Jared Graham selected to join National Players
When Jared Graham, a 2003 Tullahoma High School graduate, was in the third grade, he caught a bug. The theatre bug. Or, at least, that Robert E. Lee Elementary School production of “On the Right Track” is when his mother Debi Graham first knew he was hooked on performing.
“He hasn’t stopped acting since and has never wavered in his desire to train as an actor and make it his career,” she said.
It’s a lifelong passion that has paid off. In February, Graham was chosen by the nation’s longest running touring theatre, National Players, to join its 69th annual tour.
Founded in 1949 and based just north of Washington, D.C., National Players is the hallmark outreach program of the Olney Theatre Center, a professional, award-winning regional theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Today, Graham and nine fellow actors from across the nation are in Olney, rehearsing the three shows that will be performed in repertory (on an alternating basis throughout the year) through mid-May.
Getting the Job
Competition for a spot in the touring company was fierce. Graham was selected from a pool of more than 1,500 actors who auditioned between January and March to fill one of the nine open positions in the 10-actor company. Auditions were held in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Memphis. It was at the annual United Professional Theatre Auditions (UPTA) in Memphis, where Graham then lived, that he got the job.
Each February, UPTA welcomes casting representatives of roughly 90 professional theatre companies from around the country to Memphis for a centralized mass audition. Unified auditions like this one streamline the audition process, allowing actors to be seen by a number of different companies at once while also allowing those companies to see hundreds – or thousands – of actors in one place over the course of a weekend.
It’s a harried weekend with valuable opportunities on both sides of the table, and no time is wasted. To secure an audition slot in front of the professional companies at UPTA an actor must first meet a series of professional requirements that show his dedication, training and experience.
With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance from the University of Memphis, a Master of Fine Arts in Physical Theatre from Accademia dell’ Arte in Arezzo, Italy and a resume of professional credits that included performing the title role in New Moon Theatre’s production of “Hamlet” – which opened in Memphis on the same weekend as the audition – Graham is more than qualified.
But he almost didn’t go.
“We had performances on Friday and Saturday night and I remember waking up on Sunday morning thinking that I wouldn’t go to UPTA because I was so tired,” said Graham.
Fortunately, he said, he convinced himself to “stumble into the audition room,” before that day’s matinee performance. After the matinee, he returned to the audition hotel to see which companies had taken an interest in him, calling him back for a second look. There were a few, he said, “But NP (National Players) was definitely the one I was excited about,” he said.
“NP had been on my radar since I came back to the states. I knew they were the longest running classical touring company in the U.S. and I liked the title selections that they were doing more than most of the other companies that attended UPTA.”
Throughout its history, National Players has consistently produced the works of William Shakespeare – “which was the true draw for me,” said Graham – as well as stage adaptations of classical literature. For Tour 69, the company was auditioning for Shakespeare’s “Othello” and adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
That whirlwind weekend in early February was just the beginning of what Graham called a “crazy month.”
The day after his audition, Graham learned that his grandmother had died. By mid-week, he and his family were in Kentucky for the funeral services, and by the weekend he was back on stage in Memphis. Graham would finish the three-week run of “Hamlet” before emailing National Players Artistic Director Jason King Jones to thank him for the audition and to confirm his interest in becoming a company member.
“I wasn’t really expecting a response,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had done everything I could to get his attention.”
But he did get a response. It would be another “nerve-wracking” week before Graham and Jones could coordinate their schedules for a phone conversation, but when they finally spoke, Graham discovered that he was being considered for the villainous role of Iago in “Othello.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Graham. “That was the role I was hoping for, but I didn’t expect that it would be on the table.”
Over the next few weeks, Graham talked to former players about their experiences with the company and discussed the commitment with friends and family before, finally, he talked to Jones again. This time, he said, “I definitively told him yes.”
His proud parents, Debi and Tony Graham, were delighted.
“We probably remember every one of his performances,” said Debi. “There were many, as he grew up on the Tullahoma High School, South Jackson Civic Center and Manchester Arts Center stages.
“When we heard Jared had been chosen to be a part of the tour, we were excited for him; especially since joining a national tour has been one of his career goals.”
A Year on the Road
The 10 actors selected for Tour 69 will travel the country together through May, performing the three prepared shows either together or separately, depending on the booking venue’s preference. And every actor appears in each show.
“My primary role is Iago,” said Graham, “but I am also appearing as the White Rabbit in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and several ensemble characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’.”
In classic touring fashion, the actors also act as their own stage crew, installing, operating and maintaining all backstage and offstage elements as the shows move from town to town.
A few hours before each scheduled performance, they will prepare the stage, raise the set, hang and focus the lights, check sound equipment and props and arrange the dressing rooms before they don their costumes and makeup. When the curtain falls, they will do it all in reverse. Then they will take turns driving the company’s three vehicles – a truck for their stage equipment, a van and a car – from venue to venue.
“We also take theatre workshops, which we teach, to some of the tour destinations,” said Graham. “I am also stage managing Gatsby and will act as the education coordinator and an assistant electrician. So, I will be responsible for managing the workshops that we teach while on the road, and running up and down ladders, hanging and focusing our lighting equipment at each venue.”
Debi and Tony already have plans to visit those venues, both on the road and in Olney.
“We received a quick tour of the theatre when we helped him move to Olney,” said Debi. “And we are planning to return to see him perform there once the 2017-2018 season opens this fall.”
Touring begins in September with a heightened focus on the Mid-Atlantic region. After a December break, the tour renews in January, branching into other areas of the country. Though the tour is so far slated to stop in 21 states, no Tennessee dates have yet been added.
“I don’t think the group will be performing in Tennessee,” said Debi, “but hopefully we will be able to catch him in a few more performances as they swing through nearby states.”
The tour is expected to stop north of Tennessee in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The date for that stop has not been announced, but the tour calendar can be viewed online throughout the year at nationalplayers.org.
Venue operators interested in booking the tour may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for dates and pricing information.