Be organized with your schedule & time. When I first started acting, I tried to keep everything in my head. Between two bartending jobs, appointments, social gatherings, and auditions things quickly got on top of me and the work suffered. I began keeping a virtual agenda in my calendar app on my phone. Everything is color coded and now that I keep everything in order there, it frees up my mind to focus on each individual task at hand.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Xander Jackson
Xander Jackson is a New York born & raised actor who has been working for just over 4 years while performing in over 30 theatrical performances & short film productions. He has been training consistently with the Barrow Group, receiving tutelage directly from Seth Barrish, Lee Brock, & Shannon Patterson. He has recently performed the role of Hal in David Auburn’s Proof and Brucie in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat. He is currently in the process of writing a stageplay, as well as several on-camera shorts. In addition to acting & writing, he is training to be an Intimacy Professional both on-stage & on-screen. Xander’s greatest joy is the excitement that comes with sharing the stage with so many talented creatives.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, specifically Greenlawn which is in the Huntington area. I’m a 1st generation Jamaican-American and had a pretty normal childhood. I wanted to be in the sciences as a kid and, as a result, did not do any type of theater or acting in my formative years. I spent most of my time playing tennis, learning the piano, and hanging out with my friends like any average kid.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have a very vivid memory of me in my early 20’s with my friends hanging out in a park after dark. A lot of my friends are cinephiles and like the super bad asses that we were, we were re-enacting scenes from some of our favorite movies. I got really into a scene from the Dark Knight. The feeling of immersing myself into a character just felt right. And it didn’t hurt that some of my friends were pretty “wow’d” by the performance.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That special thanks would have to go to Charley Tucker. A long time actor, Charley and I were coworkers at a bar & restaurant in Gramercy in 2018. I would constantly ask him about his career history, bookings, & auditions when we would work together. As I was so inquisitive, he had inquired if acting was something I wanted to do. I gave a noncommittal yes and he suggested I take a beginner acting class to see if I liked it. He helped me curate a short list of schools and after a couple audits settled on taking a class at Barrow Group. After two classes, I had a shift with Charley and confirmed that we found “the thing” and that acting is the career path for me.
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My first on stage performance after Covid was a reimagining of 12 Angry Men called 12 Mo’ Angry Men by Tanisha Fordham. As would be expected, the play was set to take place in a jury deliberation room where I played one of the titular jurors. During the rehearsal process I was called for Jury Duty and was almost selected to be on the panel, until I told the judge I was not able to do so as it would have conflicted with the show dates. I had a nervous laugh afterwards with the director on how life mirrors art in some bizarre ways and how horribly tragic it would have been if I could not do the play about being on a jury because I had to, in real life, be on a jury.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am someone who constantly wants to be of service and help those around me. First starting out (especially on set) I would see people moving heavy objects, adjusting lights, and setting up cameras, you know, normal film set stuff. I would constantly be asking if anyone needed help or what I could be doing to be of assistance. It took me a while to realize how compartmentalized everything is and the best thing I could do as an actor is just stay out of the way until the director calls action. The lesson being, stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you on set, but don’t bother/distract those around you who are quite possibly in the weeds performing a very specific skill.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have dubbed this specific time in my life the Fall of Farce. I am working on four different plays over the next two months, all of which are comedies. Each is wildly different and has an extraordinary array of talented people to work with. Most immediately, I am in an original play called The Jester’s Wife which will be performed at the 36th St Theater (colloquially called The Chain) and has their opening night September 23rd, 2023. There’s a staged reading of an original play Twice Around the Block being performed at the Kraine Theater October 2nd, The Importance of Being Earnest being performed at Under St Marks Theater starting October 19th, and Boeing Boeing at the Warwick Institute of Culture which premiers November 4th.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?
It might sound a tad quixotic, but the best advice I could give is to just start. Take an acting class and just go for it. Rejection, lack of support, and failure are, unfortunately, part of the package. But if you give yourself a bit of grace and start the journey, what you’ll find is that rejection is easier to stomach if you know you’ve given it your all. The community is surprisingly supportive & you will find a community to uplift you. Lastly, failure is a better teacher than any book or class you take.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find hobbies and passions beyond acting. Stoke those flames and feed those desires as readily as you do your career. Not only will it help break up your day to day life and help stave off “burn out”, but it also makes an individual more interesting when you can have a conversation about something that you are passionate about outside of your profession.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Be organized with your schedule & time. When I first started acting, I tried to keep everything in my head. Between two bartending jobs, appointments, social gatherings, and auditions things quickly got on top of me and the work suffered. I began keeping a virtual agenda in my calendar app on my phone. Everything is color coded and now that I keep everything in order there, it frees up my mind to focus on each individual task at hand.
- Create a community of close friends in the industry. It is very easy to feel isolated in this business. Find people who you mesh well with and who are at similar places in their careers. Be intentional about it. Share your successes and help keep each other accountable. I was very fortunate to be in an off-broadway showcase very early on in my career. I was in the sketch comedy troupe with five other actors and we grew close over the rehearsal period. This was back in February 2020 and we still have a group chat going on to this day and I’m so very thankful for their continued support.
- Diversify your skills in the business. Find additional aspects of the industry that sparks joy and add that to your repertoire of skills. It makes you a more marketable individual. I remember once I received the “rejection email” that the production team was going in a different direction with a role I auditioned for. Within that same email I was offered a position as the Intimacy Coordinator for the production as they genuinely loved my audition & energy.That was such a great feeling that even though I wasn’t what they were looking for for the role, they saw value in me and found a way to include me in the project’s journey.
- Continue to take acting classes. It’s a skill that needs constant honing. I know many actors that get so overwhelmed with the constant grind of auditioning that they let the tutelage aspect fall by the wayside. Classes are a great way to continue to keep your acting sharp. I am of the school of thought that classes should be fun. A time to play with the text you want to play with and make wild choices.
- Network consistently. Like the previous point I made, networking is a skill that you get better at the more you do it. Like many of my colleagues, networking isn’t my favorite thing to do. It can feel awkward and is difficult to see the return on investment at times. But I made a conscious decision early on that I was going to get better at networking so that I didn’t dread it when I had to do it. I joined a theater company that had routine seminars on how to network effectively and communicate with potential representation. I still reference those teachings and use those skills to this day.
For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?
I personally think that the skill sets barely differ. Many of the tools and approaches I use for my on stage roles, I use for my on camera roles. The differences are largely technical such as learning to stretch your voice and project without shouting when on stage. Adversely, learning to project while speaking in a hushed tone are things I see a lot of actors struggle with. Also, understanding your frame when working on camera. Knowing what the camera is picking up on any given shot and making sure that what it is capturing is dynamic. Largely the difference comes down to the fact that when you’re on stage, the audience sees and hears all of you at all times and you should use that knowledge to your advantage.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I feel like the largest issues in our society can be fundamentally tracked back to a lack of empathy. So many people are concerned with their own struggles or the struggles of those in their immediate circle and lack empathy towards strangers. I don’t quite know how to distill that into a specific cause, but I think it would just be to increase the general empathy people have to the world at large.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One quote I keep coming back to is “It’s not about who you know, but who knows you”. This was said to me in a seminar pertaining to acquiring representation. I think it has broader implications that I have tried to consistently fold into my daily interactions. Simply put, it’s about having more meaningful interactions with people. Making sure that I am comfortable showing the “real” me to those I meet and gaining a sense of comfort being vulnerable.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Dave Chappelle. He is someone who is both wildly entertaining, but also incredibly introspective. He is someone who, through his art, speaks to a lot of issues that demand discussing. I am someone who wants to use my career and platform to invoke change and would relish the opportunity to have a discussion with someone who, I believe, does just that.
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
The best way to follow my work is to follow me on instagram via the handle @sixth_jackson and turn on story notifications. I post all my upcoming shows and events to that platform.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!