ST. PETERSBURG – The Weekly Challenger offered one deserving student an opportunity to study with the American Stage Theatre Company, and Jermaine Robinson was handpicked by his drama teacher to be the recipient spending three weeks immersed in the theater culture and the various experiences it brings.
Each summer the First Presbyterian Church, located at 701 Beach Dr. NE, is hopping with excited teens waiting to embark on a crash course in theater. From acting and singing to dance, the American Stage Theatre delivers just that. But when sitting center stage on opening night waiting for the curtain to open and the magic to begin, patrons of the art would never know it was all created in the span of just a few weeks.
Jermaine walked downtown along the water, watching the birds hover over the bay and the sun rise higher in the sky. His mom worked early, so he would stop at Starbucks and grab himself a drink before heading off for a full day at the American Stage Theatre where he would be spending most of his hours auditioning, rehearsing, and yes, learning how to roller skate – old school style.
Sixteen and a student at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts (PCCA) at Gibbs High School, Jermaine didn’t know what to expect when he accepted the full scholarship from The Weekly Challenger, worth over $500. But the Teen Summer Institute’s reputation for working with aspiring artists is well known, so he eagerly embarked on the new experience.
“It was my first camp,” he said, admitting his nerves threatened to get the better of him when he walked into auditions on the first day, the room filled with his teenaged peers and an array of directors and production assistants. “I wanted to walk in with confidence and to act like I was not scared, even though I really kind of was.”
But before Jermaine donned his roller skates for the chorus numbers or learned the dance routines he would be executing in the production of “Xanadu Jr.,” this year’s play, he was performing a cold read for the lead male part.
“That was really fun,” he said speaking of the monologue he was handed to recite. “Xanadu” is all about overacting.”
And although he didn’t score the lead, Jermaine did land the part of Danny McGuire, the human form of Zeus, another main character in the play.
“Xanadu Jr.” is a stage adaptation from the hit 1980’s musical movie classic “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton-John. Fan favorites such as, “Magic” and “I’m Alive” along with other popular hits were performed in the Greek chorus, which Jermaine was also a part of.
The determined teen dreams of making a life in the arts whether with theater, some aspect of the music profession or as a journalist. But even at 16, he’s no stranger to the stage. Enrolled as a vocalist at PCCA, he takes classes in musical theory, chorus, keyboarding, and acting, along with his general education studies.
In his freshman year he performed onstage in “Titanic,” the classical version and last year as a sophomore he had parts in both the musical “Memphis” and “Sister Act.”
Attending the American Stage Theatre teen program was out of his element though. Apart from his normal crowd of actors and vocalists at Gibbs, Jermaine was immersed in a group of teens, most of them younger, that he’d never met before. But with the active schedule he admits he didn’t have time to focus on that too much.
“We never had downtime, you were always doing something,” he said.
Integral to the production was the need to roller skate. Although not a novice to the sport, Jermaine was far from an expert, especially going backwards, so he spent much of his lunch, that wasn’t taken up running lines with various cast members, practicing.
“I wasn’t the best at it,” he said, “but after a while it got really comfortable [and] it became an easy process.”
Jermaine’s mother and siblings attended the event, and the family couldn’t have been happier with the overall performance, especially his willingness to branch out with Community Theater.
“She was very excited,” explained Jermaine when discussing his mother. “She continued to congratulate me afterwards because it was different and out of my element.”
When asked what the best part of the camp was though, he couldn’t gush enough about the directors. Since a lot has to be accomplished in such a short time, there are usually three directors present with each group.
For “Xanadu Jr.” directors worked with students to learn not only the lines and songs in the play, but also to refine their acting and movement skills. Participants practiced creating characters, working as an ensemble and properly using their voices. The latter being what Jermaine was most thankful for.
Born with a slight lisp, he admits he has to work harder to overcome his speech impediment while singing, but was pleased to find it didn’t bother anyone on the crew citing he always felt motivated to do better because the directors were so open and honest.
When he was tensing up while performing a song, the directors gave him pointers on how to loosen up which not only helped his movements but his singing.
“They told me to treat it as a monologue and that really put it into a different perspective,” he said. “I could really understand the words and enunciate them more clearly.” A skill that will surely benefit Jermaine in his future endeavors.
For next summer, he hopes to attend Berkley Music School in Boston or New York City to study the arts and plans on spending the school year working in the mall to pay for it.
“I like to chase after my dreams rather than my parents doing it for me, paying for this and paying for that,” he said. “I like to do stuff on my own and really have self- motivation.”
The final performance of “Xanadu, Jr.” was performed July 17 to a full house of family, friends and community supporters of the arts. Jermaine wholly enjoyed his experience with the teen program and is thankful for the opportunity to work with the directors, cast and crew associated with the production.
If you follow the arts, Jermaine hopes to have his personal website up and running sometime in August. Check out itsjustjermaine.com for upcoming information on his EP2 album to include five songs, as well as pictures of his performances. Upcoming shows where you can catch Jermaine Robinson live will also be posted.
To reach Holly Kestenis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.