'It's snot a big deal' co-star tells APT newcomer

Posted September 4, 2018

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This summer, Jefferson A. Russell is playing a loyal but morally bankrupt sergeant and an unexpectedly erudite British convict on the boards at American Players Theatre in rural Spring Green.

A few decades ago, Russell’s stage was a little different: The streets of urban Baltimore, where Russell spent eight years as a police officer and a juvenile probation officer.

It’s a fascinating transition for Russell, who was lured from the East Coast to Spring Green for his debut APT season partly on the recommendation of his friend and fellow company member Gavin Lawrence.

He’s starring in APT’s complementary stagings of “The Recruiting Officer” (as Sergeant Kite) and “Our Country’s Good” (in dual roles as the twitchy convict Wisehammer and Captain Phillip).

Russell studied sociology and criminal justice at Hampton University in the late 1980s. He found himself inspired by the 1987 election of Kurt Schmoke, the United States’ first African-American mayor.

“That was like my Obama moment,” he recalls. “A big change was coming and I wanted to be part of it.”

But Russell had also discovered acting while at Hampton. As a freshman, he auditioned for a one-act play.

“That first experience encapsulated what theater could do,” says Russell, who ended up taking the production to a theater competition in Chicago, his first foray as an actor in the Midwest. “It opened up another world for me.”

Russell enjoyed acting so much that he deliberately took midnight shifts at the precinct so he could rehearse and perform in community theater productions. It wasn’t yet something he considered doing professionally — until he hit his 10th year in Baltimore’s criminal justice system and began to feel the wearying signs of burnout.

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