Learning to combine music and theater
“It’s the opposite of what you might think,” says freshman and LaGrange native Jalen Smith when asked about growing up with LaGrange College in his backyard. “LC was always here, but I didn’t know much about it until I was a junior in high school, when our choral director at LaGrange High (and LC Theater Arts alumni '06) Katie Westbrook brought a bunch of us to see plays at Price Theatre.”
A family tour of the LaGrange College campus introduced Jalen to Theater Arts Professor Kim Barber Knoll and details of the new Musical Theatre major, which officially takes flight in 2014.
Lauded since childhood for his smooth, natural-sounding tenor singing voice, Jalen had confidence issues to overcome, however, when it came time to audition for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” the inaugural production in the newly renovated Price Theater.
“My first experience singing was as a second grader during Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church. Miss Jane Bower heard me sing and told me that I ‘had a voice.’ I didn’t understand what that meant because I thought everyone ‘had a voice.’ I guess I learned not to be afraid of audiences singing in church and in our spring concerts in high school. But auditioning for a college musical is much, much different. Auditioning for ‘Smokey Joe’ alongside 30 talented people was exciting and nerve-racking and at the same time humbling. I had never done a formal audition before and sort of fumbled my way through it.
“I got the part, and learned quickly that I had to be on the top of my game when I came to rehearsal. Professor Knoll aways says ‘you can’t start from zero,’ meaning that you have to enter the building with the right attitude and be ‘in the zone,’ if you know what I mean. Ready to sing your best.”
Jalen says the advantage of appearing in a big musical alongside upperclassmen is that you learn the ropes very quickly.
“But I welcome the pressure of learning quickly because I know that the real world doesn’t wait on you. You’ve got to jump in and hit the ground runnin’.”
He is quick to express his awe and confidence in his fellow cast members.
“Malcom Stephan is a standout. He is not a student here, he’s actually a student at LaGrange High School. But he auditioned and they decided they couldn’t afford not to include this guy.
This is a great opportunity for him and he’s really soaking it in. Austin Taylor – I really admire the way he sings, because his range, it’s crazy. He can sing notes that I dream of. Linda Jackson … if you’ve never heard Linda sing, you’re missing out. Linda is amazing. And so is senior Alyese Wilkerson. I get to dance with Alyese in part of the show. She learned the steps before I did, and she was very patient with me.
“I know I use the word ‘inspire’ a lot. But the cast as a whole really inspires me. They’re good at what they do, and that makes me want to be better.”
Jalen aspires to teach music at the college level someday.
“I love drama and I love singing. So Musical Theatre … this degree doesn’t allow you to become good at music without becoming good at theatre or vice versa. You’re forced to learn how they work together. So in sharpening skills on both sides, it just opens up all these possibilities for the future. And it’s really limitless where I can go with my career.”
Showtimes for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6–9 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10. General admission tickets are $10, and $7 for senior citizens and non-LC students. To make reservations, call the box office at (706) 880-8080 or email.