High school senior Jeremy Smith had already been admitted to Georgia Institute of Technology and was on the fast track to becoming an engineer. At the last minute, he had a change of heart and chose instead to pursue a degree in theater at a different university. Upon graduation, he rented an apartment sight unseen and moved to Sunnyvale, where he still works with the California Theater Center.
Smith, now 25, had always envisioned himself as an engineer, despite the fact that he had been acting since the age of 4. He began acting at his local church where his mother was the music director, but didn’t become seriously involved in theater until his sophomore year of high school.
Because his Atlanta high school had no department equipped to host a musical theater performance, several teachers and students had to work together to put on the production themselves. Smith originally rejected the idea of getting involved in the production because he felt that the workload would be too great, but later regretted his decision.
“I ended up going to see the show because all of my friends were in it,” he said, “and I thought, “Man, I want to do this really bad!'” As a result, he worked closely with the production group for his remaining two years of high school, helping them produce two additional musical theater performances.
“By the time I’d finished both of those shows, there was no doubt in my mind that it was what I wanted to do,” Smith said.
He went on to take some basic theater classes in high school, but really made the commitment to acting when he enrolled in Shorter College’s theater concentration. Over the four years spent earning his bachelor of fine arts, he participated in the school’s intensive program, which included classes in acting, voice, tap, jazz, ballet, stage combat and stage movement.
During his senior year of college, Smith attended the Southeastern Theater Conference, an annual convention that allows aspiring actors the opportunity to audition for different companies from around the nation. Smith auditioned for more than 100 companies at the event but chose Sunnyvale-based California Theater Center because “California seemed like a wonderful place to live.”
Smith moved across the country with his wife, Gillie, who had also attended Shorter College with an emphasis in middle grades education. The two were married while Smith was still in school, and moved to California after his graduation to pursue his career. Gillie, 27, teaches fifth grade at Graystone Elementary School in San Jose.
Smith currently stars as Mr. Knightley in CTC’s production of Emma, adapted from the Jane Austen novel. He was nervous about the play at first, partially because he was unfamiliar with Austen’s work and also because he wondered if he would be able to relate to the material. His fears were laid to rest as he became more familiar with his role. “I wasn’t sure that it would be my style, and it absolutely is,” said Smith. “I love every second of it.”
He also cited the serious nature of the play as one of the bonuses of performing it. “It’s been really nice to be able to do something a little less like the children’s theater that we normally do,” Smith said. He had the starring role in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, one of 14 plays put on by the CTC for young audiences during its 2006-2007 season.
Smith also focuses on his independent film production company, It Was Reel Productions, which has already produced three short films, two of which were written, directed, and produced by Smith himself. He is in the process of doing research for a full-length feature film, set to explore the semi-fictional history behind the lost city of Atlantis.
Smith and his wife plan a move to New York, considered the top location for independent filmmakers. He wants to focus on It Was Reel Productions and continue in his role on the other side of the camera. Of the company he says, “It’s turned into a very promising addition to the career I already have.”
This piece originally appeared in The Sunnyvale Sun.