Adaya Jaye: Theatre Industry Worker Tag
We are asking anyone working in any capacity of the theatre industry what they love about it and have learned along the way. Here is Adaya Jaye based in Los Angeles, USA.
1. Do you remember your first experience within the theatre/entertainment industry?
I do! I started off doing musical theatre as a young child. Some unfortunate events caused me to have to suddenly change schools and I ended up auditioning at a well known performing arts school. I knew absolutely nothing about performing arts at that time. I just picked my materials and did my best. Well my best was exceptional. I scored well in drama, vocal music AND creative writing. Students could only choose a maximum of two majors because the curriculum and time commitments were intense so creative writing went on the backburner until later in life. Every fall our school did a musical at the major theatre in our city that all the drama and vocal music majors had to audition for. We spent days learning our materials before lining up in our auditorium (which was a theatre in and of itself!) in front of a huge crowd of other teachers and students to perform one by one. I was nervous but I thought I did pretty good. A couple of days later one of the students yelled that the list was up while I was walking down the hall. I didn’t know what was going on so I kept walking until someone said “Hey Adaya, didn’t you audition?” and told me to go check the list to see if I made it. There was a lot of emotion flying around while I waited to see if my name was up there. Mostly disappointment.
The kid who told me to check was the first emphatic “Yes!!” and excited face I saw. I remember being so short that somebody else ended up checking for me and told me I’d made it, which, based on all the buzzing around me was a good thing. The musical was Cinderella and I was an ensemble/chorus member. I’d learn what that meant later. I’d also learn that that was an honor because I was way too young to play any other part (major and minor roles were given to high school students) and that this was not Cinderella! I flipped through the entire script. I sat in my seat completely engaged while the big kids rehearsed. I had watched Cinderella hundreds of times with my cousins and this was not it! There were no mice! Where was the bippity boppity boop? What the heck is this 10 minutes ago song?? I remember the musical director chuckling after I tapped her to tell her all of this. She told me that this was Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. “Who are they??” I asked. She explained that Disney was the company that made the Cinderella that I’d watched at home and Rogers and Hammerstein were the men that wrote and composed this version of Cinderella to be performed as a musical. (*Side note – The two would come together very shortly after when Disney produced a movie version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Brandy Norwood)
So every day I sat in my seat wrestling with myself as I watched the big kids rehearse and tried to be open to the new, and, I became smitten. Not just with the script but with the whole process. I’d rush to the auditorium after school to do my homework as fast as I could so I could watch until it was our turn to rehearse. I loved seeing the progression and how hard everyone worked. Then as our rehearsals got better new pieces got added in. Sometimes the dancers would join us and we had a costume shop and hair and make-up and I didn’t know what a stage manager was but everyone listened to her and she seemed like she was doing a good job. I remember being in such awe at these kids I’d seen in the hallway or had math and science classes with suddenly in their element. They were so talented! Just when I thought we couldn’t get any better and I couldn’t be any happier or enthralled we moved. One day I went to the auditorium after school and it was dark. “Hey!”. It was the same kid that helped me when the cast list was posted. I now knew him as David. “We have tech rehearsal. Don’t you remember?” he said. “What’s tech rehearsal?” I asked. “Just come on. We’re moving to the theatre.” “Why?” “You didn’t think we were doing this just for our school did you?” he asked. I did. I think. I don’t know what I thought. I was just…having fun.
At the theatre everything was heightened. It was bigger than our auditorium. The aisles were longer and it had way more balcony seats and there was a greenroom and the stage manager talked to us over the speaker and there were set pieces and everyone was all in one place instead of off building and rehearsing in their own corner of the school. Even the kids who played instruments were there. And there was just this…buzz…in the air. We continued our rehearsals and had just started doing run throughs of different parts of the script. I usually hung out backstage doing homework and playing games with the other kids but on this day I asked if I could go sit in the house (that’s what they called the part of the theatre where the audience sat, I’d learned) and watch. The music started just as I came through the door. As I walked quietly down the long aisle to a seat close to the front what I saw was…magical. The lights! The costumes! The shimmer in the set pieces as my dancer friends waltzed and strutted and pirouetted across the stage! The flow in their skirts as their partners lifted them in the air! The music! I had never heard the Waltz. Even though we weren’t in the scene, us little ones practiced in the aisles of our auditorium while the big kids practiced on stage to our musical director’s “aaand 123, 123” counts. I was awe struck. That’s what it looked like? This is what we had all been working so hard for? This was all the pieces and final touches put together! And oh my gosh our orchestra! I had fallen utterly, completely and totally in love. Bitten hard by the bug. To this day I still get teary eyed when I hear Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella Waltz. That moment has stayed with me and the entire experience is one I will never forget. I could go on and on about that experience as so many of the details have shaped who I am but this has already inadvertently turned into a creative writing assignment so I’ll stop there.
2. When did you know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry?
Spent a lot of time studying the arts and performing. We did a musical every year along with numerous other plays, concerts and performances. We performed with the Pops, Mel Torme and other legends all over the city. We got invited to perform at special events, had several televised performances and even made a concert cd. Despite all that I still didn’t fully understand the entertainment industry. I’d heard the names of some of the legends we performed with but I didn’t exactly know who they were or fully understand the weight of any of what I was doing at that time. I really was just a kid having SO MUCH fun! And I spent all of my youth and teenage years thinking that’s what the arts was, just something people did for fun. I actually wanted to be a doctor. It wasn’t until 18 or 19 that I realized that it could be a job that people actually got paid for.
My family and I had been through some pretty tough times and I decided to work in the entertainment industry firstly because I realized how much joy it gave me. Being on stage was the only time where nothing else mattered and performing was the only thing that would get me out of bed when things were at their worst. Secondly I made this choice because I wanted to show people through my art that they weren’t alone in whatever they were going through and that if the characters I played could get through it, so could they. This is also the reason why I started writing.
3. Did you study the arts?
My time studying the arts in school is where I started. I eventually moved to L.A. to study with Ivana Chubbuck, spent a short time studying at Guildhall in London and have worked with Patsy Rodenburg.
4. What was your first job in the theatre/entertainment industry?
One of my first paid jobs was as a featured extra in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I remember being so excited to be on set. It brought back all those childhood memories of my first theatre experience and I thought since I was a “big kid” now that that meant I was gonna make it. (bursts out laughing) Don’t get me wrong. It’s a really cool first job to have but the industry doesn’t work like that. I still had a lot of naivete to grow out of.
5. What’s the best role you ever had?
Ooh that’s a tough one. My ensemble/choir role was one of the best because I was so young and naïve to the whole experience. It’s when I got bitten by the bug and is also the first time I experienced colorblind casting. Even though I didn’t know much about the arts what I knew was Cinderella was white. When I found out a black girl had been cast as Cinderella I assumed the prince would be black too. Well we had an A and B cast and they were equally mixed racially and ALL of the cast members were extremely talented. It didn’t feel like something that was done to make a statement. It’s just the way things were. Everyone was included, everyone fit in and it was all based on talent. As a little black girl this really shaped my views, especially because my city had some serious overt race problems at that time. This continued on later when I auditioned for a role in a local production of Antigone. I was no longer at my safe, cozy performing arts school, this was a Greek tragedy and I was the only person of color auditioning. I thought for sure talent would take a back seat to race and that I should thank my lucky stars if they happened to cast me as Ismene. Well I was pleasantly surprised when I was cast as Antigone and blown away when I received a standing ovation. Even more so when it happened night after night. Understand that this was before Scandal. There was no debate about Halle Baily playing Ariel. I grew up being called the N word because we were the only black family in my neighborhood and losing friends because even though we’d known each other since preschool my white friend’s parents told them they couldn’t be friends with an N word. Now here I was playing the lead role in a Greek tragedy and receiving standing ovations from majority white audiences in the same troubled city. It was incredible. I decided after that that I was never going to let race keep me from my artistic, or any other goals, ever again and that I’d make it my mission to play whatever the hell I wanted… So now she’s naïve and ambitious.
6. How is your role misunderstood outside the arts and how do you explain what you do to people?
I can’t speak for everyone but for me it’s the reason behind it. Everyone thinks if you want to be on the stage or in front of the camera it’s because you want to be famous. Of course artists want to be well received for doing great work but as you can see I have deeper reasons for making this choice. I’m still not sure if everyone gets it and I can’t remember the last time I tried to explain. At this point I don’t think I care.
7. What are the top three skills you need for your role?
Tenacity, Perseverance and Childlike Curiosity.
8. What advice do you have for anyone looking to do what you do?
Have all 3 of the above and figure out how to create your own work. It’s the best way to stay fulfilled and increases the odds of people seeing your talents.
9. If you could do anything else in the theatre/entertainment industry what would it be?
I’m doing everything I want at the moment. I’m writing and producing my own projects, am still studying with Ivana (you should never stop studying your craft!) and have started my own business. I don’t have time for much else. My only unfulfilled wish is to return to my musical theatre roots. I say unfulfilled because there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding how things will move forward post pandemic. I’d also like to go back to study in London again. They don’t play about their craft!
10. What advice do you have for anyone looking to make a career in the arts?
Study Study Study! Never stop working on your craft. You can always improve. Also be sure to take time to live life in between. Lastly be patient and be sure you know why you’re doing this. It will give you the drive to keep going when things get tough or “the phone’s not ringing.”
11. What do you wish someone told you before pursuing a career in the theatre?
Not to. Lol. Just kidding. They did. I didn’t listen. Ha! I’d like to say I wish someone told me what the industry is really like. The way race and even talent is handled is much different from my earlier experiences. Sometimes both take a back seat to a million other factors. But all of that is what makes me so passionate about my choices, especially what I choose to write and produce. I wouldn’t be who I am without all of my experiences.
12. Were you still able to work in the theatre/entertainment industry during the Pandemic?
Yes. I started my own company called Creative Endeavors Artists. I help creatives and influencers transition to the digital space, grow and/or stay connected to their fan base and pair them with brands for partner and sponsorships. It was birthed from the pandemic and the great need that artist have to continue performing amidst the lockdowns and uncertainty. An international friend had been doing well livestreaming, was insistent that I had the personality to do well at it and suggested I try it. I finally tried it when we went on lockdown and it gave me so much hope and joy when the pandemic was at it’s worst that I started helping friends. I sang, did cosplay and we did virtual variety shows and performances. It was great! Things have continued to grow from there.
13. What are you most looking forward to in the theatre/entertainment industry when we reach a new normal?
Returning to the theatre! I especially want to go back to the Globe and the West End of London. And of course at some point I’d like to return to the stage myself.
14. What do you love the most about the theatre/entertainment industry?
What do I love most about the theatre? Everything! The joy, upliftment, singing, dancing, costumes, music and lights. It’s just a whole experience that takes on a new life every night. Both theatre and film transport you to a new world but theatre is more electric. And the talent is more raw. For example take the movie version of Gypsy with Natalie Wood vs the musical with Imelda Staunton. Both have a special place in my heart but the musical version with Imelda belting those tunes out a few feet away was just…I can’t even find the words. Stephanie Mills playing Dorothy in The Wiz was before my time so I can’t compare the two but I imagine the experiences are similar. I do adore the movie version. What I love most about television and film is that funny or dramatic you get really nuanced perspectives on different people’s lives. And I really love period pieces. I always felt like I was born in the wrong decade so this gives me a chance to travel back in time.
15. Would you ever want to leave the theatre/entertainment industry?
Whether or not I wanted to I honestly just don’t think I could.