It was more than 10 years ago, but Patrick A. Jackson still finds himself thinking back to a line from one of his high school plays.
Jackson, 28, recalls the performance. It was a collection of African folktales, and one phrase in particular struck a chord.
“What good is a story that doesn’t inspire? What good is a story if it can’t take you higher? What good is a story that doesn’t excel? It’s not a story that’s good enough to tell.”
“I think about that all the time,” he says. “It informs what work I choose to do. I ask myself, ‘Is this inspiring? Is it challenging? Will it elevate people?’ If the answer is no — it’s not something worth doing.”
The actor, playwright, teaching artist and Write-A-Play program coordinator at Florida Studio Theatre says it’s part of his overall philosophy about theater. He confesses he was never one to dream of fame and fortune. His sights weren’t set on Broadway or a career in television or movies. For him, it was always about the power of the story.
“I never wanted that New York dream,” he says. “I just want to be somewhere where I’m able to make good art and tell meaningful stories.”
Storytelling is almost second nature to Jackson. Growing up in what he describes as a vocal, outspoken family, he was surrounded by natural storytellers.
He remembers being drawn to it, even as a child.
“My mom would tell you I’ve always been dramatic,” he says, with a laugh. “I remember that I loved that connection you could see by watching someone tell a story, and seeing the other person’s face light up. There’s excitement in both of their eyes, and that’s powerful. With acting, you’re taking on someone else’s story, and you get to open people’s eyes to something they might not have been exposed to otherwise.”
His first role wasn’t different from that of many kids — he played Joseph in his Catholic grade school’s nativity story. But he knew, even then, that he loved theater.
He continued to act in school productions, but by the time he reached high school, he says another passion was competing for his attention.
“I was a band nerd,” says Jackson. “I’m classically trained in French horn. By high school, I had all but dropped acting. But one day, I was headed to band practice and our theater director saw me and shouted, ‘You! You need to come audition.’ It was a production of ‘The Wiz,’ and I earned a small speaking part. After that, I was in every show I could find.”
AN ARTISTIC HOME
Jackson graduated from Morehouse College, an all-male liberal arts college in Atlanta, where he earned his bachelor’s in drama and studied abroad with the British American Drama Academy, where his love for acting grew stronger still.
Following his 2011 graduation, he says he was looking for a place to call his artistic home — somewhere to plant roots and grow alongside a theater company.
He took a job as an acting apprentice at Florida Studio Theatre, where he says he quickly fell in love with the theater.
Following his first performance in “The Frog Prince,” Jackson says he knew he had found his home. But it was his involvement with the Write-A-Play program, an arts integration initiative that works with local students to teach play-writing basics, that he found his love for education.
“I was surprised,” he says. “I realized I loved teaching just as much as I loved acting.”
But he says it wasn’t enough.
“I felt I wasn’t living up to my potential,” he says. “As a black man living in Sarasota, I wanted to know what I could do to impact my community. I decided to double down and engage in any way I could.”
He began working with programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, ALSO Youth and creating plays and spoken-word performances with schools, including Booker Middle School, to pass his passion for the art form on to children. Most recently, he combined his improv skills and love for superheroes in a summer outreach program called “Zap! Bang! Pow!” which taught students the basics of story structure through a live-action comic book show, driven by their suggestions.
This year, Jackson was invited to participate in the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Sarasota program. As one of the younger members — and the only one from an arts organization, he hopes to find yet another way to have an impact.
“It’s important to listen first,” he says. “There are three generations represented in this class, and everyone has different ideas. I want to listen to their experiences and find a way to use the arts to be a leader in Sarasota.”
Although he still has friends pursuing film and television careers in bigger cities, Jackson says he’s happy to call Sarasota and FST home. He enjoys the stability of a full-time job and a place to call his creative home. More important, he says, is using storytelling to make a difference.
Even the smallest interactions count.
“Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we forget what it’s all about,” he says. “I remember a GED student who came to see ‘Butler.’ It was the first time she had ever seen a play, and she was so excited. She told us it was so true and realistic that it was mind-blowing. That’s true any time you perform — you could be opening someone’s eyes to something new. And that’s the beauty of it.”