Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Profile of Joshua Denning: Defying Labels by Christian Carbone, L Style G Style Magazine, Austin

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Defying Labels
by Christian Carbone

Joshua Denning (image via McCallum Fine Arts Academy)When Joshua Denning was earning his stripes as a young actor at Jeffersonville High School in Indiana, he was the lead in many productions—Peter Pan, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Fame—but the production of a show with a message of inclusivity, called School Colors, was by far his favorite.
The premise was straightforward, yet rather groundbreaking: Each actor improvised scenes out of his or her own experiences on the topic of racism. His vignette—at that time, his knowledge about his ancestors was not what it is now—involved the sketches of his Uncle Preston, an artist whom his relatives said he resembled.

“People think that a mixed-race person needs to choose sides or needs to connect with their White side or represent themselves as culturally Black, and my whole scene was about how I’m mixed,” said Denning. “I claim both and I’m just as White as I am Black—and that’s how it is and you need to deal with it.”

The production resonated because the cast members were honestly invoking their ancestors: In fact, they were later invited to perform at various corporate diversity seminars. “Everything about it was real,” he added. “It wasn’t staged or canned or prerecorded.”

As a child in southern Indiana, Denning would follow his older sister, who took dance classes, and hang out backstage when she performed. He developed a fascination with the mystery of theatrical spaces, with their spiral staircases, weird sets, and nooks and crannies. His parents allowed his burgeoning creativity to flourish, encouraging him to take things apart, paint them and even construct an actual theater, complete with lights and orchestra pit, in their garage. Was he more driven than the average theater-loving child? Most definitely: voice lessons, dance classes, and performing in every single play he could squeeze into his schedule.

“You come up on all these different styles with these roles, and they really make you self-reflect. That part was difficult for me, to be taken apart and prodded,” said Denning. “What are you? Who are you? Especially when you’re young and you don’t know all the answers to those questions yet.”

After earning his BFA on a full scholarship to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Denning moved to New York City, where he lived and worked in his field both inside the city and abroad. He appeared in many shows, including a German production of Disney’s The Lion King, in which he played Simba for two years in Hamburg.

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