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I’m about to celebrate the second anniversary of my move to New York from Kansas City, and I am amazed how quickly time has flown by.  I moved to NYC in order to pursue musical theater and, fortunately, I’ve had some success in this desired arena.  However, what I wasn’t ready for is the infrequency with which the theater gigs can roll around at times.  I had to do serious soul searching to finally accept that…no, I don’t completely suck in this profession, but yes, there are a lot of people who also don’t completely suck in this profession.  There are simply going to be dry spells.

The realization of this fact wasn’t good enough for me.  I’m 31 years old and, while that isn’t old at all, currently theatrical trends are gearing toward younger actors and dancers.  You have to serve your time often before casting directors get to know you and you begin to make a name for yourself.  Here was my dilemma.  Like anyone, I want it now.  Sooner rather than later.  I can’t dance forever, and I don’t want to just be a dancer.  Thereby, I decided to try an experiment.  Using my history as a clown, I decided to create a character.  Not a traditional clown mind you, but something that could be recognizable–something people could relate to.  I began to “brand” myself.

I’d like for you to meet Jim.  Using true experiences from my life, I began to create a story and, then turned it into a film project.  I learned about writing a script for camera, including story-boarding, which is drawing sketches of each camera shot.  I had two close friends direct me and control the filming aspects. I gained permission to use a location for the film, and I gathered some amazing volunteers to act in the film with me.  My favorite part of the experience was learning to cut and edit the movie.  It is amazing how much it takes for such a short piece!  The final product came together when another dear friend composed the soundtrack and laid it perfectly over the film.  To my surprise, within just a couple of days of its release on YouTube, it had several hundred views.

Who knows if this will indeed serve the purpose to get my face and name out there and help me book shows easier.  The lesson I continued to learn is that as artists our destiny is to keep moving and keep trying.  We are creative people, thus we need to create something. I am excited to see where this new character will bring me, but, most importantly, I have a renewed sense of self worth and a much needed reminder that my life didn’t end when I stepped off the stage with the Kansas City Ballet two years ago.  Oh no!  It’s just revving up!

Check out “Jim at the Gym” on YouTube.

Written by Matthew Donnell

Matthew Donnell

A graduate of North Carolina School of the arts, Matthew Donnell is a freelance dancer, actor, clown, instructor, and film maker residing in NYC. After a decade with the Kansas City Ballet, he turned his focus toward musical theater and teaching. He strives to bring the humor of his life into his art in order to promote artistic health for himself and those around him.