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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Akron native bringing ‘Junior’ to Civic

4/3/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Akron native James III will bring his one-man show “Junior” to the Akron Civic Theatre April 10.
Photo courtesy of James III
DOWNTOWN AKRON — For Akron native and actor/comedian James III, growing up without his father was something he didn’t think much about.

“As a kid, I pushed it so far away from me,” said James III, who was 18 months old when his father took his own life. “I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t feel close to him, but around the time I was turning 23 or 24, it started becoming more strong for me. It affected me.”

Now the New York City-based performer has created a one-man show about his relationship with the father he didn’t know, “Junior,” that he will bring to the Akron Civic Theatre April 10 at 7:30 p.m.

James III, who was born James Smith III but does not use his last name professionally, attended Erie Island Elementary School in West Akron. It was there in second grade he discovered he wanted to be a performer.

“For Black History Month, we did a series of scenes and speeches from famous leaders,” he said. “I had a piece of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I rattled off my lines very quickly, but then the whole audience cheered and I said, ‘This is great!’”

He won a school talent show doing voices and impressions a year later. He was accepted into Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts — but in visual art because he was intimidated by learning a monologue for the drama program, he said.

After taking a drama class there as part of the school’s curriculum, he found it was the best fit for him. For high school, he was accepted into the theater program at Firestone High School, and he appeared in productions such as “The Wiz.”

After high school, he spent one year at Marietta College before transferring to Marymount College in New York to study acting. He’s now been in New York for nine years, he said.

He’s been working as an actor, having performed with the New York Shakespeare Festival, as well as doing stand-up comedy and improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. He’s also had the chance to appear on an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and on the “College Humor” website.

James III said his road to creating “Junior” began a few years ago as he dealt with his father’s death.

“I started with writing poetry about it,” he said. “The work started being super heavy and super dramatic. I thought, this is too much. So I started doing stand-up comedy, and that helped to lighten it up.”

The piece ended up being a combination of stand-up, sketch comedy, poetry and even Shakespeare, he said. But once he put it all together, he wasn’t sure he was ready to do anything with it.

“I left it on a shelf and said, ‘I’m not touching this,’” he said. “Then I had theater space somewhere, the thing I was going to do fell through and I had three weeks, so I thought I would put it up.”

Since then, he’s done the show a few times in New York.

“I’m looking forward to doing the show in Ohio and even further developing it,” he said.

The finished product turned out a lot different that James III thought it would, but he said overall the experience of writing the work has helped him.

“There was a lot of anger I had, and it’s sort of helping me to not be so angry,” he said. “It’s helping me understand. That’s the biggest thing. The other thing is how to realize the feelings are there and it’s OK to have those feelings.”

While back in Akron, James III said he plans to work with students at both Miller South and Firestone.

Tickets for “Junior” are $15. The show will be presented cabaret-style on the Civic stage, so seating is limited. For tickets and more information, call 330-253-2488 or go to www.akroncivic.com.

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