Quick Chat: Jaylon Muchison

Posted August 16, 2023


Jaylon Muchison delivers a knock-out performance in The Royale as the young protégée to Jay Jackson, Fish. But did you know this is Jaylon's second time in the ring on The Royale with director Tyrone Phillips? Join us in this week's Quick Chat as we talk with Jaylon about his summer, what it's like to revisit the play and balancing school and shows as he enters his senior year of college.

APT: Hi, Jaylon! How has the start of August been treating you so far?
Jaylon Muchison: Start of August has been cool! I’m not really doing too much other than obviously doing the show, which has been going great! We’re getting really good feedback, not just about the performance itself but also hearing how people have been impacted by the story. Other than that, I’ve been watching a lot of movies. I just rewatched Moonlight which is one of my favorite movies of all time, plus I’ve been making my way through my friend’s Oscar “must-watch” list like 12 Years a Slave, The Father, Dallas Buyers Club, Brokeback Mountain – you know, a lot of the newer classics I haven’t seen yet!

Still being in school, I’m used to kind of all cylinders firing at once, and since I first came to APT and Spring Green, I’ve been trying to get used to not doing too much! Especially seeing so many of the people I work with working on 2-3 productions, it looks fun (and stressful) thinking about how they’re in different processes and get to work with different people. I miss that a little, so I’ve tried to keep up with it by going into different rehearsal rooms and just observing.

APT: Understood. Sounds like you're quite the movie buff! As you mentioned, you're getting ready to enter your senior year at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. What was it like to come here as a fulltime student at the start of this summer?
Jaylon Muchison: I came here with a full essay to write, and I hadn’t started it yet! It was the last week of school when I first came in for rehearsals, and it was great and terrible all at the same time. It was great because I know I work better when I’m secluded and have to focus on schoolwork because I can get it done and not be distracted by anything. But also, it felt a little like pulling a plug from a socket. I was so connected to school and everyone there, and then all of a sudden, I have to be here – both physically and mentally. The way I got here was crazy, too, because I missed my train which made me miss my bus…

It was hectic at first, but after that paper was done (!), it was pretty smooth sailing. I knew my teachers wanted nothing but the best for me because they wouldn’t have agreed to let me take this contract if they didn’t think I could handle the transition.

APT: Would you mind telling us some more about your journey into acting and also your journey here to APT? That is, other than missing the train and the bus?
Jaylon Muchison: I started doing theater in high school at the end of my freshman year because I thought I was “too cool” for theater and thought I was going to play basketball instead. But then I tried out for the basketball team and got rejected, and honestly, rightfully so because I was garbage.

I noticed a lot of my friends in jazz band (I played the alto sax for 7.5 years!) were also doing theater and speech and debate so I thought I would try those things at least. I started in speech first because they get to wear suits and look official, and then I got into theater after that. I knew I was going to do this professionally my sophomore year of high school after doing a show called Superior Donuts and there was something really transcendental about that role that made me feel like “yeah, I’m going to do this.”

After that, I worked really hard and got through senior year while working really hard and getting good feedback on where I was going to transition into college. And then COVID happened. I had gotten accepted into some really awesome programs (like NYU and DePaul), but I ended up stumbling upon University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign and I had never seen the school because of COVID, but with the scholarships they were offering I decided to give it a chance!

At first it seemed a little desolate because I didn’t know anything about the program and I couldn’t really do everything there was to do within the program. It was the first semester back in the fall of 2020 and COVID was still very much a factor in my education. By the end of my sophomore year, though, things really picked up! I was in my first official production at school of Sweat, and the group of people I got to work with were really dedicated on making this the best show it could be. And Carey Cannon happened to be in the audience at one of those performances and was taken aback by our show and gave it a lot of high praise. She reached out to me and invited me to visit APT and do an informal audition just to get to know APT a little better, and I happened to have a friend who was in A Raisin in the Sun, Charence Higgins, so I went with my family and saw the show.

After, Carey said that if I was able to come back again I would be able to see The Moors and The Brothers Size, and so I found a car and a friend to come with me. It just so happened that I was writing (another) paper on The Brothers Size, and I saw the last performance of The Brothers Size at APT. I asked if it was even a possibility to talk with the actors about the show and interview some people, and surely enough Gavin Lawrence, Jamaque Newberry, Derrick Moore, Rasell Holt and Nathan Barlow all came out to talk with me! I was shaking because I immediately felt like “oh, these questions are stupid.” But they made my questions sound like they were answering Oprah-level questions. They were so kind and intelligent and just great to talk to.

Last year, we were doing The Royale at my university and I was preparing for that. I did the audition, got the callback and was cast as Jay Jackson. We started working on it in early January 2023 and closed in March of this year. Right as we were about to open, Tyrone Phillips, who was the director for BOTH The Royale at my school and The Royale here at APT, let me know about the opportunity to come up and play Fish here. I didn’t only want to come here this summer, I felt like I needed to come here and work with these great people and practitioners. The pace was also something I was looking for, especially going into my senior year of college. It’s kind of the quiet before the storm.

It’s also an opportunity for growth! I’ve grown exponentially since coming here, just by observing. I feel like I was up for the challenge of being here while still in undergrad because its fun doing good work and just playing.

APT: For sure. So, how has this summer changed you as an artist and student returning to school in the fall?
Jaylon Muchison: The time I spend here in the woods continues to be a transformative one; a time of what I call, "Being in the Chrysalis". Not only have I honed my skills as a storyteller, but I've learn to honor myself in ways I tend to neglect. I've honored myself with grace, space to grow, and peace—things I pretended to have...or at least convinced myself I had. I learned to embrace the everlasting continuum of change, instead of fighting against it. Of course, there will always be more to learn and grow in these areas. I know that the process doesn't just stop here, but I'm sure glad that this is where it began.

APT: Fantastic! You talked a little about playing Jay in your college production of The Royale. What has it been like to approach the show from a different character's perspective?
Jaylon Muchison: I think about it like how actors approach Shakespeare works a billion times. One show, but different roles every time. For instance, King Lear. If you are working on King Lear, there’s a role for every stage of your life. Right now, I could play Edger or Edmund then move onto Gloucester or one of the dukes, then Kent and then (a LOT of years later) Lear. You can play with all these different perspectives.

I think about it like that! You have fresh perspectives and you are constantly learning something new. I always think about an actor I worked with last year at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Henson Keys who has done King Lear nine times in his life and played Lear four out of the nine times. He told me that the ninth time was the time he had learned the most.

I try and think about coming in with a baby quality, like everything is the first experience. Wanting to learn, then relearn and then look at it again from a different perspective. It’s a lot of fun to try and look at something from a different corner.

It was also a lot of fun because I got to play someone who is my age! I don’t get to do that often! Playing with other people who are actually the age of the characters they are portraying brings a different perspective to things in comparison to trying to do it in a college setting where everyone is around the same age.

APT: When you're not onstage or working on school stuff, what do you like to do in your free time?
Jaylon Muchison: For this summer specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time reading! I love to read, especially fiction novels, and pleasure reading isn’t something I usually have a lot of time to do while at school. I just finished Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin which was a really great read!

I love anime, too. I have consumed so much anime over this summer because I have time for it. I’ve been hounded by anime nerds worldwide to watch One Piece, the 1,072 episodes of that show. I’m currently on episode 73, so I’ve still got a little way to go.

I’ve also taken up a little bit of writing! Just leisurely writing – no school essays – about ideas and such. Oh! And one big project I accomplished this summer that I’ve wanted to do for years is read back-to-back in one sitting August Wilson’s Century Cycle of 10 plays spanning 100 years of the Black experience in Pittsburgh. The story telling style of August Wilson, one of the most celebrated playwrights and the most celebrated African American playwright of all time was something that is just important to me. And I knew I had to make it a priority in my life to get it done.

APT: Sounds like a very productive summer! Okay, here's your Wild Card Question: You and Jamal James make a great team in The Royale. If you could enter as a tag-team in any competition outside of the realms of boxing, where do you think you two would take home the gold?
Jaylon Muchison: For some reason, I feel like a sack race is an arena we’d do well in. I don’t know why that was the first thing that came to mind but, sack race. I feel like Jamal would be like “we’re going to win this” and I’d agree and follow along.

APT: Very nice. Anything else you'd like to share?
Jaylon Muchison: I'm grateful to have had the space to grow so much this summer and experience this wonderful period of processing as not just an artist or as a student, but as a person in general!