“There is always an opportunity outside the walls around you.”
by Louw Mulder
Most of the questions I normally get are from young, aspiring theatre performers, wanting to know where to start and how to get that foot in the door. But sometimes, a huge part of the success is totally up to yourself, and how eagerly you will do what it takes to get what you want. One big example on our theatre scene, is the story of Jarryd Nurden, who, after a decade now on stage, is bragging with international credentials, which is only written in the introductory chapter of his future biography. I thought it would be great to chat to Jarryd about his run on the stage so far.
Jarryd’s seed for a career in Musial Theatre was planted when he twisted his parent’s arms to take him on a trip to Johannesburg to go see the Lion King at Montecasino way back in 2007. “We made a trip of it, and sat right at the back of the Teatro on the cheap seats, and it was the most incredible experience,” he said, reliving that magical introduction to theatre in his eyes again: “That was the night when I told my mom that I want to perform on that stage.”
The following year, M-Net, in association with Pieter Toerien and Hazel Feldman, produced The High School Musical Spotlight, in search of the ultimate Troy Bolton. This can be seen as Jarryd’s first disappointment, as David Schlacther won the series. “The night I got voted out, Pieter Toerien came to me and gave me a reality check, saying that the industry is too small to not finish school, and that we [Pieter Toerien] will be here. He kept his word, because I came back, I auditioned for him, and he never forgot me,” Jarryd revealed his first impressions of SA Theatre.
After School, in 2010, Jarryd completed his training at the Tshwane University of Technology. This was followed by various roles in Boudoir, La Burlesque, as well as The Joburg Theatre’s Jack and The Beanstalk and Starlight Express, both directed by Janice Honeyman. In between stage productions, his modelling career also took off with features in the International Jockey and Ponds Cosmetics campaigns, to mention only a few. But his love was firstly strong, between the wings on the stage.
“Riff in West Side Story was my first defining role. It was at the Playhouse in Durban, the original production, and it was an amazing experience to do my first principle role. I had to act, dance, sing, and even though it was scary, for the first time it gave me the skills on how to perform a triple-threat role, ” he says looking somewhere far away, but started smiling very broad as he said: “It was amazing to play a butch character.”
After his career was starting to reach cruising heights, with West Side Story in 2013, he was cast with six other South Africans in a touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, as Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat in their 2014 / 2015 tour. On this role, he again stares into the distance, and said: “Skimbleshanks was a right to passage to do a big dance musical, as Cats is such a difficult dance show, and my first time I had a lead in massive houses, with my own song, and even a train that collapses…”
After a few seconds, Jarryd’s attention was with me again, and continued: “You change your perception of who you are as a performer, because no one else can change that perception for you. If you think of yourself as an ensemble character, that is who you will be. If you want to achieve a standard of being a good singer, actor and dancer, that is achievable, and only you can do that for yourself, and Cats was a perceptive change for myself.”
Cats and West Side Story were the two productions on Jarryd’s bucket list, which he was blessed to perform in early on in his career. But as my chat with this performer, now more relaxed in front of me with my new puppy on his lap, continued, I got to know that after Cats, Jarryd was ready for the more serious learning sessions, buried in the Heavy Side Layer of the theatre world. It was then that Jarryd was cast in the 2016 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Joseph wasa long run for the cast, touring locally and abroad for more than a year. “Joseph was an amazing experience in terms of the first musical I was in, other than Starlight Express, in which we could revisit and recreate the production from scratch, other than to copy and paste the show’s original blueprint,” he says while uncomfortably sitting more straight-up: “The challenge was also in trying to be consistent, professional, 8 shows a week, with triple-show Saturdays for 13 months. That was a challenge with no breaks, and again, it was learning to value my body as a performer as well, and to cope with such strenuous…(strenuous what?)”
“Joseph was the battle of the fittest, It taught me mental endurance. You’ve got to keep it fresh and consistent. In my personal life, I was falling to pieces at the time, and at a personal front, it was the most traumatic and difficult experiences I had to go though, and the strongest moments, was during Joseph, when I had more than one experience where my body was broken back stage, my voice was fatigued, I was going through hell, but I had to find that strength inside, take that deep breath, walk through that wing, and perform to the audience that was there to be healed by a show that they paid money to watch. It just took your strength as a performer to another level, because you found this inner strength through the process, of the Show Must GO on. How dark my personal life was at the time, I still had to smile, be authentic, be genuine and I still had to give all I could, because that’s what we do, being true to the craft.”
In this production of Joseph, which was recreated by some of SA’s Theatre greats for Pieter Toerien, and this more humorous production saw Jarryd’s wild and funny side come out. “It was so nice to let it out, and somehow I found this comic side of myself, and I was able to explore that in the show, and I loved it. That was the build up to Felicia, which was an amalgamation of all the roles I have done up to then,” he said.
While Jarryd was still performing in Joseph, auditions opened up for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in South Africa, and his contractual obligations closed every door to him, to star in this musical. “This door, was an appropriate door to close for me. The emotions not to be in Priscilla South Africa, was a humbling experience as it taught me about my ego, and not to live off my ego. An ego can ruin us in a lot of ways.”
With the show that has to go on, Phillip Schnetler was cast as Felicia. “I dreamt of doing that role [Felicia], but it wasn’t my time. It was Philip’s time. I later on watched him perform, and he did the most phenomenal job,” Jarryd tells.
Then, the real turning point in Jarryd’s story: “As soon as I let go of the fact that I couldn’t be part of the show, I got the email from a friend, telling me about the auditions for a production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on the Norwegian Epic…” Jarryd used his whole face and all its expressions as he continues to tell me how the miracle of being cast in this production came to be:
“Everything just seemed impossible for me to be part of Priscilla. I couldn’t be in New York for the auditions, as I was touring with Joseph, I couldn’t afford going to New York. I let that Idea of being in that show go, for the second time, and I had these thoughts of maybe it’s not for me. And then I got this gut feeling, and I always say follow your gut, and my gut said, ‘Action’.. the only word in my head was ‘action’. I then took the chance and asked the New York casting agency if I can audition through a videotape audition, because the worst they could say to me, was to say no. I sent it, and let it go.”
Jarryd’s inspiring story he shared could have filled 3 more pages but we had to conclude with his break out role Jarryd’s casting as Felicia in an International production of the Musical was a role he always wanted to be part of. “I really wanted this. I auditioned via video against everyone in the world who actually went to New York for that audition, and this Durban boy got the part,” he continued proudly: “The full circle moment, was when I left the ship, I had to hand over to Philip as Felicia. It was just us, these two South African boys on the International Stage, being friends, respectful, no envy, with the best intentions.”
It is clear that Jarryd wanted to get a clear message and lesson out through our chat, and his message will certainly aid to the constructive improvement of talent in South Africa. “Artists shouldn’t feel that they have to compare their abilities to that of the restrictions around them. This industry is what we have, and you shouldn’t compare yourself and feel you are not capable of achieving absolutely anything outside of where you are at.”
If Jarryd’s experience in Priscilla could be seen as a lesson, he says: ” You can achieve anything you put your mind to. Sometimes, when you are in a smaller industry, you sometimes feel as if that is all you are good enough for. Sometimes you can box yourself in, or other people can box you in, but there is always a chance to recreate yourself, and to take that leap of faith, and action something new in your life. There is always an opportunity outside the walls around you.”
Jarryd was very secretive when I asked him what next would be written in his resume. What he does say though, is that it will just be a step up!