Clay teens taking leading roles in Jacksonville

By Karassa Stinchcomb
Posted 8/8/18

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Clay teens taking leading roles in Jacksonville


JACKSONVILLE – Two Clay County actors continue to expand their careers and wow audiences from here to Jacksonville’s Southside.

Clay High senior Jeremy Ferri, 17 of Green Cove Springs, recently portrayed Frederick Frankenstein in Florida State College at Jacksonville High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience’s production of “Young Frankenstein” along with Gannon Thomas, 18 of Fleming Island. Thomas, a senior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, portrayed Inspector Kemp.

This is not the first time Ferri and Thomas have been cast as lead roles. They starred in the college’s 2016 production of “Cats.” Ferri was cast as Rum Tum Tugger and Thomas was cast as Skimbleshanks. The two also performed in the college’s 2017 production of “Westside Story.”

Ferri, an Eagle Scout, got his start in acting at a young age when he attended an Orange Park Community Theatre workshop. He performed in “Annie,” “Hairspray,” “Into the Woods,” “White Christmas,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Phantom of the Opera.” He then was cast in several shows at Theatre Jacksonville where he performed in “Hairspray,” “Cats,” “Westside Story” and “Young Frankenstein.” Ferri credits his former teacher Evan Gould for his start in acting.

“I call him my musical theatre Godfather,” Ferri said. “He told me to go audition for Hairspray at Theatre Jacksonville and that’s really when I took off.”

Thomas also got his start in acting at a young age when he performed in “Alice in Wonderland Junior” at his elementary school.

“I was cast as the mouse in the teacup,” he said. “I asked the director what that role was, and she told me she made it up because she liked me. I ended up performing as the King of Hearts because the boy they cast had to move.”

Thomas did a showcase later at the Orange Park Community Theatre where he performed in the theatre’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” He went on to perform in FSCJ Summer Musical Theatre Experience’s production of “Cats,” “Mary Poppins,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Westside Story,” “Les Miserables” and “Curtains.”

Thomas auditioned for “Secret Garden” at Fleming Island High School where he was enrolled, but school officials canceled the show after a student chose to end their life.

“I wasn’t happy because this is an outlet for emotion,” Thomas said.

Being cast as a lead is something both students enjoy and don’t feel pressure about being out front that close to the audience.

“It’s always fun and enjoyable to be cast as a lead because you try to lead by example,” Ferri said. “You’re not called a lead for no reason. You’re called a lead because you’re supposed to lead the cast.”

“It’s an ensemble part with more lines. I like to think of it as we’re all equal, I just have more lines,” Thomas said.

The audition process for “Young Frankenstein” required actors to prepare a song and dance from the show depending on the role they wanted. The actors then had call backs where they would come in and read for lines from an audition packet. Each person was called back a week later and told which part they were cast for.

Ferri and Thomas have learned a lot from acting. They both encourage others who may have wanted to act to never second guess themselves and go ahead and get into acting or musical theatre.

“The No. 1 thing I’ve learned is how to portray a character and to not ‘fake act,’ but to just be yourself,” Ferri said. “I’ve also learned when I start messing up, it’s OK and the show must go on.”

“You’re making more of your life by playing someone else’s life,” Thomas said. ‘If you don’t get the part you want, it doesn’t mean anything bad. It just means you have less lines than another part.”

Clay County does not offer nearly as many theatre programs as are available in Jacksonville –

something Ferri and Thomas would like to see change.

“There is so much talent in Clay County, but people just don’t go out of Clay County,” Thomas said.”

Ferri and Thomas were the only two people from Clay County in SMTE’s 2017 production of “Westside Story,” and three students from Clay County were in SMTE’s 2016 production of “Hairspray.”

Both students want to pursue careers in acting after graduating high school.

“If I stopped doing this, it would be like ending my life because I’ve made so much more of my life[by doing it],” Thomas said.

“Young Frankenstein” ran July 27-29 at the Nathan H. Wilson Center for the Arts on FSCJ’s South Campus.


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