Colour Me, a musical theatre star
If one thing is true about people from the Caribbean, it’s their ability to adapt, almost seamlessly, to new environments and grow, despite the situations presented to them. This couldn’t be more so for Kirk Patterson, an actor, dancer, and musical theatre performer (one of the original members of ASHÉ) who left Jamaica almost two decades ago in search of an opportunity to receive a performing arts education and possibly to set his career in motion.
Patterson’s journey began in 2000, when, upon receiving a spot to tour on contract with a small United Kingdom-based company, he was also granted the opportunity to audition for the Middlesex University in London (now London Studio Centre). He had previously spent a large sum of money (J$75,000) to produce an audition tape, only to find out that it was not the correct format required by the university. Once in London with the company, he prepared for the audition. After going through a 12-hour day of demonstrating his skill in ballet, modern, and contemporary technique, and musical theatre, out of approximately 350 female and 100 male prospective students, the Jamaica-born-and-bred received a placement.
Unfortunately, Patterson’s financial standing would once again raise its ugly head, and he was forced to defer for the year. Even after auditioning for a list of organisations that were known to provide funding, he was only able to raise £8,000 of the £15,000 needed for the tuition.
“I honestly thought I was eligible for a funded place, being the one who scored the highest of the international students who auditioned. Instead, every other day, I was on a train all over England, with no clue where I was heading. I must have auditioned for 20 of the 35 bodies on the list. When I had to return to Jamaica after the contract ended with the company, I was crushed. I cried all the way on the plane from Birmingham to London and then on the plane from London to Norman Manley International Airport,” Patterson told The Sunday Gleaner.
But an opportunity would soon present itself for him to attend the university when he returned to the UK for another leg of the tour and met with members of the school’s administration.
He recalls: “At that time, I was fully prepared to tell them ‘thanks, but no thanks’ because even after saving all my money from working with the company and from doing shows with ASHÉ, I could not save £15,000. To my surprise, however, I received a scholarship, which would have been the first of three throughout my years at the university.”
The scholarships offered to students who do exceptionally well in dance, drama, and music, were enough to cover his degree (£41,000) as well as fund two other students.
“The English students were left to wonder why so much was being invested in me. But when you come from somewhere like here (Jamaica) and you don’t have it and you want it so desperately, there is no option on the table. It’s either do or die, and I wasn’t about to die,” he quips almost sarcastically. And he hastens to add that he was getting itchy feet with ASHÉ but owes a lot of his learning to Jamaican performing arts professionals like Paulette Bellamy, Joseph Robinson, and Elizabeth Vickers. “I also did a year at Edna Manley College (of the Visual and Performing Arts). Whether fruitful or not, it, too, helped with some aspects.”
Patterson worked hard to complete the Bachelor of Arts degree in Performing Arts and Musical Theatre with a minor in Media. The professional performer has also developed an impressive résumé, landing some of the prominent roles in musicals such as The Lion King, which he acquired at the end of his second year of university (understudying Banzai), T he Harder They Come, Dancing in the Streets, Dream Girls, Hair Let The Sun Shine In, Merrily We Roll Along, and T he Book of Mormon, among others.
His accomplishments are a lot to boast about, but sitting in Cannonball Café located in the middle of one of Jamaica’s busiest corporate areas, Patterson is a picture of an unpretentious butterfly, dressed comfortably in a navy-blue cotton, button-down V-neck shirt, brown denim pants, and sneakers.
To what extent does this musical theatre star attribute the struggles that accompanied moving to a different country and adapting to the attitudes and culture of its people to his own success?
Patterson states: “There was always something about an English education that spoke to me; very astute in collecting its knowledge and not focused on the surface. There are things that an individual develops in layers over the years of attending school there.”
He says that he knew that he did not want to go to the USA and speaks maturely, quite conscious of the dissimilarity in culture as well as ethnocentrism present in the early 2000s. “Aside from colour, I was in the interim generation, smack in the middle falling half into the Insta-generation and the older actors who had developed the big names, and so there was a slight resentment because they don’t think you are eligible and worthy until you prove yourself that I had to tolerate.
“First of all, university was a culture shock back then. The English sensibility then, versus now, is two worlds apart. Now when I go back to the faculty to speak or lecture, seeing so many black students makes me remember when I was there – the poster boy, one of three black students in my year. Which is why I worked so hard. I felt like I had something to prove not just to them, but to myself,” Patterson shared.
The musical theatre star (the most accurate title to give Patterson) still has a lot of work to do and is currently engaged in training to break into film and television – a recommendation made by his management there.
“There is nothing greater than that, working to where you need to get with credits on your CV and creating a reputation for yourself. Now, directors pick up the phone and call to say, ‘We have a role we think is good for Kirk’. Whereas, there was a time when they’d stare at my picture and question who I was. I worked hard to get to this phase in life,” he concluded.