Actors' Equity at 100: From an Actor's Perspective
By Jean Michelle Grier
Longtime Lion King actress Jean Michelle Grier shares insight into an actor's career as part of Playbill's continuing look at the 100th anniversary of Actors' Equity Association.
It was a bit daunting to realize that during my senior year of college, as I was preparing to pursue a career in a more traditional field such as business or law, my heart was set on something different. I made a decision: "I'm going to move to New York and become an actor."
My family thought I'd lost my mind; nonetheless, I was excited! My work was definitely cut out for me — my major at Princeton University hadn't exactly prepared me to be a working actor in New York City. It wasn't immediately clear where this new career path was leading. I had to fight to find it. I began to train by going to classes, putting myself in the company of other artists and exploring new opportunities. It took a moment to get traction, but eventually the work came — readings, workshops, dinner theatre, cabarets, cruise ships and national tours.
As I looked for new projects, a castmate from the national tour of Show Boat lent me the soundtrack to The Lion King. Somewhere, on a tour bus in the Midwest, I fell in love with the music and knew I had to find a way to be seen by the show's casting directors. I flew back to New York, and after several callbacks for the national tour of the Disney musical — and what felt like an eternity of waiting — the phone rang, and my life changed.
Playing Sarabi in the national tour led to taking over the role in New York — my Broadway debut! Even after countless performances, every day as I made my way to the Minskoff Theatre in the heart of Times Square, I was still in awe. There are no words for how good it feels to be a working actor on Broadway.
Of course, keeping your performance fresh in a long-running show can pose a challenge, but it's an actor's responsibility to be focused, honest and fully present during every moment on stage.
After five exciting years, my run with The Lion King came to a close last month, and I am now revisited by the excitement I had when I first began my journey here in New York. There are so many new opportunities to pursue — theatre, television, film, commercials and voiceovers.
Preparing for these opportunities is vital. Daily, I check in with my manager Michael Katz, learn new material, refine my technique and audition. Preparation, persistence and patience are key when your wish list includes roles such as Medda Larkin in Newsies and Mame Wilks in Radio Golf.
But no matter what the next role is, it's about being open and positive. I'm embracing a new phase.
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