Career & Education

Jermaine's artistic journey to success

Jermaine's 'ROWE-D' to success

Sunday, November 26, 2017



'Talent is not sufficient for longevity in the career'.

Jermaine Rowe (JR) was speaking specifically about dance, but the potent observation by the Jamaican-born assistant theatre professor, actor and dancer who lives in the 'Big Apple' can be applied to any profession. After leaving Jamaica with a first degree in journalism, his journey has taken him on a career path that he didn't expect, but which he has come to love. Though he has had his challenges, he was able to overcome and thrive in a country where adaptation is a necessity.

Here is his story as told to Janice Johnson Richards for Career & Education (C&E).

C&E: What is your job title and where do you work?

JR: I am Adjunct Assistant Professor - Theatre in the Humanities Department at LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York).

C&E: Where did you study?

JR: • Sarah Lawrence College, New York (Master's in Fine Arts - theatre)

• University of the West Indies, Mona (B.A Journalism and Education)

• Alvin Ailey School of Dance, New York (certificate in dance theatre)

• St Catherine High School, Spanish Town

C&E: How did you get started in the performance/production industry?

JR: I started performing in high school where, along with school productions, I also performed in Jamaica Cultural Development Commission festival competitions. During sixth from, I started dancing with Movements Dance Company, and started to dance for The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) during my years at UWI.

C&E: Explain your growth physically, mentally and emotionally.

JR: This is a big question and the answer is that I'm still a work in progress. Physically, I had to learn my craft at the highest level. I needed to gain skills that were beyond merely being “talented”. Finding a space to work on my craft daily, through rigours and daily dedication, changed my body towards a more seasoned dancer and theatre artist.

The demands of an international/Broadway career require a considerable amount of mental preparation and stability to do shows eight to nine times a week, over several months, even years.

Repeatedly hearing “No'” in auditions and casting can wear on one's mental state. Therefore, finding coping mechanisms within a fluctuating career becomes necessary. Emotionally, I have been able to gain a new kind of family among artists, who share these similar journeys. It's important to have support groups of artists and mentors, who can provide guidance around achieving your goals.

C&E: What drives you?

JR: For a long time I was driven by the fear of failure, and the need to escape my initial surroundings. I've come to find out that that's not sustainable. I am now driven by my passion. I have come to accept that I am on my right path and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Now I am driven by the desire to see how far I can grow and learn. I also see the importance of my success, which will help the next generation to see that their dreams are valid and achieving them is possible.

C&E: Who would you give credit for your success?

JR: I am a very spiritual person, so I credit my journey to the divine. In terms of how it's manifested, I see that working through my mother and so many mentors (too many to even mention) but my career's success has been constant credit to many who believed in me even before I knew I could have achieved half of what I've been able to do. The late Professor Rex Nettleford is definitely at the top of the list of mentors who showed me the possibilities.

C&E: When you were in high school, did you think you would have chosen this career path?

JR: I wasn't fully aware in high school that this was even a possible career. I knew, however, that whatever I did, I would always perform. I initially chose journalism as a career, as I only saw actors/dancers/singers as volunteers in a major company. After getting a scholarship to study in New York, and seeing the possibilities, I immediately knew it was what I wanted to do.

C&E: What has been the high point of your career?

JR: There have been several moments. Representing Jamaica in Ghana at the Pan African Festival while in high school was the first indication of the impact my talent could have on the world. Also, dancing and touring with NDTC. Getting into my first ballet company (Dance Theatre of Harlem) was a huge turning point in my career, including dancing and performing with major Broadway shows ( The Lion King and Fela!). However, one of my biggest moments, was also my most vulnerable moments. It was when I wrote, created and performed my first one-man show Off-Broadway. This was because for the first time I was telling the story the way I saw the world.

C&E: Do you ever think of quitting?

JR: Daily. I am pursuing a career that many of my family members don't understand. They love and support me, but I can't stop to ask for advice, or share certain milestones, because they don't fully comprehend what it means. It also has a lot of instability; you can be at the height of your career and finances and then there can be a month and/or years without a show or gig. So you may have to work part-time on menial jobs, which can be emotionally draining and depressing. Also, living away from home/family, and navigating the world alone is a huge sacrifice.

C&E: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

JR: At present I am performing and lecturing in theatre at two universities in New York. With continuing this path, in the next five years, I want to see the development of some of my self-written works produced at a high level. I have hopes of starting a theatre company and/or being an international theatre development consultant.

C&E: Tell us about the life of a dancer.

JR: I am no longer a full-time dancer, but the life of a dancer is a very arduous one. Apart from a very strict meal diet, which supports you working physically at a high level, you are required to keep your body in performance shape all year. When I was at Dance Theatre of Harlem, my day would start with the gym at 6:00 am before I had any meal (which usually was a smoothie). After that, I would head to the studio for company dance class, by 9:00am, then rehearsal, which would be anywhere from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm. I would sometimes then have a show starting at 8:00 pm that day. This would be a six-days-a-week schedule. In professional theatre, you only have one day-off a week, which is usually a Monday.

C&E: As a Jamaican living abroad, explain the highs and lows of your experience.

JR: It's always difficult living away from home. I miss simple things, like food and sunshine, as well as more meaningful things like not seeing my parents, and missing funerals and other life-changing events.

Immigration is a big deal politically, and not having a work permit and/or an American passport can be the determining factor in employability. A producer may not want to pay for the cost of getting visas for you when you are the only one in an entire company that might need it to do an international tour. Before I became a US citizen, my job options were far fewer simply because of certain union rules. This is not exclusive to being Jamaican, but is the truth of any immigrant working in a new space. There is also the 'issue' of accents for roles. Learning how to adapt for employability was a new path I had to navigate.

C&E: What is your advice to people wanting to enter the profession?

JR: Get trained. Talent is not sufficient for longevity in the career. The path to success is a long and tedious one, yet equally rewarding. Be not too quick for instant fame or wealth. If that comes sooner than later, great! However, most successful artists have taken the time to invest in themselves, learn their craft and develop a strong work ethic.

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