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Quadruple threat: Kent Lewis

by Kari Ashworth - Executive Editor
Wed, Mar 11th 2020 01:00 pm
Kent Lewis shares his inspiring journey to theatre students. From singing to acting, Lewis discovered all his talents through hard work and real life experiences.
Kent Lewis shares his inspiring journey to theatre students. From singing to acting, Lewis discovered all his talents through hard work and real life experiences.

The College at Brockport Fine Arts Series welcomed actor Kent Lewis Thursday, March 5, as the guest speaker for the latest installment of “Stage Whispers,” titled “Quadruple Threats Only Need Apply.”

The Black Box Theatre quickly filled with students and faculty to learn from an working professional who is considered a quadruple threat as an actor, singer, dancer and musician. 

Associate Professor Ruth Childs introduced Lewis, highlighting his various credits in theater. 

“Today is all about our guest Kent Lewis, who is an actor working in the current GEVA production of the musical ‘Once.’ He is a veteran of the first national tours of ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ the Las Vegas production of ‘Mamma Mia!’ and the off-Broadway production ‘The Day Before Spring.’”

Lewis began his talk by sharing how he got into the business with four short stories.

The first one consisted of how he began singing, explaining when he was 5 years old, his family would go to a barbershop sing out and camp out.

“I knew how to sing before I knew what singing was,” Lewis said.

Another story Lewis told was of his father presenting him with a ukulele when he was young. 

“My dad handed me a ukulele and I thought it was a gift for my birthday,” Lewis said. “Years later, I wrote a letter of acknowledgment thanking him for starting [my love of] music, and he said, ‘I never gave you that ukulele, I just was getting it out of the front seat.’ And that just changed the whole perspective.”

As for his musical background, Lewis said his dad taught  him to play piano by assigning numbers to the keys. Lewis demonstrated this on the piano that sits in the corner of the room, and he said to this day, he still plays like this and is a “terrible sight reader.”

“So the reason I did this, this kid in my high school was starting a band and he said he needed musicians and I lied and said I played piano,” Lewis said. “So I went home and said, ‘dad, teach me how to play piano.’”

Lewis continued to play piano in college, signing up for jazz band his junior year. 

Lewis also began acting in high school, deciding to audition for “Showboat” due to having a free period in his class schedule.

“I had tried very unsuccessfully to be a popular sports hero in high school and suddenly when I became the guy who sang the love songs in the musical, the world changed,” Lewis said. “Suddenly you have people who now I would call it community and friends and people who I share my life with, then I would say I’m getting so much attention from so many girls.”

As for dancing, Lewis took up lessons at the age of  20, after being passed for a role because he did not know what a pirouette was. The director had asked him if he could dance, and after stumbling a bit to do a turn, Lewis was asked to do an outside turn, to which he asked “you mean like on dirt and gravel?”

Lewis’s start in show business was never on purpose; he said he had gone to a theme park to audition for a barbershop quartet, which wasn’t doing auditions that day, and ended up auditioning for a musical theater show. From there, Lewis kept falling into shows.

Despite his experience in theater, Lewis said he doesn’t have a specific moment he latches on to. Instead, it is a compilation of the little moments that add up over time.

Lewis lives in New York City now, after resisting it for many years. He finally moved at age 37, but is unsure why he did resist the city for so long.

“I’m not sure if it was the fear of failure or fear of success, you know, thinking, ‘oh, they’re going to think you’re a fraud’ or it might have just been, ‘this is easy,’” Lewis said. “The other thing is New York wasn’t as Disney-fied as it is now.”

Lewis explained he went to New York to audition for “Cats” and stayed in a friend’s apartment on 8th Avenue. It was a studio apartment with a “stand up shower on cinder blocks.” Lewis said at the time he preferred his home in Florida that had a gym and pool included. 

When Lewis made the move to the city, he took a break from acting until his daughter graduated from high school. New York City was a game changer for his career, given how different it is from his native Chicago. 

“Where I’m from in Chicago, there’s two or three auditions a month,” Lewis said. “In New York, there’s two or three a day.”

Lewis has had the opportunity to be in some of his favorite plays, and his versatility is what has helped him succeed. However, he said “your versatility has to be rooted in who you are.” 

During Lewis’s talk, he had two audience members participate in a Meisner technique, which featured the two students sitting across from each other and repeating the phrase the other had said using their exact mannerisms. 

Emily Parry, a theatre major, was one of the two students chosen for the exercise. While she came to the lecture for a class, Parry said she would have come anyway because she feels it’s important to take opportunities to learn from theatre professionals. 

Parry said the Meisner exercise was useful.

“I think it was very interesting and it was very helpful,” Parry said. “The more tools you have in your toolbox, the easier it is.”

Lewis gave a tip for anyone who has an aspiration, whether they would like to be on a stage or not.

“Whether you want to go into theatre or not, you just have to talk about your dreams,” Lewis said. “Put them into existence. If you want to do something, odds are there are people that want to do it, and there’s a dream that’s inside you, as soon as you ask somebody else about it, it starts to be real.”

 

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