Photo courtesy of Jonathan Herring (C’21).
By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Sitting on the porch of Stirling’s in a green jacket and a pink shirt, Jonathan Herring (C’21) exudes an easy confidence. Having most recently played the Master of Ceremonies in Sewanee’s production of Cabaret, Herring is certainly no stranger to the stage. That wasn’t always the case.
Herring started acting in high school after watching a production of Hairspray. Due to the Noble and Greenough School’s large arts endowment as well as its location in Dedham, Massachusetts’s flourishing arts community, the show exhibited a level of professionalism not common to most high schools. Herring was impressed.
“When I saw [Hairspray], I was like, damn, I want to go here,” he recalled. “I got in, but I didn’t start out being good.”
Having never trained for auditions, Herring was cut for the first production he auditioned for, so he started working to improve. He took classes; he practiced memorization; he learned to sing. He was soon getting major parts in productions.
When asked which roles he had played, he said with a laugh, “I’ve played everything.”
A few of his notable roles include Professor Callahan in Legally Blonde and Max in The Sound of Music. However, his favourite role in high school was a dramatic adaptation of a book written by an alumnus entitled OCD Love Story. In it, Herring played the male love interest’s manifestation of OCD, which he says “was really fun to play.”
At Sewanee, Herring serves as a Tennessee Williams Fellow. As a member of the inaugural class of Fellows, his primary responsibility is to be involved in the theater community. However, after his first semester, he “just fell out of it, because work got busy.” Instead, he joined Key of D, Sewanee’s all-male acapella group, and found that he enjoyed it immensely.
“I started getting a lot into singing and vocal performance,” he said. “I basically took a hiatus during Crucible, which was fun to see, but it was fun to get a break.”
But when the Theatre Department announced its production of Cabaret for the fall semester, the draw was too great for him to pass up, although he very nearly did. After having a semester with almost no involvement in the theater scene, Herring was unsure if he should even audition.
“It’s intimidating coming back,” he recalled. “I sort of made a last minute decision.”
He did a dance audition and then attended acting auditions later that week. After pairing up to attempt first a Cliff Bradshaw and Sally Bowles scene and then a Schulz and Schneider scene, seven of them were asked to stay back to audition for the much-coveted role of MC.
“[It] was really scary because either a man or a woman could have ended up playing the MC, so I was like, [I’m] not going to get this,” he said. “I still remember the day I got it.”
It was a Wednesday night, and Herring was in his room with some friends, listening to music. Expecting the physical copy of the cast list to be posted at the Tennessee Williams Center (TWC) the next morning, he’d planned on going to the TWC then. But that night, Jim Crawford, who directed Cabaret, sent out an email with the cast list attached.
“I immediately started screaming,” said Herring. “It was so crazy, I texted Karissa [Wheeler (C’19)] immediately. To be validated after such a long time being out was so good. Then it was off to work.”
He continued, “I’ve always kind of been a singer first, so getting a chance to do Cabaret was really incredible. Honestly, the MC has been a dream role of mine for a long time, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared going in.”
Herring was off-book by the time rehearsals started. Bringing the same kind of dedication that he has applied to his art and his life, he executed the role of the MC of the Kit Kat Club with the perfect amount of vivacity and gravity that it required.
He’s certainly come a long way from the young boy who saw a high school production of Hairspray and decided that was what he wanted to do. Moving forward, however, Herring believes he will eventually transition completely to music because of his love of singing.
“I basically had the dedication to get myself to where I wanted to be,” he said, “but I did not start out thinking I was going to do it. I just worked really hard and got to where I am, but it’s so weird to think about, that I decided that I was going to do something and I did it.”