Two young SFA School of Theatre alumni have already experienced nationwide, multifaceted success in their industry, yet they remain focused on the unpredictable challenges that still lie ahead.
Lamar Jefferson ’13 and Thomas Brazzle ’08 have found many successes onstage and behind the scenes in renowned theatre venues across the country, staying busy with multiple projects. They credit their time as SFA students with giving them a well-rounded background in theatre and teaching them how to be receptive to the unexpected. They also credit their theatre professors for challenging them to do their best work.
“The number of productions I was able to participate in at SFA really set me up for success,” Jefferson said. “In many theatre programs, lowerclassmen can’t be in shows; they have to wait a year or two before performing. When I arrived at SFA, I was crewing one show, acting in two other shows, and then I had scenes and monologues to memorize for acting classes, plus my academic work on top of all that. It was exhausting and crazy, but it really taught me how to juggle more than one or two things emotionally and psychologically — and sometimes literally and physically.”
Brazzle began his studies at SFA with a desire to act, “but I came out wanting to do so much more.” As a student, he gained valuable knowledge in directing, movement, play analysis, performance theory, play writing, lighting, scenic design and costume construction. Those experiences have allowed him to be a successful professional actor while also creating his own work.
“Now, I not only act regionally across the country, but I have written plays and had plays of mine produced, written and directed for film, taught acting classes for multiple theatres and developed after-school programs,” he said.
A high school production of the musical “Godspell,” in which Brazzle played the character of Jesus, gave him his first insight into “the power of theatre.”
“That experience was life changing,” he said. “It was my first musical, and I learned so much from my fellow cast mates and the directors. It made me work harder than I had ever worked before on a show. After our final performance, the mother of a student who had recently lost her son in a drunk-driving incident approached me. She said the show and my performance as Jesus were beautiful; they restored her faith in God, and she felt she could move forward after such a loss. It was then I understood why we have theatre and the power it holds. From then on, I put my focus on making this a career.”
It wasn’t until his sophomore year at SFA performing in a production of “A Raisin in the Sun” that Jefferson found his calling.
“That was my first time truly losing myself in a character and the moment onstage,” he said. “It was so exhilarating I could barely remember what happened onstage. It was like a drug, and I began to chase that feeling. I decided to seriously focus on my acting.”
Well-established relationships between SFA’s School of Theatre and world-renowned performance venues in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Portland, Maine; and Dallas have provided theatre students with valuable internship experiences and the necessary connections to find rewarding work for many years to come.
While studying at SFA, Jefferson interned as an actor at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater for a year. Following his graduation, he was on the road performing in Arkansas, then back to Texas, and then back to Milwaukee working professionally as an actor. He moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, after learning fellow Lumberjack and best friend Kory Pullam ’13 was relocating there. Pullam is making his mark in Twin Cities’ theatre and as a recording artist.
“It was great starting there together and helping each other out, which is the artist way,” Jefferson said. For the next six years, Jefferson worked at local Minneapolis theatres, including the legendary Guthrie Theater, and he did commercial work.
“At the top of my list is the Guthrie Theater, which is world-renowned and offers classic theatre as well as new work,” Jefferson said. “It was there I really found my voice and way as an actor. I was able to do everything from Shakespeare to musicals to new plays. I finally reached my dream, and it all happened at age 25. It’s such a blessing.”
Jefferson continues to maintain connections by performing in Milwaukee theatres and building new professional relationships in Dallas. After recently moving to New York City, he is gearing up to return to First Stage in Milwaukee to perform in “The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Musical,” his third production with First Stage.
While completing his degree requirements at SFA, Brazzle spent time training overseas through SFA’s exchange program with Rose Bruford College. Upon returning to the states and graduating, he toured with a new children’s musical, followed by acting for Dallas Shakespeare for a season. He then moved to Houston to work as an actor for the Tony Award-winning Alley Theatre and The Ensemble Theatre. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Connecticut, he moved to New York and worked for various theatres in the city as well as regionally. He became a company member with Shakespeare and Company and has been with them for seven summer seasons. He’s worked for TheatreSquared in Arkansas, Portland Stage in Maine and many others. He considers his best role/project to be his portrayal of Edmund in “King Lear” at the Guthrie Theater.
“The process was amazing, and ever since learning the history of the Guthrie while a student at SFA, I always wanted to perform for the company,” Brazzle said. “It was a dream come true.”
Currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, Brazzle is focused on directing and writing, as well as acting in film. He’s done commercials and some co-starring roles on Black Entertainment Television. He is a board member for the Morton Theatre in Athens, Georgia, where he directed “It’s A Wonderful Life” for its holiday show. He’s producing and directing a web series he wrote titled “Infinite Jest.”
“It is a comedy that takes the complete works of Shakespeare and all of his characters and puts them in the same world, remixing the stories and creating new outrageous misadventures,” he said. Filming began in January.
Another play written by Brazzle, “Smoked,” will have its world premiere in Raleigh, North Carolina, with the MOJOAA Performing Arts Theatre Company, a community theatre that seeks to preserve, educate and tell the stories of African Americans through artistic platforms.
Although they have each had successful careers thus far, it’s the unknown — the next challenge that awaits them — that keeps them excited about their work.
“I am finding that teaching, producing, writing and directing are really at the forefront of my career right now,” Brazzle said. “I enjoy acting, but I am discovering that a lot of stories I would like to be a part of or see are not happening. So I have made an effort to create, find and produce those stories with people I want to work with.”
Brazzle plans to form his production company in the coming year. He is developing a Shakespeare Film Festival to showcase documentaries, narratives, shorts and full-length films inspired by the works of Shakespeare. He’s also in the process of developing an artistry program that helps young people in inner-city schools avoid becoming products of the criminal justice system.
“I’ve decided I want to branch out and see what life has in store for me,” Jefferson said of his recent relocation to New York City. “I’ve just been auditioning nonstop since I arrived. I know something is coming, and I’m just patiently waiting.”
Brazzle advises young theatre students to challenge themselves, continually work on their craft and understand what it is they truly want from a life in theatre.
“Theatre is a large community, and there are so many areas/jobs that keep it thriving,” Brazzle said. “Don’t get caught doing only one thing. If you came in as an actor, challenge yourself and design a show, stage manage, write, direct. Do something you may be scared to do, or you never thought of doing before. It will open so many doors, tell you so much about yourself, and it may even put you on a path you never saw coming.”