Long before being signed by an international talent agency, before graduating from the American Music and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), before performing under the tutelage of Broadway veterans, before growing six feet tall and muscular, Isaiah Alexander was a short and skinny brown skin boy from Point Fortin who couldn’t stop singing.
You would hear him before seeing him, his black-gospel voice running scales and arpeggios, echoing in the tunnel behind his alma mater’s auditorium. It is there, in Presentation College San Fernando that he discovered his love for performance and made the crazy decision to dedicate his life to it. Now the world is and will continue to be better for his crazy.
At Presentation College San Fernando, Isaiah was a “choir boy”, one of those strange creatures who opted to spend his time stretching his vocal chords on a lunch time instead of sweating football on the patchy field. Through choir, Isaiah performed in the school’s annual musical productions. It was in his second time acting in Children of Eden in the lead role of Adam with the school’s Mixed Choir that Isaiah unearthed his desire to perform, buried deep under years of being encouraged to pursue law, engineering, or medicine – the hallowed trinity of careers that “prestige school” students are expected to pursue.
In 2008, when his friend and colleague Denith McNicholls put on a talent show at the southern school, Isaiah and a group of friends formed a dance group called “The Gentlemen” to participate. Thus, he found the third talent that completes the circle of his theatrical capacities – song, acting, and, finally, dance.
“It was a different way of expressing myself,” said Alexander, “I always used to express myself through song and while singing was and will always be my passion, dancing allowed another outlet of creative expression that I had never pursued because I have never had the opportunity to when I was younger.”
Dancing with The Gentlemen saw Isaiah competing in the B-mobile Dance Off competition in 2009, which forced the group to expand beyond their hip-hop foundations into the unfamiliar territory of Indian and African folk dance. This lead Isaiah to join Charlene Harris’ & 5678 Dance Studio where he was able to develop more intricate dance techniques.
After graduating from secondary school, because food and rent are unfortunate necessities for human survival, Isaiah reluctantly worked in a bank for a year and a half before flying to the US to study at AMDA. But that didn’t stop him from spending long hours rehearsing after work for two musical productions – Hairspray and Crazy for You, as put on by Must Come See Productions. Isaiah played the lead character of Bobby Child in Crazy for You. Bobby’s backstory was curiously identical to Isaiah’s at the time. Child was a young boy with a passion for dance that was being stifled by his family’s pressure to take over the family bank. “It was quite serendipitous” Isaiah chuckled as he reminisced on the role.
Isaiah praised his mother for always supporting him, but admitted that she did try nudging him towards somewhat safer career paths like – surprise – law, medicine, or engineering. Her advice held weight, however, as Isaiah said that acting gigs in Trinidad and Tobago were hard to come by. “Sometimes there are 6 month spans of time between productions. Finding a job in performance is like digging for gold.” This was before the Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network launched its Theatrebuzz Callboard in November of 2013
Isaiah decided, then, that it was time to take himself to another level and applied for the AMDA in 2013. Part of the application process for the well-known theater academy was a live audition in New York. He dug deep into his pockets and his lungs, flew out, and the rest is history.
He described his year long experience at AMDA as extremely intensive, classes starting from 8am through to the night. AMDA’s intensive class times were demanding, but meant to be an incubator for talent. “It was a lot of slowing down, nitpicking, and then building it back up because the first year is about crafting you as a performer. They want to make sure that when you leave the school, you are a finished product and ready for professional work.”
As a result, he grew into the wholesale grocery of theatrical talent, a talent that was recognized by Harlem talent agency Forecast Productions, who signed him as an artist worthy of finding New York gigs. He was signed after performing at their international student showcase in Harlem at the Poet Den’s Theater where he featured as a soloist, opening the first and second halves of the show. His performance was so well-received that he was hired by the Fireside Dinner Theater of Wisconsin and went on to perform in productions led by Broadway giants, most notably Chicago the Musical.
It won six Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture, the first musical to do so since 1968. In 2014, Chicago was directed by Donna Drake, an original cast member of the Broadway classic A Chorus Line and choreographed by Ronda Miller, a co-founder and co-owner of The Edge Performing Arts Centre in Los Angeles. Isaiah was cast as Harrison, the play’s passionate prosecutor who sought the death penalty for an actress whose lofty aspirations led to her murdering someone who used her for sex with the promise of stardom.
Out in Wisconsin, he participated in other productions like West Side Story, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and All Shook Up, based on the playwright’s Twelfth Night.
Still signed to Forecast Productions, Isaiah plans to return to New York soon to continue performing. Asked about his future plans, Isaiah said, “I want to be able to continue nurturing the relationships developed over the last few years. I want to also bring the lessons I’ve learned from working so close with such prominent performers to local talent to bolster the community in Trinidad and Tobago.”
By the way, doesn’t he kind of resemble Geoffrey Holder?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kwame Weekes is a young reporter trying to put his History and Economics degree to good use. Somehow. He’s the co founder and former editor of the hilarious satirical Late O’clock News website.He’s 26, loves dense and nearly unreadable novels, and wants to be alive for the overthrowing of the bourgeoisie. He will write books. Someday.