The Summer Musical Theatre Experience (SMTE) provides seventh graders to seniors in Northeast Florida with an opportunity to get hands-on acting experience performing in well-known plays such as “Hairspray!” and Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast.”
This year, the eighth-annual SMTE is performing the satire “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Folio Weekly caught up with 18-year-old J.D. Rees by phone to talk about his lead role in the production.
Folio Weekly: Can you tell us a little bit about the production?
J.D. Rees: It’s all about this character who goes by Finch, and that’s my role actually. He basically finds this book, the book on "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," and he reads it and goes step by step. Throughout the play you see how he’s able to get from the mailroom, bottom of the food chain, to the executive boardroom. It’s kind of just his steps on how he gets up the business ladder without actually trying.
F.W.: How long have you been doing this program?
Rees: This is a summer program, and this is my second year. I was in "Peter Pan" last year. My sister Rachael, she actually did it the year before that, and she was the one that got me interested in doing this summer program. I believe they did “Hairspray” that year. So yeah, this is my second year.
F.W.: What’s the atmosphere like during the program?
Rees: It’s really cool because we’re all high school based. That’s the cool thing about the program honestly, they’re able to take a bunch of high school students and really kind of change them and put them in a professional setting. They give us a set schedule and this amazing show and amazing stage, amazing everything honestly. Everyone is just so nice and everyone is so helpful, no one really puts anyone down. You just make a ton of brand new friendships.
F.W.: Was the Summer Musical Theater Experience the first time you tried your hand at acting?
Rees: I officially got into acting my freshman year. I went to Bartman Trail High School, and I’ve always liked being on stage and theater. I even took dance lessons when I was young, although I’m not the best dancer by the way. I’ve kind of been doing little things like that, so this is like my fourth year going into acting.
F.W.: What are your feelings leading up to opening night?
Rees: I’m excited. The best thing is that they give you so much time to work on everything, and even though it’s just a two-month program they set everything up so perfectly. I mean two weeks ago, I may not have known my lines, but now I know them perfectly. I’m really excited, it's always great to get up there with all of your friends and everything, and being able to put on a great production just to entertain people.
F.W.: Do you have a favorite scene?
Rees: I do, ah man. Basically, Finch is trying to get in good with the boss. My character goes in to work on a Saturday morning and makes it look like I’ve been there all night long. I throw papers around just to make it seem like I’ve been working super hard, but I actually just walked in five minutes ago. And then the boss comes strolling in and I go “sorry sir I had a few things I had to catch up on, and I shouldn’t be here much longer.” And that’s how I get on the boss’s good side.
F.W.: What genre do you lean more toward? Have you found your niche yet?
Rees: It’s really tough, because I’ve done a couple of different plays where it's been serious and then it's been comedies, but comedy is where the heart lies, so I’m going to have to say comedy.
F.W.: This program is relatively short, what do you do to remember your lines in such a short amount of time?
Rees: I’m an audio learner so I record them on my iPod and just listen to the lines over and over again. So, they kind of just keep resting in my head. Also, if you’re with a cast you really enjoy, it’s almost like when you go on to do a production it’s really easy, because you trust each other.
F.W.: What are you hoping to do after this?
Rees: I just graduated. I’m going to Orlando next year, actually for Valencia Community College, and I just want to get my foot in the door. My sister Rachael is in Orlando as well, and we’re both going to tryout for “Chicago,” which is coming up in Orlando. We’re going to do some Disney auditions together as well, and just see what the future holds.