First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain; unparalleled Theater Academy training that fosters life skills through stage skills; and dynamic Theater in Education programs that promote active learning in our schools and community.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Alumni spotlight: J.T. Backes
Academy alumni J.T. Backes returns to
First Stage this season, taking on the role of Artistic Intern on Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer™: The
Musical. J.T. also joins our Theater In Education team as an adjunct
teaching artist. This past spring J.T. received his B.F.A. in Musical Theater
from Viterbo University. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with J.T. about Sherlock Holmes, fond First Stage memories and more!
long have you been involved with First Stage?
I’ve been involved in First Stage for
a LONG time. I started First Stage classes in 2000 when
I was just eight years old. I’ve done several First Stage shows as a young
performer including: Lilly’s Purple
Plastic Purse, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I’ve also done a few new play
workshops as well, including: The
Quiltmaker’s Gift and Bunnicula.
I was also the last original member of Organized
Chaos, the First Stage improv comedy team taught by Patrick Schmitz. I
joined that in 2005 and graduated from the group in 2010. Finally, I taught
improv for the Academy alongside Alex Grindeland in the summer of 2011.
J.T. (left) in The Mouse and the Motorcycle, 2002
is your favorite First Stage memory?
Back when I was a wee lad, I was in
First Stage’s production of Mike Mulligan
and His Steam Shovel. I believe that I was still in elementary school at
the time and the big “thing” at that time was called the flipper dance. I’m
sure it’s still better than this modern day “twerking” thing. Anyway, I did
this for John Maclay one day and soon he became so dependent on it that I had
to do it as part of his preshow warm up before every performance. Who could
have thought that imagining your left and right arms as flippers could catch on
so fast? I know I didn’t. I thought it was super silly. To this day if I bump
into John Maclay, the request for the “flipper dance” is still being made.
has been a highlight of SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS?
Each element of this show is so darn
specific: the color and period costumes, the incredible set, the lighting and exciting
special effects, and of course the remarkable cast that brings Eric Coble’s
piece to life. Our director, Jeff Frank, has a brilliant vision, but he is also
up for collaboration. I love that aspect. This is a world premiere piece and we
have the privilege to create something no one has ever seen before. And we are
doing just that. Both of the young performer casts add their unique flavors to
their characters and the adults create unforgettable moments throughout. Todd
Denning has created unbelievably intense fight scenes that will keep you on the
edge of your seat. My favorite thing about working on this show is seeing how
it’s all coming together. I can’t stop thinking about how cool this show is
going to look.
did your time at First Stage prepare you for your current path?
If I had to boil down all I’ve
learned at First Stage into a single phrase it would be “to make choices.”
First Stage built inner confidence that brought out my inner worth –worthiness
as an artist and as a human. This is something First Stage does better than
anyone else. The Academy is a safe place to be you and take incredible risks
without fear of consequence. This environment wasn’t merely established in a
rule book. Teachers and students choose to treat others with respect and choose
to give to each other wholeheartedly without need of incentive. I’m sure if you
asked any First Stage Academy student, they would tell you that some of their
life-long friends were made through this organization.
would you like to say to current Academy students?
This craft is by no means an easy
one. It takes true dedication, resilience, and an open mind. If acting were
easy everyone would be doing it! We are artists that are given a color palette
and our job is to paint something for the whole world to see. And that takes
time and patience. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional you always want
to fail big. Only from there will you learn how to grow. Whatever the situation,
always be you! That is something nobody else can replicate. Take risks, fail
big, and be you.