Street Theatre Company’s upcoming production of the all- American musical Hairspray is in the middle of rehearsals. Director Jon Royal somehow found the time to sit down with me at the venue and discuss his experience with the show. He spoke with passion and excitement about his cast, crew and the meaning of the show.
How did you come to be a director, Jon?
I was asked early on to be a director and I said, ‘Absolutely not!’ But I did it a couple of years later. I was nineteen. At MTSU I auditioned for a show and the professor asked me to be an assistant director. I said, ‘no,’ but when the cast list went up two hours later I was listed as the A.D.
I told her I wanted to really be part of the production, not like a third assistant stage manager. I asked what she wanted me to do, and that was a turning point for me. She could have said anything in that moment, but she said, ‘Jon, I want your ideas, and I don’t want you to hold back with them.’ I wasn’t expecting that.
I was her assistant for seven productions, and she gave me more and more responsibility, and it changed how I experienced each process. That was in ‘98, and I’ve been directing ever since.
Would you rather be on stage or behind the scenes?
People ask if I love directing more than acting, but every process is different. I feel like I have to act, direct and teach interchangeably. I can’t live without teaching. I love acting in certain circumstances, but I’m okay to be on stage once a year. I committed myself personally to learn as much as I can, to take acting gigs and to direct a show once a year. They feed off of each other. I’ve got to have all three.
You lean on teaching skills heavily as a director. I knew I wanted to be a teacher before I decided to be a professional artist, but teaching is an art too, so it’s interchangeable.
What is the single most important piece of advice you can offer to new actors?
I’ve been in productions since I was about six. At seventeen I studied with a professional actor and learned that it’s all about humility. You realize that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself and learn that you can touch people in ways you can’t imagine. Humility is the key. Know that every little thing you do can help create a story that can change someone’s life.
How is this production special for you?
It’s great to be doing something this popular. The campiness of Hairspray is a delivery system for harsh truths. This show is about differences and racism, real things that hit hard. The show is a fantasy about a young lady on a TV dance show that normally wouldn’t be. It’s after the Kennedy election but before his assassination, so it’s about a fantastic time in our shared history.
Other articles in this series:
- In the green room at Hairspray with L.T. Kirk
- In the green room at Hairspray with Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva
- In the green room at Hairspray with Tonya Pewitt
- In the green room at Hairspray with Daniel Rye
- In the green room at Hairspray with Michael Holder
- In the green room at Hairspray with Tamaiya Clayton
- In the green room at Hairspray with Rollie Mains
- In the green room at Hairspray with Cathy Sanborn Street
Hairspray runs March 25-April 16, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 P.M., and Sundays at 5 P.M. Tickets are $16 and $14. For more information visit the Street Theatre Company website.