Awarded the outstanding actor fellowship at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival in 2011 and named an actor to watch by Arts Atlanta last year as part of their “30 under 30” series, up-and-coming young performer John Clarence Stewart is currently in New York starring in the new play Kind Souls at Shetler studios. He took time out of his hectic schedule to introduce himself and his play to Arts in Color.
Arts in Color: Tell us a little about yourself—what brought you to acting?
John Clarence Stewart: I got into acting through a combination of things. I used to be in a church youth group and we would do plays to communicate messages to people. That was the first time I found myself telling a story in any artistic way. Secondly, and perhaps the most pivotal piece of the puzzle was in my last year, of my last semester of High School. I was in a Math class with a friend of mine, and he was a part of the theater community at the school. After the class he was going to an audition and I asked to tag along. When we reached the audition room the director asked if I was interested in auditioning, and I said, yes. I sang a song, “Happy Birthday” to be specific, and I was cast in the show. Those were my first tastes of storytelling.
AIC: You are from Atlanta; have you moved permanently to New York City or is Atlanta still your home base?
JCS: I am definitely from Atlanta, but I have made the move to NYC. NYC is my home base now, and I am excited to be a part of this community.
AIC: What is your favorite role (or what are your favorite roles) that you’ve played?
JCS: My favorite roles that I have played other than Oliver in Kind Souls are AJ in Choir Boy at the Alliance Theater, and Tray in brownsville song (b-side for tray) at the Actors Theater of Louisville. These two plays and characters were so timely given our society today. I felt honored to have walked in those shoes.
AIC: What makes Oliver one of your favorite roles?
JCS: I like Oliver because he is everyman. He is a guy trying to provide in the best way he knows. In that way he reminds me of my father.
AIC: You have an extensive background in musical theatre—does it inform your work when you do non-musical pieces and/or vice versa?
JCS: I don’t know if I would go so far as extensive, but I have had the opportunity to do some musicals, and some plays with music. I approach the work the same way with both musical and non-musical pieces. I ask the same questions, and begin character building in that way. Each role requires something different, for sure, but the way I begin the process doesn’t vary.
AIC: Tell us a little about Kind Souls and your part in it.
JCS: Kind Souls is about a young married couple who are in the midst of an impossible situation. It is about how they choose to survive and what that survival costs. Oliver is a man that wants to provide, protect, and ensure the safety of his family.
AIC: What was the audition process like?
JCS: There was not an audition process for me with this project. My excellent director Alexander Greenfield, who directed me previously in The Whipping Man at the Alliance Theater, called and talked to me about it. I read the script and loved the story, and we went from there.
AIC: How has the experience been originating a role for a new play?
JCS: This is the second time I have had this opportunity and I am looking forward to more. Originating is my favorite thing to do. Especially when you are collaborating with a group of explorers that want to serve the text and the story. That kind of collaboration is a beautiful thing.
AIC: Arts in Color recently reviewed Lincoln Center’s version of brownsville song (b-side for Tray). Was Tray the first role that you originated? If so, how does it feel to have been part of the creation process of a play that has gone on to have a broad audience and wide success?
JCS: Yes, Tray was the first. It is a feeling of humility and honor to be a part of the legacy of a story. As an actor I serve the story, and when I inhabit a role I am a journeyman in those shoes for period of time. It was an awesome experience, and I had the opportunity to see the production in this city. I was moved in a new way was so happy to see Kimber Lee’s vision on that stage.
AIC: Why should the readers of Arts in Color go see Kind Souls?
JCS: It is a powerful story about a relationship that is put through the wringer. I think most if not all of the readers have been in a relationship that had rough patches.
AIC: What does it mean to you to be an actor of color?
JCS: It means that I stand on the legacy of many great actors, men and women, that have paved a way before me. It means I am responsible for staying true to myself. It means recognizing that I am still a trailblazer in my field. The core of it is recognizing that there is responsibility that needs to be owned.
AIC: What inspires you?
JCS: Life. Watching people. Family. Friends. Music. Dance. Pictures. There is no one thing that inspires me. The key for me is to not be so busy with various things that I miss, overlook, or am blind to inspiration when it is there.
AIC: Any other projects coming up you’d like to tell us about?
JCS: I am workshopping a play at Lincoln Center Jan 29 and 31st called Packing Up.
AIC: What is Packing Up about?
JCS: Packing Up is about a young man who secretly pursues a newfound passion as a writer in defiance of the unyielding demands of his family and friends. Jamal has responsibility toward everyone in his life, and through poetry tries to find the strength to begin to choose himself.
AIC: Where and when can we see Kind Souls?
JCS: You can see it until the 1st of February at Shetler Studios: 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor, between Broadway and 8th Avenue.
AIC: How can our readers follow you on social media (Twitter, official website, official Facebook page, etc.)?