Jesse Middleton

Actor / Singer / Dancer / Guitarist

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V: Skills

Like most artists, I’m not keen on talking about what makes me “good,” or “appropriate.” Outside of auditions, I’m perfectly content to keep quiet about what I believe that I can or cannot do. I feel that for many artists, being as talented as we have to be to survive in this business can be a double edged sword. On one hand, yes, we are very talented individuals, and want people to recognize this fact (and hire us!). However, we don’t want to seem presumptuous, or conceited, or any of those things which for some reason or another invalidate our “truthfulness” as a performer. There is a fine line between confidence and conceitedness.

That said, I believe that I have acquired a large array of skills over my career. Being a musical-theatre trained artist, I have accrued skill in all three areas of theatre: Acting, Singing, and Dance. I have studied many schools of classical acting, including Meisner, Stanislavski, and voice and movement work like Alexander. I have sang since before I started my theatrical career, and have only gone to receive lessons since my introduction to the concept of the voice teacher. And I have studied many genres of dance, including Jazz, Ballet, Tap, and Hip Hop. However, despite this list of things I CAN do, I find that it is the skills I do NOT have that are far more important.

I always feel that I can improve in these three fields, and continue to strive to do so. There will always be someone better than you, I know the saying, but I still feel that if I can find room for improvement, then I should be busy improving. The “extra” skills that I’ve picked up through my artistic career are also useful: things like drawing, guitar, and juggling. However, discovering useful ways to utilize these and have them enhance my art will be another adventure all on its own. 

For me, I feel that experience is the best way to learn, and I hope that through my journeys as an artist, I will be able to pick up these more practical skills. Only time will tell.

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IV: My Motivations

After reading some of Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” over the last week, I found what he had to say about some actors quite interesting. Particularly, his chastising of those actors who only join the theatrical world for fame or fortune, I found to be rather poor criticism. Though I agree with him that to act PURELY for fame or money is in poor taste, it is the reality of many young actors and actresses in America. Even I, as a child, wanted to be an actor for little more than to become a famous celebrity someday! Of course, I eventually developed an earnest passion for the art itself, and learned to use theatre as both a means of storytelling and self-discovery, but to this day I still aspire to make a sufficient monetary means out of it.

That said, my motivations for acting are varied. I act to make my grandparents proud, to develop both my physical and spiritual identities, to share stories with those who would hear them, and to meet a plethora of interesting men and women who share the love of my craft. And hey, if someday I can make money out of it, who’s to say that I am any less of an actor for it?

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III: Values

For me, the theatrical life has always been a slippery slope. I never knew whether or not I really, truly with all my heart wanted to “DO it,” unlike the rest of my theatrical friends, who’ve been performing in plays since they could talk. For me, it was a mixture of my family’s fear for my financial success in the future, and my own self-doubts that have always created this fear. In turn, the practical risks I take involving theatre are frequently very small, and have only begun to grow in the recent past.

[cont]

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II: Believe it to Achieve it?

I’ll admit that when it comes to work habits, I’m a bit of a mess. I’ve never really had any “solid” system down, and have spent my most recent theatrical years trying whatever best suits the moment/the character I am trying to portray. And while this might not be a great answer, one of my classmates this week explained that she has a similar style to approaching work; allowing the character to decide which approach suits them, rather than the actor/actress falling into some go-to pattern for character creation.

In the past, I had problems with falling into patterns, and sticking to what I knew “worked.” Primarily, playing characters as MYSELF, as opposed to letting myself become the character, was my modus operandi. From Marius to Bobby Strong to the White Rabbit, I approached every role with minimal effort, simply figuring that once I was on stage, I would just “do what came naturally.”

It wasn’t until high school, when I received proper instruction on the error of my ways, that I learned just how foolish I had been. In blindly letting my own actions and impulses guide me on stage, I had been stifling any voice that the actual, written character had to offer. In addition, due to my years of honing this mentality, I found that immediately trying to break my habits was nigh impossible. I would fall into the same patterns almost immediately, despite being mindful of the fact that my character very well might not act the way that I do.

As time has progressed, I’d say that my work habits have changed dramatically. Though I still procrastinate, provide less than desirable effort at times, and fall into (some) habits, my mindfulness on the actions of the CHARACTER has improved tenfold. I noticed this transformation in myself most heavily during the preparations for Unified Auditions, back in early 2013.

Specifically, I remember having to practice a transition between two of my audition monologues—one, a “black monologue” that I added to my rep to showcase my type, and the other, a classical monologue from Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

Each of these monologues provided a challenge to me in terms of work habits. For the “black monologue,” (which was from “Brokeology,” by Nathan Louis Jackson) I found it especially easy to fall into habits of my personal life. Seeing as I am, in fact, a black male, I would start the monologue as my character, then soon realize that I was performing no differently than if I were having a conversation with my father, as opposed to living in the character’s specific circumstances. It was an interesting process, working with my coach to carefully dissect how the “black” actions of the character differed from mine, and just how different it felt to take on these foreign, unnatural actions.

King Lear, on the other hand, was a truly haunting experience. This was the first monologue that I had ever worked that actually physically upset me. I remember distinctly having to end a coaching session short due to my inability to continue the monologue. For me, Shakespeare’s works had always been somewhat inaccessible, due to both my inability to truly grasp the language, and my lack of empathy for the characters. However, recognizing this roadblock, I set forth to dissect this page in Edgar’s life with all of my passion, hoping that the work I put into this account would be reflected in my ultimate performance.

After a few weeks, the results were incredible! Though I had but (in my opinion) only scratched the surface of the character, I found that my understanding for his circumstances had surpassed that of any role I had ever played! And all of this from merely putting in the extra work? It was the first time that I truly felt shameful for my laziness in the past. While rehearsing, I found myself shaken to the core about my situation, and actually terrified to continue, for fear of what these circumstances meant about my existence. It was the first time, EVER, that I had truly stepped into my character’s shoes. And oddly enough, though it meant great things for my future work, I HATED it! Who’d have thought that character work would come with such pure terror?

But I digress. Since then, I have tried to stifle the urge to merely jump up and perform “Jesse Middleton, as…” Though I do believe that impulsiveness is good when first tackling a character, I now know that it is entirely different to be impulsive from the character’s mindset than impulsive from my own stance on the given circumstances.

I would definitely still say that I am “lazy,” but moreso out of lack of experience than lack of passion. C: I certainly hope to train these acting muscles over my next four years, and experience the joy and terror that comes with stepping into someone else’s skin once again!

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In addition to our required weekly blog posts, I thought it’d be neat to showcase a bit of my musical skills, as well as the skills of my friends! That said, I’ll be trying to post a weekly musical video, whether solo, or as a duet with one of my many other talented Fine Arts friends. The first one is “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” by Tears for Fears. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to suggest some of your favorite songs for future videos. :)

Filed under guitar music song tears for fears everybody wants to rule the world everybody wants to rule the world cover covers theatre musical black songs me

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I: History, The Peace Pendant

After a week of college, I can safely say that I think I’m going to like it here. Despite the hustle and bustle of daily life—the constant game of remembering names and faces, struggling to navigate the maze of a campus I now call home, resisting the urge to gorge myself on the endless wonders of the cafeteria—I can always find solace in the knowledge that my next four years can indeed be the best of my life, if I am willing to make them so.

Today in Dramatic Arts Today—our Acting class—we were told to bring in object of significance. Having done this exercise before, I decided to bring in my go-to object: the Peace pendant that I carry on my person at all times. In the past, I’ve always tried my hardest to “spice up” my stories of why I brought the pendant, fearing that it would not be up to snuff with the objects of my classmates. Once I said that it was a gift from the first girl I ever loved, once I said it was a part of a set of gifts that were meant to represent my grandparent’s conflicting personalities, etc. I’d begun to use and subsequently lie about the pendant so much that it had become almost second nature. So, when I sat down in the circle to share my story with the class, my head was already abuzz with ways to make my uninteresting life seem a little more fantastical.

But when I listened to my classmates, I began to have a strange little epiphany. These people weren’t talking about souvenirs from fabulous vacations, or life-changing moments that were represented by a single object. They were talking about loved ones, and precious memorabilia from their youth, significant only to them.

As I listened to their stories, my heart began to sink. Here these people were, baring their souls to a room full of relatively unknown people, and I was too ashamed of my own accounts to even pay them the respect of telling the truth?

Every teacher I’ve had tells me that Acting, at it’s core, is about being vulnerable, and receptive to that which occurs around you. As I stared at the rusted pendant in my hand, I felt my stomach tighten with this affirmation. If I was going to be trusting these people with the next four years of my life, I could trust them with this story. So I told them the actual account of the pendant necklace, as I shall tell it to you all.

When I was a sophomore, my great-grandmother gave me a cheap, steel necklace of the peace symbol (the circle with crossed lines, you know). Being a sophomore, and undergoing a very tumultuous transitioning phase into my Boarding School, I appreciated the physical reminder to always be peaceful. On the surface, I wore it as a quirky little charm, and thanked my Granny for her kind gift.

However, beneath the surface, the necklace represented much more. As mentioned, my transition into Boarding School was a very difficult time for me. Dealing with the constant flow of new people, faces, and experiences was fine, but never before in my life had I ever had such identity crisis then my high school years.

I’ve always had issues with identity. Being a black male, there were always certain archetypes or stereotypes that I felt that I had to live up to. However, being the elementary schooler who preferred Yu-Gi-Oh over football, I never truly felt as if I fulfilled that mental image. This feeling of un-fulfillment would follow me into middle school, where being surrounded by hundreds of these “correct black males” made me feel even more alienated from my race and my own personal identity.

In a way, I suppose that’s why I started theatre. The chance to get on a stage and be EXPECTED to be someone else was a relieving notion. It made things easier to sink into the skin of another person, rather than having to play myself. 

That said, the mostly-white, upper-class student population of my high school often left me feeling quite alone. It was around this time that I began to focus heavily on the question of “Who am I, anyway?” Thoughts like these were what first introduced me to the art of meditation, and lead to my questioning of my faith.

Coming from a purely Baptist family, Christianity and its tenets were all that I had ever known. To question these thoughts, even internally, seemed blasphemous and frightening. I was afraid to discuss with my family, out of fear for what they might think. And I was too uneducated on other world religions to even ponder the principles of other faiths. So, I sank into despair, becoming violent, unruly, and unreceptive.

This attitude sank into my work for quite some time, making it hard for me to associate with characters on the stage when I couldn’t even associate with myself.

Anyway, some time passes until I receive the necklace. I use it as a reminder to stay peaceful until Senior year, when we have mandatory Theology class. It was here that I first learned of Buddhism, and the nature of balance in the world. Though at first it sounded like nothing more than meditation and charity, I was quickly piqued by the internal-nature of Buddhism. As an actor, I am forced to deal with the internal quite often, so a religion that focused on the building of discipline and internal character sounded extremely attractive.

With help from some mentors, reading, and personal meditation, I eventually decided to take up the practices of Buddhism, and interwork them into my Baptist upbringing. The necklace became more than just a symbol of peace. Coming from my devout Baptist grandmother, it became a symbol of how I might be able to combine my two faiths, as opposed to choosing nothing out of fear. It became balance, harmony, faith, and yes, still peace. But far more than just peace in terms of violence or hostility, it became a symbol for my peace of MIND.

I keep it with me to this day, and explained with a low and shaking voice why it was important to me. Unsurprisingly, my classmates all seemed interested, and nodded with acceptance as I ended my (abridged) story.

SURPRISINGLY, I did receive many questions into the details of my story, however. Genuine interest from these relatively unknown people as to the nature of my unique faith, and the spiritual reasons I had for choosing it. This sort of bond between people—both intellectual, and spiritual—is one of the key reasons I STAYED in theatre, I believe. Though using the stage as an escape from one’s self is a common thing (I’d imagine), being able to create and discover your true identity through the friends you make and the people you learn from is a far more useful, permanent gift.

So, as I continue at University, and with my classmates, I hope to truly be receptive to all things around me. To bring balance into my personality and experience by learning and pulling from those around me. And most importantly, to bring these experiences into my craft, to better share with the world the vast and varied personalities and experiences of the characters we portray, and hope that they might be able to discover something new about themselves from these stories.