Senior Jamie Watson comes bounding down the hallway towards me, her hair bouncing sideways, left to right and back again, in rhythm with her gait. Only Perky Girl hair bounces like that. Jamie is perky. Jamie has the opposite stride of a runway model; in this case, a good thing. Runway models lead with their legs, the upper body purposely held back to suggest aloofness. They are standoffish. Jamie is not standoffish. She leans in, ready to engage and be engaged. Ready for her close-up, so to speak. You see, Jamie – as anyone who knows her will tell you – is a born performer. And a darn good one at that. Good enough, in fact, to be accepted into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where she will be a freshman majoring in acting, come September. It is a noteworthy feat. Thousands of aspiring actors apply to the school each year. Only 20% are accepted. The audition part of the admissions process is grueling and includes the performance of not one but 2 monologues. For hers, Jamie chose a Shakespearean speech from Troilus and Cressida and another from the more contemporary, Sugar Baby. She nailed both.
It is no surprise. Performing is in her blood. Jamie’s parents met while acting together in dinner theatre. Today, Jamie’s Dad, Bill Watson, is Chair of Performing Arts at CCBC as well as an accomplished composer and musician and her Mom, Dori, is a music talent agent who commutes to her office in New York. As for Jamie, well, she has been acting for as long as she can remember. As a child, she entertained her parents’ dinner guests with spot on imitations and dialogue from her favorite comedy sketches. By the time she was 7, Jamie was a stock member of the Children’s Playhouse of Maryland and the Cockpit in Court Dinner Theatre. In an attempt at well-roundedness, there was a brief foray into sports. But when she kept referring to her soccer uniform as her “costume” and soccer practice as “rehearsal”, she and her parents both realized sports were just not her milieu. Best to stick to what she knows. And loves.
Jamie has performed in every school production since entering Notre Dame as a freshman, 4 years ago. That’s more than 15 plays and musicals by her count and she is never more alive than when she is onstage. Unless, of course, she is talking about being onstage. That brings Jamie to life pretty easily, too. During our interview, Jamie’s head bobbles like a doll’s, her hands are in constant motion, her big blue eyes pop, and she talks in typical teenage upspeak…delivering every declarative sentence as if it were a question, as if she were on one big exploration of character.
“I am always happy to perform,” Jamie admits. And without the least hint of irony she adds, “I am most myself when I am playing other parts.”
She is utterly beguiling and I am quickly charmed. It is hard not to be because she is so open and out there and full of unabashed enthusiasm. I ask her if she ever gets nervous.
“I do, but, to me, it just goes with the territory. Just part of being a pro. If I didn’t get nervous, I think it would mean I didn’t care.”
“Anyway, it’s just while I’m backstage. I’m better with an audience. So as soon as I go on, I’m good. It’s like diving into a pool. Waiting is the worst part.” There is only one thing that thrills Jamie more than just being onstage. And that is getting a laugh while onstage.
“If you were to typecast me, I guess it would be as the comedic sidekick. When I get a laugh, it’s the most rewarding thing. It’s…it’s like a natural high.”
As of now, Jamie is not sure if she is an actor who loves comedy or a comedienne who loves to act. Presumably, NYU will help her sort that out. But there is no denying she is drawn to comedy. Her favorite “actress” is Lucille Ball (of I Love Lucy fame, still in syndication) and she is a huge fan of all things improv including Saturday Night Live, Second City, and The Groundlings. In particular, she admires the work of Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler.
When Jamie is not onstage in one of NDP’s theatre productions she is, well, still onstage… as an accomplished member of the Speech & Debate Club. How accomplished? She won first place in the national Villiger Speech Tournament in her freshman year…and every year thereafter. In addition, this year she won first place in the most prestigious Harvard University Invitational Speech and Debate Tournament beating out over 700 other contestants from all over the country. Her selection? An original speech she wrote entitled, “Laughter: FDA Approved.” To thine own self be true!
If Jamie’s parents introduced her to the stage, it was Notre Dame and NDP Drama Director, Ms. Maggie Ward, who nurtured Jamie’s innate talent these past 4 years. NDP provided for Jamie all the room she needed to grow and a safe place to develop her many talents.
“I am really going to miss NDP,” Jamie said wistfully. “I’m so lucky that I got to go here.
I made so many friends. We’re all in to different things. I mean, I have friends who play sports and are crazy sports fans. I have friends who are going on to be business majors. But we’re all so supportive of each other and love each other for who we are. Notre Dame taught me to open up and be my best self. Ms. Ward and my Drama and Speech experience taught me not to be afraid to take risks.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Jamie if she would mind posing for a couple of pictures. She didn’t need coaxing.
I hope her experience at NYU is as rewarding and nurturing as NDP’s was. One thing is certain, though. Jamie Watson will throw herself into it completely and win audiences over with her sheer enthusiasm. I have no doubt that wherever her journey takes her, she will always have that… an appreciative audience, grateful for her gift of performance, which she shares so generously.