- Kelundra Smith For the AJC
The more than two dozen professional theater companies across the metro area have developed a national reputation as a breeding ground for new plays and for developing young artists. The AJC took a closer look at the up-and-comers who are lighting up Atlanta’s stages, and after seeing several shows and speaking with casting directors, artistic directors and producers, it is clear that there is no shortage of talent in this city. Here are eight of the young actors who have been getting their share of the limelight this year.
BENJAMIN TAYLOR DAVIS
Three years ago, Davis and his team were preparing to produce a show at the New York Musical Festival, and he realized that there was a void in the Atlanta market for experimenting with and staging new musicals.
“It seemed like we could be doing something like this a whole lot cheaper in our hometown,” Davis said.
The University of Georgia and Aurora Theatre apprenticeship graduate, who has been in several shows, including “Hands on a Hardbody” and “Bridges of Madison County,” put some feelers out to community members and investors to start the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival, and now they are receiving submissions from as far as Australia.
He will be in “The Secret Garden” at TheaterZone in Naples, Fla, in February and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at the Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, S.C., in June.
Another UGA and Aurora Theatre Apprentice Company alumnus is Delgado, an Athens native who recently won a Suzi Bass Award for outstanding featured actress in a play for her performance as Abigail in “The Crucible” at Actor’s Express. As much as Delgado loves to play “women with a warped sense of reality,” she also enjoys her work in Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s young audience plays.
“I think theater education is the most important thing we can do as artists,” Delgado said.
In addition to acting onstage, she has appeared in the CW’s “Vampire Diaries” and developed a web series called “Quarter Life.”
Delgado is finishing her fourth year onstage in the Alliance Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” (at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre this year), and she will be in “Much Ado About Nothing” at Warehouse Theatre in April.
Hales walked off stage at graduation from Kennesaw State University and into rehearsals for the children’s play “Knuffle Bunny” at the Alliance Theatre. Two years later, she continues to work there, and also has found a “theatrical home” at Theatrical Outfit.
“I am where I am because I have an incredibly supportive mom,” Hales said.
When Hales is not onstage, she works part time at a juice bar, goes on film and television auditions and does voice-over work for audiobooks. Now, she’s ready to tackle Broadway.
“New York is one of those things where if I don’t try it, I’ll regret it,” Hales said. “To be able to do eight shows a week and not have to have a side job, that is the dream.”
She is finishing her role as Lydia Wickham in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” at Theatrical Outfit and will be in “110 in the Shade” there May 31-June 24.
When Inge moved to Atlanta from Laurel, Md., to attend Spelman College, she majored in music with dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter. Then, she was bitten by the acting bug after a random audition for a community theater.
“I was terrible at first,” Inge says with a laugh. “… I thought having a natural knack for acting and being able to sing would be enough, but I had to learn the basics.”
Inge is far from terrible now, and tackled hefty roles in “Father Comes Home From the Wars Parts 1, 2, and 3” at Actor’s Express, “Blackberry Daze” at Horizon Theatre and True Colors Theatre Company’s productions of “Holler if Ya Hear Me” and “First Noel.” She has also booked co-star roles on the TV shows “Survivor’s Remorse” and “Atlanta,” as well as a part in the film adaptation of the young adult novel “The Hate U Give.”
As much as she is enjoying the work, she wants to create more of it for black actresses.
“There are 50 of us going out for the one black girl role, when there are so many creative ways shows could be cast,” Inge said. “There’s so much work that we could create on our own, and I hope that’s something I can impact in the future.”
SARAH NEWBY HALICKS
She was 11 when she fell in love with Shakespeare after seeing “The Taming of the Shrew” at the Shakespeare Tavern.
“The actors were speaking these words that I didn’t quite understand, but the clarity, comedy and accessibility of that performance made me fall in love with what they were doing,” Newby Halicks said. “… I started taking summer actor classes. I interned at the Alliance Theatre, did the teen program at the Shakespeare Tavern and did my apprenticeship there after college.”
She recently received rave reviews for her performance in “The Christians” at Actor’s Express, but she is also a personal trainer, and a teaching artist at the Alliance Theatre, and she does voice-over work for the AJC podcast “Breakdown.”
She will play the Princess of France in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” March 31-April 22, 2018, at the Shakespeare Tavern and is a regular performer in a Shakespeare show with a drunken twist at the Village Theatre.
Another Shakespeare Tavern Apprentice Company alumnus, Ruffin, has his eyes set on Hollywood, and recently booked his first principal role in a film called “Summer 03,” due out next year. The Decatur native graduated from the University of Florida, and says his favorite role so far is Bowzie Brandon in the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere of “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” a play about Freedom Riders in the 1960s.
“That was a spiritual experience and I would love to do it again,” Ruffin said. “… I think I’ll be searching for that connection to a character for a long time.”
His dream is to be in a “Star Wars” film and make strides to diversify the sci-fi/fantasy genre of the film industry.
“I play pretend for a living and the best thing about it is that when I’m booked, my career is stress-relieving for me,” Ruffin said. “When I’m lucky enough to do that acting thing, all it’s doing is bringing joy and feeding creative energy. The 9-to-5 part of it is fulfilling; it just comes around a little less often.”
Thorpe shares Hales’ sentiment about wanting to pursue acting full time, because he works at a law firm between gigs. He knows the New York hustle well, since he moved there after graduating from Point Park University in Pittsburgh with a degree in musical theater.
“As an actor, you are putting your heart and soul into everything you do,” Thorpe said. “The hardest part is protecting that part of yourself that wants to keep going out there and getting rejected and trying again.”
He moved back to Atlanta in 2016, and recently gave a standout performance as a teenage boy and his demented puppet in the Alliance Theatre’s “Hand to God,” where “I got to play the hero and the villain at the same time.”
Next up, audiences can see him in “Clark Gable Slept Here” at ART Station Theatre, Jan. 31-Feb. 11, and in a concert staging of “Candide” at Symphony Hall, May 9-20.
The Florence, Ala., native wants to create more opportunities for actors of color, and started writing plays while studying music and creative writing at Emory University. He earned a master’s degree in musical theater from the Central School of Speech & Drama in London, and later moved to New York, but the Atlanta theater scene beckoned him. This year, he performed in True Colors’ production of the Tupac-inspired musical “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” and found the experience “liberating.”
“I am a scholar-artist, so I am frequently tugged between heady practice and a much more embodied active practice of becoming a character,” Turner said. “I recently posted on Facebook the different questions I’m asking myself between the process of my last show, ‘Holler if Ya Hear Me,’ and the process of my next show, ‘Lookingglass Alice.’ In one, I’m rapping and contemplating the existential dread that it is to be a black man in the United States, and in the other, I’m navigating this nonsensical world playing the White Rabbit and the March Hare.”
Two days after “Lookingglass” closes at Baltimore Center Stage this month, he starts rehearsal for “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Miami New Drama.