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July 2013 In a 2010 TED Talk, South Korean novelist Kim Young-ha made an observation that resonates deeply with the mission of arts education in Norwell: “We are all born artists. If you have kids, you know what I mean. Almost everything kids do is art.” He is right, of course: children make up dances, Read More
Jarret Kerr is an actor, playwright and screenwriter living in New York City. He is also a NHS Alum and Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild (METG) participant. He graduated in 2006 and has gone on to have a very successful career thus far!
Jarret writes, “When I first stepped out onto the stage in high school, although it was not my first foray into theater, I knew something was different. Now that I was older, yet still at the tender age of fourteen, I knew that my performance mattered. I had moved beyond the simple novelty of cute children stumbling through a class performance. It was now expected of me to remember my lines, my cast mates were actually counting on me for something.
In high school, one creates an identity through one’s interests: future politicians start investing their time in the social life of the school, running for treasurer or class president; the up and coming computer geniuses start tinkering around with robotics; the budding writers out there join the newspaper staff or the poetry club. I aligned myself with the drama club and quickly discovered that drama might really be the thing for me. I had suspected before that moment that I wanted to be an actor but it wasn’t until I began to feel the sense of community the theater fosters, and that I was truly integral to that community, that I realized I was an actor. I was no longer a little kid thinking “when I grow up I wanna be…”. I had grown up. And it was the theater that helped me take that step.
The realization of what my true passion was couldn’t have come to me without the help of The Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild. For over eighty years the Guild has provided the young people of Massachusetts with an outlet through which they may explore their inner passions, whether those passions lie in costume design, lighting, makeup, or set building. It accomplishes this through its yearly, statewide theater festival. I was fortunate enough to attend the festival all four years of my high school education. Twice as an actor, and twice as an admirer. Every year, I looked forward to festival like I would Christmas. Running into familiar faces from faraway schools, designing my school’s festival shirt, and of course, performing in front of an audience ten times the size of any audience I’d ever performed for, the festival was a dream come true.
My sophomore year, 2004, I was playing the role of Artie in Norwell High School’s production of Personal Effects. This was what I would call my first big role, and I was onstage at the semi finals, having mustered every ounce of courage I had, performing in front of hundreds. We were chosen that night, along with two other plays, to attend the festival finals in Boston at the John Hancock Hall. I also won an acting award for my performance. I remember calling my mother from the bus on the way home, whooping and hollering with youthful ebullience along with the rest of our cast and crew. “We won!” I shouted at my mother’s answering machine. She saved it and likes to play it sometimes to remind me why I got into this business. But I didn’t get into the acting game because I had won an award and felt puffed up and grandiose, rather because that night I felt the power of being a part of something bigger than myself and our little play. I felt the importance of storytelling, the sense of history, and most of all, I felt the joy that theater brings.
From that day on it was never a question. I stayed on my path as an actor for the rest of high school. Even when I got a bit of teasing from friends and family for not being like everybody else, I did not waver. I applied early decision to NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, placing all my bets on one horse. I traveled to Manhattan to audition. Along with a hundred or so other nervous actors. They were all drinking honey, stretching. I was sitting, wringing my hands. I was accepted by NYU and sent to the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. I was asked to do free form movement exercises and monastic chanting my first day in class. A year later I was devouring Shakespeare and playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A year after that I was living in London, training and performing at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I did my vocal warm-ups looking over portraits of greats who had trained there in the past; Anthony Hopkins, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, the list goes on and on. On returning to New York I worked with two time Tony winner Mark Rylance. I played a landscape artist with a mean temper and a penchant for posing nude. Which I had to do and did. Another thing the theater taught me – fearlessness.
Since graduating, I have written and performed in my own play, Percival’s Big Night, off-Broadway. I adapted that play into a film. It was accepted into numerous festivals here in the States, as well as premiering abroad at the Raindance Film Festival, smack dab in the center of Piccadilly Circus in foggy Londontown. Raindance is the very same festival that birthed The Blair Witch Project, and introduced director Christopher Nolan to the world. If you haven’t heard of him, he directed the most recent Batman trilogy. We won best of Raindance, and in doing so, sent our film to Berlin! The director of my film and I traveled to the Cannes Film Festival. Our film was being represented there as part of the festival’s yearly film market. We rubbed elbows with Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox. We were not granted admission to the waterfront Weinstein Company brunch. Back in America, film underarm, we won best actress and producer at The Brooklyn Film Festival. We impressed a local theater owner enough that he played our film for two weeks in downtown Brooklyn at the highly reputable Brooklyn Heights Cinema. In the theater next door, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom played.
I have just finished the seventh draft of my newest screenplay. I have two producers circling the script, both talking relatively big money – twenty times my first film’s budget which was a little under twenty thousand dollars, a low figure made possible by using a cast of four, a crew of seven, a set which was in fact my own apartment, and a shoot which comprised just a single continuous shot start to finish. Now they actually want to pay me upwards of five grand just for my script, something I never thought possible. I highlight my recent successes, as small as they may be, not to brag but to make an important point: if you’re truly passionate about what you do, if it is really the path you want to take, there is nothing that can stop you carving out the life you want. I was fortunate enough, thanks significantly to the METG festival, to realize I wanted to be an actor and writer when I was only fifteen. Some may not know what they want to be, even once they’ve graduated college. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but it is a very fulfilling discovery once you make it. Theater and the METG helped me uncover who I am.
My first day at Stella Adler, in orientation, I saw a beautiful girl across the room. She looked so familiar. After the teachers had spoken, and we were all encouraged to meet and greet, I timidly approached and asked how I knew her. As I asked I realized I had seen her my high school sophomore year in Weston High’s original productionEscaping Alcestis. She was fantastic, and here she was, standing in the same room as me, ready to train.
“I remember you, you were the guy eating the chips,” she said. I did in fact consume a whole bowl of Frito Lays on stage in my role as Artie, the one I had won an award for. Three years later, we still knew each other.
Of course we did. We were both part of the same community.”