Sitting in the audience of ‘Big River,’ a musical based on Mark Twain’s classic ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ Jonathan Marciniak watched with as much rapt attention as a 10-year-old could muster. After the show, he leaned over to his mother and said: “Mom, I want to do that.”
“I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do with my future. I want to become an actor, I want to go to Broadway, I want to do all this stuff,’” Jonathan said.
Growing up in theater herself, Deborah Marciniak, was quick to find Jonathan a studio where he could hone his singing, dancing and acting skills.
Jonathan attended Artios Academies of Sugar Hill for his high school education, community theater classes outside of school and various summer camps.
As Jonathan’s passion grew, everything “came to a head” in 2018 when Artios signed up to participate in the Shuler Hensley Awards, a competition to celebrate “excellence in high school musical theater” that is named after singer and actor Shuler Hensley, a Georgia native and Tony Award winner.
Jonathan was excited about the opportunity for networking and exposure.
“[The Shulers] are such a big deal in the theater world,” Jonathan said.
The musical that Artios chose to perform was ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ and Jonathan played the main role -- Quasimodo.
“Surprisingly, I got nominated for best performance by a leading actor for my role as Quasimodo,” Jonathan said, “which was so awesome. I got to stand on stage with so many other talented high school students.”
The Shulers were broadcast on television, and he was able to walk the red carpet with his mom.
“She was so proud of me that I invited her to walk the red carpet with me,” Jonathan said.
Orbit Arts Academy, a company in Atlanta that works to “enrich the lives of performers young and old,” saw Artios’ performance at the Shulers and reached out to Jonathan and asked him to audition. He said that he did and got accepted into the company.
“It’s super hard training [at Orbit],” Jonathan said.
He said that training can be anywhere from 10 to eight hours a day.
“It doesn’t feel that bad when you’re doing something that you love,” Jonathan said.
After attending Omega Private Academy for his senior year, Jonathan began to audition for college theater programs. He said that his auditions totaled around 29 and that he got accepted into 23 programs. Ultimately, Jonathan chose to go to Brenau University because some of his favorite musical directors were Brenau graduates.
After attending classes, Jonathan said that college was not “everything that I dreamed it would be,” so he went back to Orbit Arts Academy and trained there for another year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Jonathan said that when the theaters began to shut down because of the pandemic, he felt “stuck and bored.” He didn’t know what he was going to do to continue to pursue his dream of acting until the director of MelloDrama Productions, Neva Garrett, reached out to him and asked if he’d be interested in helping direct ‘Beauty and the Beast Jr.’
“I said, ‘Of course, yeah, duh!’” Jonathan said. “Theaters shut down everywhere, so I was really missing it.”
Around the third rehearsal, Jonathan said that Neva switched to more of a “producer role,” allowing him to take over more of the directing. He also helped with set design and choreography.
“[Neva] just saw something in me and told me that it was then my turn to do JTF, which is Junior Theater Festival,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan took ‘Beauty and the Beast Jr.’ to JTF in June, showcasing just 15 minutes of the piece for Broadway producers. He said that the studio was able to win a trophy for Best in Acting out of about 2,000 entrants.
“That [win] was kind of a sign for me telling me, ‘Oh, I can do this [directing] thing,’” Jonathan said.
“And teaching kids what I know and what I love to do, and then seeing the smiles on their faces makes everything so much better than just acting,” he said. “Directing really completed the whole picture of theater for me.”
Currently, Jonathan is working on ‘The Addams Family,’ a gothic comedy based on the “old black-and-white” movie and television show. He is in charge of set building, auditions and choreography.
He is also directing ‘Lion King Jr.,’ which he will be taking to JTF.
While Jonathan is continuing to pursue his passion for acting and his newfound love of directing, he said that he still “owes everything” to his role of Quasimodo.
“It opened so many opportunities for me,” Jonathan said. “That role helped me see where I was going in life because it led to so many different things.”
“And of course, I couldn’t do this without everyone’s support,” he said. “A lot of times, you don’t get the part you want or into the company you like, so you need people around you to lift you up.”
Throughout his eight-year career, Jonathan said that his one constant supporter and biggest fan has been his mother.
“I really couldn’t do any of this without my mom,” Jonathan said. “She’s been there for everything, even shows we did together.”
While Jonathan was in middle school, he and his mother played a mother and son gorilla in ‘Tarzan,’ and Jonathan learned how to do aerial stunts to accompany the role. He said that his mother was a little worried, but she spotted him on the silk ropes, and they sang together.
“It was so fun doing [Tarzan] with her,” Jonathan said. “And doing something that she loved to do when she was my age, it was so cool sharing that passion with her.”
As Jonathan continues to work on his upcoming projects, he’s looking forward to learning more and sharing his passions with children and adults alike. He hopes to one day own a theater or work at one as a director and actor.
But for now, Jonathan is content to challenge himself and his creativity at MelloDrama Productions, directing and acting alongside all his friends.“My advice is always just to be open,” Jonathan said. “I would say, if a door opens, go ahead and try it out. You’ll never know where it’ll lead you, and you might love it.”