|Karli Cadel photography/Demetrius Clayton|
Grossmont College Theatre Arts student Demetrius Clayton has seen a bit of the world as a Marine Corps vet, but he describes his first professional role in the Cygnet Theatre production of “The Wind and the Breeze” as a real jaw-dropper.
“It’s been life-changing; it really has opened my eyes to how much I have left to accomplish as an actor,” he said about his role as Shantell, a fast-food worker with aspirations to win fame as a hip-hop emcee, in the rap-infused work by Juilliard-trained playwright Nathan Alan Davis, which continues through June 10. “I have been around so much talent it’s really cool to just soak that up and sometimes, I catch myself doing that.”
Since mid-May, Clayton has been living and breathing stage acting five days a week with the Old Town regional theater company in a production led by Cygnet associate artistic director and Grossmont College Theatre Arts adjunct instructor Rob Lutfy. Another connection to Grossmont College is Theatre Arts student Kian
Clayton, whose recent roles have been in Grossmont College’s productions of “Treasure Island, “ “Taming of the Shrew,” and “A Piece of My Heart,” a play about six women experiencing the Vietnam War, was drawn to the modern themes of “The Wind and the Breeze” and its focus on hip hop.
“Kian told me that Cygnet was having auditions for a hip hop play,” said the 23-year-old who served a four-year enlistment in the Marine Corps as an aircraft maintenance administration specialist. “Since I was already taking rap as a serious art form at the time, I felt like the play was my calling.”
In April, Clayton and other cast members braved freezing conditions to meet with the playwright who was presenting a reading of “The Wind and the Breeze” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, one of the leading rep companies in the country.
“I wasn’t prepared for the brutal cold weather, but other than that, it was wonderful,” Clayton said. “Rehearsing with Nathan was a very easygoing and organic process, and it helped the cast build connections in a short time, furthering the chemistry between us.”
Also at the Milwaukee Rep, Clayton saw “Until the Flood,” a one-person show written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist who brought to the stage the reaction of Ferguson, Mo., residents to the police shooting in 2014 of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“Ferguson is just 15 minutes way from my hometown of University City and that play flooded me with emotions – I couldn’t stop the tears,” Clayton said.
Growing up in the St. Louis suburbs, Clayton said his father made it clear from the time he was little that after high school, his choices were either to go to college or join the military.
Bitten by the acting bug in elementary school when he played celebrity guest Ray Charles in a staged production of the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, Clayton’s dream school was the American Conservatory of Theater or ACT, in San Francisco. But lacking the grades for admission, Clayton’s path led to the Marine Corps.
Just weeks after his discharge in 2016, Clayton enrolled at Grossmont College and fell in love with the Theatre Arts program.
“I feel like Grossmont really prepared me well for Cygnet,” said Clayton, who plans to transfer to a university for a bachelor’s in theater arts, then to pursue a Master of Fine Arts at ACT, ranked among the top five MFA programs in the nation with such notable alumni as Annette Bening and Denzel Washington. “Without Grossmont, I wouldn’t have had the blueprint to take on the audition for my role as Shantell. I killed it in that audition and Grossmont gave me the tools.”
The Wind and the Breeze continues at Cygnet Theatre Wednesdays through Sundays through June 10. Tickets are available at the box office at 4040 Twiggs St. in San Diego and online.