Musical theater performer started paying his dues on stage at age nine
By Dwight Hobbes
To be young, gifted and Black, these days, isn’t what it was way back when. Nina Simone dedicated the song to Lorraine Hansberry in an era during which America tried to pretend gifted Black youngsters didn’t exist. Accordingly, avenues for success were scarce. Today, fledgling talent John Douglas Jamison, II, instead of being obstructed, has the opportunity to thrive.
Minneapolis actor-singer-dancer and recent Southwest High School graduate, Jamison has been fast-tracked by Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the Orpheum, State, Pantages New Century Theatres in downtown Minneapolis, to pursue a professional career in musical theater. He’ll be flown to New York City to audition for award-winning casting agents Telsey and Company, visit with acting and vocal coaches and attend several Broadway shows. This after excelling in the organization’s prestigious SpotLight Musical Theatre Program, distinguishing himself as the inaugural recipient of its Triple Threat Breakout Performer Award.
Jamison was featured as supporting lead in Southwest High’s production this spring of Tony Award-winning Hairspray playing hot-dancing, super-cool kid Seaweed to packed houses. Last year at Southwest, he successfully took on a plum role, the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. The promising youngster has built his way up, paying his dues in tried-and-true fashion, earning small parts before transcending to meaty roles.
At Project SUCCESS in St. Paul, he did ensemble duty in The Wiz (2010) and Project SUCCESS’s original production Here’s Where I Stand (2009). Jamison hit the boards early, at age nine, in fact, making his theatrical debut in 2002 at internationally renowned Children’s Theatre Company’s production of The Wizard of Oz, doubling as one of the wicked witch’s flying monkeys and as a munchkin member of The Lollipop Guild.
Not bad. Not at all. However, much as one must be impressed by John Douglas Jamison, II’s accomplishments and prospects at his tender age, he possesses a personal strength that considerably heightens his prospects.
An adage goes, “It is one’s attitude, more than aptitude, which decides the altitude.” True enough, in the industry, strutting around with a swollen ego hardly endears you to directors or producers of consequence. Jamison sidesteps a pitfall to which merely popular teens tend to succumb, let alone the highly skilled, profoundly acknowledged. He has no trouble fitting his head through a door.
Self-possessed, not haughty, assured without waxing arrogant, the aspiring artist in his formative years already is professionally personable. A sterling attribute and asset.
“I accept [everything], compliments, very well. At the same time, you just can’t be the best. There’s always going to be someone better. There’s no reason to be arrogant about it because you’re good at what you do. A lot of people are. Everyone has their turn. I just accept it and don’t let it pull me off the ground.”
Well put. Having special abilities doesn’t make you more important than anyone else.
The proverbial apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Both parents, John Jamison and Denise Jamison, performed in theater. They are not doing the clichéd deal, browbeating their child into vicarious stardom, but simply nudged him in that direction. Whereupon, he took to the stage like, as the saying goes, a duck to water. Performing, one hazards a guess, is in his genes.
“They gave me the push. I found out I like it,” Jamison says.
Before graduating, he had his hands full, juggling theater, academics and, of all things, prominence on the Southwest High School track team as a lightning fast sprinter. How was that?
“Hard. [It’s] time consuming. Stressful.” He has, if nothing else, creative and energetic stamina. Unless he makes the next U.S. Olympic tryouts, it’s reasonable to expect John Douglas Jamison, II to continue in theater. After all, who is beating down his door to run track?
It is a déjà vu experience for Jamison. He was a little kid when first embarking on the big time. Now, he’s springboarding from the same vehicle, The Wizard of Oz, capable of carving out a career.
John Jamison, Sr. sensibly observes, “College might be in the future.” Not that he doesn’t believe in young John’s artistry. Just, Dad and Mom know, no matter how marvelous a performer he is, it doesn’t hurt to have extra arrows in the quiver. Hence, they’re providing a safety net, a fallback option.
“There is time to look into colleges,” states John Jamison, Sr. Young John readily states that his parents “are supportive. In every way. They’ve corrected me when I’m wrong. Mom nicely criticizes. Dad gives tough love.” Nurturing well.
John Douglas Jamison, II, there can be no doubt, is off to an auspicious start. In a new, improved day and age.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.