Senior Jamal Crowelle has one of the lead roles in Centreville High's production of "Kiss Me, Kate." But he didn't come by his talent overnight; his love of acting goes back to his childhood.
"WHEN I was 7, 8 or 9, my cousin and I were in love with the superheroes on TV, and we'd find costumes — capes and hats — and make up our own shows for my mom and dad," said Crowelle, 17. "I'd always end up being the bad guy who died at the end."
Even so, he was bitten by the acting bug. "I realized this was fun, so I joined theater in seventh grade," he said. "And after the first three weeks, I was committed."
He attended Rocky Run Middle School and said theater teacher Jody Scott (now at Liberty Middle) "really inspired" him to act, especially when he started doing short monologues. Said Crowelle: "She said that, when you portray someone else, it's not you, so you shouldn't feel embarrassed about playing a scene as that person."
He also performed with the Pied Piper Players in Manassas and with a theater camp in Annandale. Then came high school where, his freshman year, theater teacher Mike Hudson trained him in the principles behind acting.
That readied him for stage roles under the tutelage of Centreville Theater Director Mark Rogers. And again, Crowelle soaked up and employed the knowledge he received.
"Mr. Rogers expects the best from every, single person — and only wants to deal with people who are trying," explained Crowelle. "You have to really give yourself to the character. You can't hold yourself back. So Mr. Rogers got me to focus my talents on the essence of the characters to make them more believable."
Along the way, Crowelle's also learned to sing and dance; and again, he credits his teachers. "When I was a sophomore and had no idea about how to do musical theater, Mrs. [Lynne] Babcock, the choral director, was my singing coach," he said. And now he's learning how to dance for "Kiss Me, Kate" from the show's choreographer, Jen Koonce.
IN THIS production, Crowelle plays Fred Graham, who's director, producer and lead actor of a performance of "The Taming of The Shrew." It's the first show he's done after having a few flops following his divorce from his wife Lilli.
"So he's doing it to see if he can [be successful] without Lilli's love," said Crowelle. "But it's difficult because she's the lead actress and they still have to work together." Describing his character as "like the Superman of the stage," Crowelle said Graham has "the air of the ultimate lead actor. He has a big ego, and his talent may support it."
Crowelle started performing in shows at Centreville, his sophomore year, and this will be his 12th production. He also co-directed "Canned Hamlet" in the school's recent, one-act Dramapalooza, but is glad to be back on stage. "That was fun," he said. "But I've always loved acting more."
Also a standout on the Wildcat track team, as a freshman Crowelle only had to divide his time between track and homework. But his sophomore year was hard, he said, "Because I got into shows and I was trying to find a balance." Things got easier as a junior and, now, as a senior, he just rushes "trying to get everywhere on time," but says it's working out.
STILL, it's not easy. "I have play rehearsals four days a week, three hours a day, and one to 1 1/2 hours of track, five days a week," he said. "I stay up late to do my homework. Sometimes, it's hard going to bed at 1 a.m. and getting up at 6 a.m."
But it's all paid off, and Crowelle can now look back with pride at his high-school performances as Tyrone Jackson in "Fame, the Musical," Mr. Jordan in "Heaven Can Wait" and Selsdon Mowbray in "Noises Off." And of Fred Graham, he said, "I want to make this role my best one because it's my last at Centreville and I can end my senior year with a bang."
After graduation, he plans to major in acting and take musical-theater classes at either NYU or USC. He's applied to both and will hear back in April. Said Crowelle: "I'm definitely going to pursue acting as a career."
So does he prefer drama, comedy or musical theater? It doesn't matter, he said; what he likes the best is "the show that challenges me the most." And as he leaves Centreville, he will take away "the discipline the teachers gave to me and the memories of working with all the other students — the hardest-working actors of any department."