Southeast Missouri State University student Jay Wade has landed a leading role in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s (ASF) production of “Pipeline,” Oct. 17-27 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Wade, a senior theatre major, acting option, from St. Louis, Missouri, will be playing Omari in this powerful play that delves into the issue of the “school-to-prison” pipeline that can ensnare people of color.
The ASF, housed in the Carolyn Blount Theatre, is among the 10 largest Shakespeare festivals in the world and one of the most ambitious theatre institutions in the United States. ASF’s year-round operating schedule offers the public more than a dozen professional theatre productions annually. The organization also offers a number of educational outreach programs, hosts an adult lecture series and sponsors the Southern Writer’s Project. The ASF has been a leader in the performing arts throughout the region and country, and has garnered critical acclaim worldwide.
“For a student to go through a national audition and be cast in a leading role is almost unheard of, and a new achievement for The (Jeanine Larson Dobbins) Conservatory (of Theatre and Dance) for a student to obtain this before he graduates,” said Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of The Conservatory.
Wade initially intended to pursue his theatre education in Los Angeles, but he ultimately chose Southeast because of the reputation and affordability of The Conservatory, which has prepared him for professional roles and an extraordinary career after he graduates next May.
“The Conservatory has helped me to grow as an actor and all-around performer,” Wade said. “My training here has contributed to my success and lead to me booking a leading role in my first professional production. The faculty is very supportive, and they want to see each of their students succeed.”
Wade has grown his abilities at Southeast, venturing outside of his acting comfort zone and stepping into a musical theatre acting role in The Conservatory’s world premiere of “An American Hero” at the University’s River Campus.
Wade also had taken some vocal classes, building a stronger voice that led to him being cast as Paddy O’Brien in the original World War II musical his junior year.
“Before coming to Southeast’s Conservatory, I never thought I would be in a musical, nor did I have the desire to be in one,” he said. “It was a big moment because it showed my willingness to grow. It also exemplified the diligence of my professors and their effort to make sure every student explores their talent.”
Southeast’s Conservatory has also given him opportunities to perform and hone his craft in other supporting and leading roles, including Walter in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lysander in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello.”
“Jay has been one of our leading actors throughout his time at Southeast,” Stilson said. “He’s an incredibly talented young man with a tremendous depth to him and his characters. There’s an intrigue about Jay that makes you want to watch him, which is something you can’t teach.”
For Wade, performing is an opportunity to portray a character’s story and message to connect with the audience emotionally and personally.
“The best way I can describe what draws me to the performing arts is the definite need to communicate through expression of art, and specifically the expression of other people, people that need to be heard,” Wade said.
In ASF’s production of “Pipeline” he will be telling the story of Omari, a young African American male who is in danger of becoming a product of the “school-to-prison pipeline” through his private school in upstate New York.
“Giving people a voice and influencing change is what I can do as an actor and that is why I enjoy it,” he said.
Wade says that he owes his success to understanding what he can and cannot control on and off the stage.
“I have high expectations for myself, but in this profession, I believe success comes by controlling what you can,” he said. “Work at your own pace, explore and have fun. Work at a pace you are comfortable with. Stress is inevitable and it can hinder your success. Explore new things and meet as many people that you can, because when you’re open to new possibilities you may learn things about who you are.”