An ex­tra­or­di­nary ‘Hamil­ton’ job

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Arts cor­re­spon­dent

Ev­ery time and ev­ery place “Hamil­ton” gets per­formed in Amer­ica, the name of ac­tor Wil­lie Smith III ap­pears in the pro­gram. The Char­lotte na­tive may not be on­stage. He may not even be in that city. But he’s al­ways in the play­bill, be­cause of his ex­tra­or­di­nary job: “uni­ver­sal swing.”

The North­west School of the Arts grad will be listed again when the show comes to Char­lotte Oct. 10. The home­town crowd, in­clud­ing par­ents Wil­lie Smith Jr. and Ger­maine Pat­ter­son Smith, ex­pect to see him here. But he could as eas­ily be whirled off to Chicago or New York on 24 hours’ no­tice.

“My life is packed up in two big suit­cases,” he said in a phone call be­fore a Bos­ton matinee. “There have been times when I have got­ten off a plane, done two shows and turned right back around to go to an­other com­pany. Is ‘spon­tane­ity’ the right word?”

He has lived this way since join­ing “Hamil­ton” in win­ter 2017. But spon­tane­ity has al- ways been the right word for Tre Smith, as he was dubbed (for “the third”) by his fam­ily.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from NWSA in 2005 and Univer­sity of the

Arts in Philadel­phia, he be­gan a seven-year odyssey across the dance world, from bal­let to con­tem­po­rary move­ment. He per­formed, taught, did work­shops where “they bring chore­og­ra­phers in for a week and give them bod­ies to play with.”

One of those, Broad­way Dance Lab, came around while he taught at the Staten Is­land stu­dio Brandy’s Dance Unique. The chore­og­ra­pher hap­pened to be Andy Blanken­buehler, who had won one of the 11 Tony Awards for “Hamil­ton.”

“At the end, he asked, ‘Do you sing?’ I said ‘Yes, sir,’ and he said, ‘Take my e-mail.’ I sent him my head­shot and re­sume, and the fol­low­ing Tues­day was my first time go­ing in for ‘Hamil­ton.’ It took me a year to au­di­tion for the show – I went in 10 times – but noth­ing comes easy in life. You get told ‘No’ so many times in this busi­ness that you just have to get through to a ‘Yes.’

“I’ve only been in theater the last few years of my life: I did ‘Cabin in the Sky’ for City Cen­ter En­cores (a se­ries in New York) and ‘Dream­girls’ in Dal­las. My voice had been on a break, so I took voice lessons, and I got that ‘Hamil­ton’ phone call right af­ter Thanks­giv­ing 2016.”

His op­ti­mism comes from fol­low­ing his dad’s maxim: Do what­ever makes your heart smile. (His sis­ter, Brit­tani Am­ber Smith, prac­tices medicine in Vir­ginia.) Tre Smith says he has never de­vi­ated from that idea, and rare non-arts jobs – no­tably as a host in an Ital­ian restau­rant – con­vinced him he shouldn’t.

“I never had naysay­ers in my life,” he re­called. “My fa­ther took me to my first dance les­son and said, ‘If you have the grace, you can dance.’ I came from a com­mu­nity where I didn’t see AfricanAmer­i­can dancers, es­pe­cially males. So I would be the only one in a dance en­vi­ron­ment in a lot of places, and I knew I’d have to work ex­tra hard.

“A dancer’s ca­reer is short-lived any­way, so it’s my job to make sure I’m get­ting the best out of all these worlds: a com­mer­cial, do­ing TV, theater. I just wanted to make it so badly.”

When “Hamil­ton” called, a friend con­grat­u­lated him: “You have a

govern­ment job now.” Smith gets not only a se­cure pay­check but show perks such as mas­sage ther­a­pists, chi­ro­prac­tors and phys­i­cal ther­a­pists. In his early 30s, he needs them.

“A swing in this com­pany cov­ers six tracks (ensem­ble po­si­tions), and the uni­ver­sal swing gets called when one of those swings is out sick, in­jured or on va­ca­tion. I learned the show with the tour that was in San Fran­cisco, then I was needed for the (open-ended) run in Chicago, then I went back to San Fran­cisco, then I went to Broad­way for a few weeks, then I went on tour. At some point, I’ll be in the com­pany that’s start­ing in Puerto Rico.”

(Lin-Manuel Mi­randa is mostly of Puerto Ri­can de­scent. Tre Smith in­tro­duced him­self to the “Hamil­ton” com­poser­lyri­cist in Los An­ge­les on the tour: “He hugged me and said ‘Thank you. You have a hard job, and we re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate you.’ One of the most hum­ble men I’ve met.”)

Smith never knows which track he’ll be called to cover, and the four cur­rent ver­sions of the show aren’t iden­ti­cal: “They are blocked a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, or the chore­og­ra­phy will be on a dif­fer­ent count. The ac­tors may all sit down on a dif­fer­ent word. As a swing, you’re sup­posed to fit in, not look like the guy who doesn’t know the block­ing.”

The show gives him time to do other projects. He danced in April in NBC-TV’s ver­sion of “Je­sus Christ Su­per­star Live in Con­cert,” along­side fel­low NWSA grad Abby Cor­ri­gan and Bran­don Vic­tor Dixon, who’d played Aaron Burr in the Broad­way “Hamil­ton.” (Smith knew “Su­per­star” chore­og­ra­pher Camille A. Brown, be­cause he worked in her dance com­pany for five years.)

“It’s great to have ‘Hamil­ton’ as my bread and but­ter,” he said. “It can sup­port me while I think about the things I want to do as an artist. I want to keep push­ing the en­ve­lope and rep­re­sent­ing who I am.”

This story is part of an Ob­server un­der­writ­ing project with the Thrive Cam­paign for the Arts, sup­port­ing arts jour­nal­ism in Char­lotte.

@williet87 on In­sta­gram

Char­lotte na­tive Tre Smith was in Easter Sun­day’s live tele­vi­sion broad­cast of “Je­sus Christ Su­per­star,” star­ring John Le­gend, cen­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.