Alumni Spotlight: Courtney Jamison (’11)
“I always knew I wanted to be an actor,” says Courtney Jamison (’11), who is currently a student at the Yale School of Drama in New Haven, CT. “Looking back, I think I’ve always had a craving for connection, telling stories, and empathizing with other human beings.” In high school, Courtney appreciated the focus at Maggie Walker on government, international studies, and languages. “I developed empathy and humility through learning languages other than English,” she recalls. “I also studied abroad in Toulouse, France while I was there. All of these things as well as the rigor of the Maggie Walker courses were integral in my getting to where I am now! I learned about setting goals, working tirelessly to accomplish them, and never settling for less than my best effort.”
Courtney majored in Musical Theatre at James Madison University. “I owe a lot of the confidence in my talent, artistry, and voice as a performer to JMU,” she says. “The Theatre and Dance community is fairly small compared to other programs across the country; however, because of the faculty and the Forbes Center, I was able to really grow as an individual, artist, and collaborator.” Her college schedule was packed, with full days of classes followed by afternoon show rehearsals and evening a capella rehearsal. Courtney also added Theatre major acting classes, as well as playwriting, directing, and extra courses through the Honors Program after completing requirements for her major. “I’m grateful for learning to have the agency to seek out knowledge in every crevasse I can find it in,” she says.
Courtney also studied abroad in Florence, Italy through the Honors College. “Studying abroad forces you to experience life outside of the comfort zone that is the ‘American way of living,’” she says. “Now, in this time, I realize that there’s nothing necessarily ‘comfortable’ about being a Person of Color in this country. But there were certain privileges I learned that I had as an English Speaking Black American Woman traveling abroad. There were also moments where the privileges also felt uncomfortable, humbling, and eye-opening.” She found the experience informed her acting as well. “As an actor, I’m constantly studying human nature. I’ll always be immensely grateful for what that trip taught me about myself, how I operate in the world, and the potential/importance of valuing the complex and beautiful experiences of others.”
Courtney graciously answered our questions about choosing grad school, YSD, and what’s next for her:
How did you decide to go to drama school? What was the application process like, and how did you pick YSD?
Grad School, more specifically The Yale School of Drama seemed like the right place for me coming out of undergrad. It had always been a dream of mine to study where Angela Bassett and Meryl Streep studied. I always admired their integrity, brilliance, depth, and strength as not only actors but also as women. I really only applied to four grad schools for acting. All of them have you send in a personal statement, headshot, and resume. Then, you audition in person.
I had eight monologues and a song prepared. Two of those monologues were what I would lead with, then I had another two that I also loved. The other four were just in case they asked me for more. Each school asks for contrasting pieces (i.e., Shakespeare/Classical vs. Contemporary and Comedic vs. Dramatic).
The Yale process took me by storm. You have an initial audition day where there are three rounds: the end of hour, end of day, and final interview. After that first audition day, I was then called back for a full callback weekend in New Haven. That weekend included meeting current students and faculty, re-auditioning/interviewing, and taking classes with the other people called back to create a full ensemble of 15-17 students. So the whole process is kind of a whirlwind of “how do I stay present and bring myself completely into the room?” I loved it!
What has been your experience at the Yale School of Drama? What has been the most fun? What has been the most challenging?
I cherish this place and what it’s taught me so very much. I’ve had the most fun discovering myself as an artist-activist in the world. I came here as a 22 year old, eager to learn about any and everything involving stage, film, and television acting. However, what I have gained goes way beyond just acting. My first year we began Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion workshops and how, more specifically, those ideas related to our work as artists. Now, I understand that every action or inaction is making a political statement. I’m excited to use my voice as a Black Woman to change the face of the industry and of the world. Art is a great influencer. My hope is that my work will encourage others to be more empathetic and passionate about what they believe in.
On the flipside, now I find that every day is a challenge. It’s a challenge to constantly have the uncomfortable conversations involving but not limited to race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, etc.. However, my colleagues/classmates and I are taking that challenge very seriously in every rehearsal space, performance, and class. I hope all that makes sense! I’m typing this coming out of a very interesting and passionate Commedia class followed by a rehearsal for a new play called Slave Play. It’s been a great day!
What’s one particularly interesting class and/or professor you’ve had?
I have really enjoyed the work in Clown/Commedia with Chris Bayes. “Clown” is all about stripping us out of our socialized selves and re-discovering what we would be like if the world never told us “no, that isn’t right/appropriate.” It’s extremely vulnerable and youthful. One moment we’re all stomping around on the floor yelling, the next we’re full body sobbing. Chris calls this “emotional spelunking.” I’m grateful for a space where I’m allowed to explore the vastness of human emotions in a safe environment. It’s also really wonderful when we get the opportunity to just play. And what I mean by “play” is to allow ourselves to be full of life, sing, dance, make vulgar jokes, cry, explore every aspect of what makes us interesting. I’ve learned the most about myself, my fears and my joys in that class.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about applying to drama school?
People go to drama school for many different reasons, but the timing always works itself out. For me, going right after undergrad was necessary for my growth as a human, woman, actor, and artist all at the same time. When looking at schools, really study the curriculum and what you feel are aspects of the craft you need to study or that you’re drawn to. Look at the professors, study the grads and what they’re doing. Make sure it seems like the right fit for you. Pick audition material that is personal, vulnerable, and revealing. And finally, really bring yourself into the room. Not the idea of who you “think” you should be… but the actual person that you are, that day, in that space.
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to right now, personally, academically, or professionally?
I am so ready to explore this version of myself in the world. I’m looking forward to moving to either New York or LA after I graduate in the spring. I can’t wait to start auditioning, doing good work, sharing that work. Hopefully, I’ll find an agent/management team that is really dedicated to growing my career while also supporting my artist-activist work. I’m also looking forward to getting this TV show off the ground that my brother (Jai Jamison ’03) and I have been working on for the past few years that is about Richmond. So a lot of exciting change on the horizon!