WATERLOO — If first impressions are the most lasting, J’Kalein Madison made an indelible one with Waterloo Community Playhouse patrons. Audiences fell in love with his voice, his humor and his presence in last year’s “The Full Monty.”
“When you make your stage debut and you’re 99.9 percent naked, you’re really putting yourself out there. That’s when you have to own it. Hey, go big or go home,” said Madison with a laugh. He played Noah “Horse” Simmons, one of a group of average guys who put on a Chippendales-style strip act.
At 22, Madison is still getting his feet wet in local theater. He appeared as the huckster Bert Healy in WCP’s holiday show, “Annie.”
At Cedar Falls Community Theatre, he has appeared in “Calendar Girls” and was an assistant director for “Nana’s Naughty Knickers.”
A 2014 graduate of Waterloo West High School, Madison appeared in at least eight school productions beginning in his freshman year. “I learned I could make people laugh. I liked it. I liked taking bows and doing curtain calls.”
He also competed in state speech and theater contests, as well as the All-State Music Festival.
Madison originally planned to study law.
That changed in his junior year when he played a role in the raucous comedy, “The Love of Three Oranges.”
“It cemented for me that I loved performing and music. A lot changed for me about what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. Madison attended the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, initially as a music education major. He later switched to journalism. Now he is employed as a master control supervisor at KWWL-TV.
“I told myself to give news and TV a shot because I don’t want to have any regrets about not taking a chance. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t take a chance,” he said.
Madison serves on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity. He’s also a judge and coach for the Iowa High School Speech Association and coaches after-school speech and theater students at West High School. He works with his mentor, William G. Dawson, West’s speech and theater teacher and a veteran actor and director at CFCT and WCP.
“He’s inspiring with the way he works and what he’s done. I was shy, and I hated speaking in front of groups. Bill taught me to work the moment and be comfortable in front of an audience.
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“Without Bill Dawson, I would not be who I am,” Madison said.
The multi-talented actor is graced with a phenomenal singing voice, said WCP Artistic Director Greg Holt. “He was a section leader in the choir at First Congregational Church, and he was just amazing. J’Kalein brought so much to the role with that voice as Horse in ‘The Full Monty,’ especially because he was such a young guy playing an older man,” Holt said.
Holt has cast Madison as “Donkey” in the North Star Community Services summer production of “Shrek.”
Madison’s involvement at WCP began when board member Linda Stamp urged him to audition for “The Full Monty.”
“Truthfully, I was ‘volun-told’ to get my butt down there and audition,” recalled Madison, laughing. “So I did, and I have to say I could feel the performing bug biting me again. I realized I’d really missed this — the acting, being on stage, the process of putting a show together.”
Both Madison and Holt want to encourage more African-Americans to participate in local theater. WCP has presented a staged reading of “The Mountaintop” with the Rev. Abraham Funchess, among other projects that have reached into the black community.
Encouraging black actors to audition for shows has been challenging.
“I’d like to have more diversity so we could do more than ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and those kinds of historical plays. I’d like to do shows like ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Fences’ that you can’t do justice to without African-American actors in those roles.
“The talent is here,” Holt said, “but it’s a major commitment to ask someone to spend six weeks in rehearsal or eight weeks for a musical. Some people may think ‘why would I want to go down to some white theater?’ so you have to find ways to reach out and make the experience relevant and worthwhile.”
Madison describes it as “a slow ball to get rolling, to get people involved, getting youth active and involved.”
When he first arrived at WCP, he was both surprised and pleased by “the inclusivity factor” and how quickly he made friends and felt accepted and valued. “No one is turned away. Don’t want to be on stage? Work on a crew. Everyone is meaningful to the whole production. Even as an actor, you realize how we all rely on each other.
“And that’s important to know,” Madison added.