Memphis on the Move: The Life of a Touring Actor
Acting is a hard profession. Maybe not the hardest, but it’s certainly up there. Any serious actor will tell you this. The days are long, the work is sporadic, and the pay, for most, is minimal at best. Then why do actors do it? Why sacrifice so much? Most of these people can’t see themselves doing anything else. They find pure joy and encouragement from that feeling of being onstage. They live for that feeling of slipping out of themselves and into another person entirely. For people like Jamari Williams this is the only way he wants to spend his life. A former high school football star turned performer he understands the idea of hard work. Like any other performer he has constantly found himself on that audition grind, something that is never over. Recently he booked his first national tour, Memphis, and decided to speak with me a bit on the ups and downs of touring and the life of the ever-constant “struggling actor.”
Where did you get your professional training?
I trained formally at AMDA (The American Musical and Dramatic Academy).
Who are some actors or professionals you admire?
I admire many, but I try to model myself after Norm Lewis as we have similar voices and types; besides the fact that he is amazing and making history.
This is your first professional tour. What were some of the shows/work you did to lead you to this point?
It was two theme park jobs actually. London Rocks and Monster Stomp on Ripper Row at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. These were my first professional jobs and trained me (informally) as not only a dancer, but an overall performer. Every day was a test, or a lesson, or a triumph.
What was your audition process like for Memphis?
One of the fastest processes I’ve been through actually. It was an open call for a notional tour. Aka hundreds of people. We sang first. And those kept were asked to dance. The dance portion was insane because Prather Entertainment were auditioning not only for their tours, but their season as well. So there was a little bit of everything in the combination. And those kept from that point were asked to sing again. Boom. That’s it. Next thing I know I get an offer the next week!
When you got the call, how long did it take to hit you? You know, the fact that you booked a national tour!
It was immediate. As performers were constantly checking our phones and emails, etc, always waiting for that big break. The second I saw the subject line my heart stopped. And as I opened it the water works began. I was literally sitting on my bed, still at Busch, roommate sleeping, having a breakdown.
What’s life like on the road?
It’s amazing and beautiful, but also awful and difficult. There are days when we could be on the bus for 8 hours and then have to do a show that night. We lucked out on this particular tour and received our own seats, adding a little more comfort, but it’s nothing like an old fashion bed of course. Also food options are always a struggle. Most lunch stops only have fast food and most places around the country close around 10pm, while were in the middle of a show. To stay healthy is hard work. I personally gained and then lost 10 lbs on this tour! But ya know, I get to do what I love and see the red, white and blue, so I can’t complain too much.
What kind of research did you do in preparation for your character and for the show in general?
I had to research the era, 50’s, not only to know how to carry myself, but also how to look. I relaxed my hair to mimic the “konked” hair style. Looked up phrases and idioms in order to authentically improv and act in scenes. And also just gave each of my characters their own names and backstories. Sure it may not be necessary to some or even goes unnoticed. But it makes living in the world so much deeper and enjoyable. We also don’t generally listen to the blues and rock and roll on a daily basis. So familiarizing myself with the music was imperative. The more prepared you are the better actor you can be. Trust me, it’s real.
What kind of preparation, both mentally and physically, do you go through before each performance?
I stretch and stretch and stretch before every show. Most of the time I’ll even do a workout with some of the other guys to really warm my body up. Of course vocal warmups and the occasional steam session. Running on a treadmill, I’ve found, really helps total body. As far as mentally, I have enough knowledge from research and just doing the show every night, to only need a moment to realize where I am and how I would react in the story. Our first scene is in the underground night club, so what do I do before I storm onstage? I get ready to party!
What’s your favorite part of being in the show?
The people. There are some REDICULOUSLY talented people I share the stage with. And seeing them twirl and belt right in front of me just gives me all the life I need to keep gong when I’m winded and keep smiling. It’s an honor to be up there with them.
What’s your least favorite part?
I don’t know if I have a least favorite. Maybe when its over?
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned while being on the road?
There are many many lessons I’ve learned. But some of the most vital are to be nice to EVERYONE. And if you can’t, isolate yourself from those particulars. Were already dramatic people. No need to cause any more drama. And most importantly, hold yourself to the utmost high standard. I used to get upset when I’d see someone marking, or someone complained and dared say they wanna go home. Things like that drove me crazy. But I was told and had to realize that everyone’s journey is different, and that not everyone has it. You have to work on your craft and keep your integrity no matter what is happening around you. Take care of yourself first. Hold yourself to the highest standard of art. It’ll pay off in the long run. And though they may not say anything, people notice. Oh do they notice.
Give me your most memorable moment since starting the Memphis tour!
There are so many!!! It’s always inspiring to get standing ovations at the end. Or when your whole family, whom haven’t seen you perform in God knows how long, come to see you. I will however never forget the day I fell onstage. Yep. In the middle of a battement, my standing leg gave out and I was on the ground. Hilarious yet embarrassing. But instead of crying over it I smiled even bigger and got right back up with the choreography. Most people would flip, but I laughed and got ready for my next scene.
Is there a specific part of the show you look forward to performing every night?
Damn near every number I’m in. Most songs are high energy and allow on to really live onstage. I will say I enjoy the song “Radio”, because the ensemble gets to be teenagers and play with props. And the fact that the black and white ensemble finally come together. I already have too much energy, so getting to play a younger person is too much fun.
Have any of your family or friends had a chance to see the show? What were their reactions?
They loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. The story is very moving and so relevant to what’s happening in America right now as far as the “war” on race. The struggles they go through are real and not resolved. But there’s hope.
What’s your plan once Memphis is over?
Who knows! Nothings ever set in stone. I just know I’m on to bigger and better things. The grind is never over.
Take a look at the video above if you need any convincing to see this fun and inspiring show. This national tour is ending soon, sadly. But, there are still a few tour dates and locations left. Tickets for Memphis can be found by clicking here! Be sure to go out and see this moving piece of theatre. You defintely won’t regret it and you’ll get to see an incredibly hardworking performer, Jamari Williams.