Setting the Stage

by Sanjana Deshpande. Features Editor, Andrew Lindsay, Sofio Telio and Theo Younkin, Features Reporters

From late nights rehearsing for South’s 2011 production of “Hairspray” to starring in “Richard III” at New York City’s SoHo Shakespeare Community, ‘11 graduate Jeffrey Alkins has always had a passion for theater. 

A three-season athlete and three-season captain as a senior, Alkins did not expect to get involved with South’s theater department. When he “officially” joined South Stage his senior year, he starred in “Hairspray” and acted in the Senior Showcase. 

He went on to attend St. John’s University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he discovered his love for theater.

Still, Alkins said he was uncertain about pursuing theater as a full-time career. Once he decided though, he went all in.

“While I was in college, I fell in love with theater, and the reality is if you are trying to make a living doing live theater, Broadway is where you want to be,” he said. “So 2015 was when I settled in and decided that live theater is what I wanted to do, and if I wanted to do it, I’d want to do it on the biggest stage I can.”

Alkins said that his parents were not always on board with the idea, but he now considers them his biggest supporters.

“I think [it] came from fear. To try and be an actor in New York City is a very daunting thing. I had a very nice life set up in politics before I decided to become an actor, and so I think that their concern was whether or not I was going to be able to make a living or if I was going to be okay,” he said. 

“But now apparently there’s a copy of my ‘Hairspray’ DVD circulating that my dad is still showing people, and my parents are easily my biggest supporters and biggest fans.”

Katani Sumner, Alkins’ METCO counselor during his time at South, still attends his performances. She said that despite Alkins’ late start to theater, it’s been incredible to see him grow as an actor.

“He’s just amazing. I’m just so excited that I’ve been watching him ever since,” she said. “I expect to see him get big — whether it’s Broadway or if he wants to do classical theater in London,. I’m convinced he will get there.”

Fine and performing arts department head Jeff Knoedler said that Alkins has been a natural since he first stepped foot on the stage. 

“I remember his first South Stage production, ‘Hairspray,’” he said. “He seemed really comfortable on stage, confident and natural.”

 As one of few people of color involved in South Stage, Alkins said he rarely felt excluded. He made some of his closest friends through the theater department.

“South Stage was very inclusive,” he said. “It was actually one of the first places where I felt like I really fit in and belonged. I used to hang out in Mr. K’s office and hang out with a bunch of kids who were in South Stage, even [when] I was not … and so they were a lot of my friend group.”

Still, Alkins said that he struggled with some aspects of being the only Black male within the theater department, especially when it came to balancing his responsibilities between indoor track and theater.

“The most difficult part of being a part of South Stage was that my introduction into it was not clean and easy,” he said. “In my senior year, I was kind of given the ultimatum to step down as captain or quit the musical. And being something like ‘Hairspray’ where diversity was needed, being one of the only Black males in school who did act and sing and dance, I knew that quitting was going to put the show in a difficult position. Having to choose between doing this thing that could be wonderful, while also giving us something that I had spent my entire life working towards, was very difficult.”

To young actors, Alkins said to remember that as long as you have passion for your craft, the benefits of following your dreams will always outweigh the negatives.

“If you can do anything else in the world [besides acting] and be happy, do that, because it is not something for the faint of heart,” he said. 

“It is not an easy career by any means, so I always also like to pair that with my worst days as an actor are better than my best days doing anything else in the world. I quite literally get paid to live my dreams every single day.”

photos contributed by Jeffrey Alkins