd was a true professional.
“I specifically cast Jake because of his professionalism and his ability to support his fellow artists in the most trying of circumstances,” Panitch said. “Jake has done it all. I used him as an example in class sometimes as a model of a ravenous student.
“It is rare for a young actor to check their ego at the door. The problem with young actors is they feel that every exercise is a statement on their ability to make it. Jake didn’t have that. It was so palpable that he could understand a new concept and grow and blossom. … He is a genuinely kind soul as well.”
Boyd said the experience and training he received at UA and Hillcrest High School were vital to his success.
“UA was a fun place where I met many of my best friends and the department was great in guiding me into the real life business of this,” he said. “They have turned out a lot of great actors from the department.
“Seth Panitch was very vital to my success. I had taken dance and voice classes my whole life and had not taken a proper acting class until I got to college and he was very integral in sculpting me. Also in the musical theatre department, Raphael Crystal, who was head of the department, had a lot of influence.
“Likewise, my high school teacher played a big part in me pursuing this field in general. Linda Bonds let her students have a lot of hands-on experience even at a public high school.”
Boyd advises those dreaming of pursuing a career in music theatre that it’s no cakewalk. He said work has to be booked based on a person’s personality, ideas and story. And unfortunately, judges of talent can be extremely subjective.
But though it can be very frustrating, it can also be very rewarding, he said.
“That being said, if this is something you want to do, take the opportunity to really go for it. It is certainly not without its trials. There were so many times when I felt like walking away.
“But UA really helped me because I was able to be in classes and shows at the school and all my teachers were able to take an active investment in my life and training. That really makes a difference.”
Boyd is currently playing Anthony Hope in “Sweeney Todd” at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.