Interview: Theatre Life with Gaelyn D. Smith

The incredibly talenented and driven actress on her work in Fat Ham at Studio Theatre and more.

By: Dec. 13, 2023
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Interview: Theatre Life with Gaelyn D. Smith
Gaelyn D. Smith. Photo by Michael Kushner.

Today’s subject Gaelyn D. Smith is currently living her theatre life onstage at Studio Theatre in the show that just seems to keep going and going Fat Ham playing the role of Opal. The show is now running through January 14th in Studio’s Mead Theatre. For those of you thinking, “I’ll wait because the show will extend its run again”, please be advised January 14th is the definite final performance.

In just a few short years, Gaelyn’s talents have been seen on several stages around DC. Past credits include understudying in Clyde’s at Studio Theatre, Drunk Shakespeare at the Sage Theatre, How Old is a Hero? at the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, and The Women of the Plums at the Howard Theatre. As part of the prestigious Syracuse University Drama Department Gaelyn appeared in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Good Kids, and The Women.

Not only is Gaelyn an incredibly talented actress who is passionate for her craft, she is also a writer and producer. You can find her on your laptop or TV in the short film Chasing Viral.

As if all of that isn’t enough for this driven artist, you can also find producing and co- hosting her own podcast called No Sleep till Hollywood.

For a time, Gaelyn was part of Studio Theatre’s house management staff. Read on for what most amazed her about working in that position.

Please consider grabbing some tickets to Fat Ham at Studio Theatre. There are a few reasons to do so. First, all of the theatrical holiday fare ends in December and Fat Ham runs until mid-January. Second, the cast and production are first rate all around. This includes the production’s crew members. Trust me on this one!

Lastly, it features THE Gaelyn D. Smith who I know is going to be making a big splash in DC theatre and elsewhere. Her talents are very much a pleasure to watch onstage and she is definitely living her theatre life to the fullest. Now RUN! RUN! RUUUUNN!                    

Growing up, did you have any idea that you were going to work in the performing arts?

I don’t think I really had any inclination to be an actor until high school. I’ve always loved tv and movies, but I didn’t think about that translating into a career.

Where did you receive your training?

I took my first conservatory-style acting class as a student in the Studio Acting Conservatory’s Young Actors Ensemble’s Summer Session. After that, I attended Syracuse University, where I received my B.F.A. in Acting and my M.A. in Television, Radio, and Film.

Interview: Theatre Life with Gaelyn D. Smith
Gaelyn D. Smith in the Smithsonian Discovery Theater production of
How Old is a Hero?
Photo by Sara Lokossou/Smithsonian Associates Discovery Theater.

What was your first professional job as a performer?

My first professional job was earlier this year when I played Ruby Bridges in the Smithsonian Discovery Theater’s production of How Old is a Hero? The show taught children from 4-12 about the younger faces of the Civil Rights Movement.

Can you please tell us a little bit about your character in Fat Ham as well as a brief overview of the play itself?

Fat Ham is a play about a young man named Juicy navigating the complex emotions of grief and frustration after his father dies and his mother marries his late father’s brother less than a week later. It’s a Black and Queer re-telling of Hamlet that deals with community, sexuality, parent-child relationships, and the meaning of life.

Opal is an interesting mixture of Wednesday Addams, angst, and the energy of a pre-pubescent boy. She has so much she wants to say but never gets to say. And when she does get the opportunity to share, what comes out is dark humor and frustration. She means well. And she might kill you!

Interview: Theatre Life with Gaelyn D. Smith
L-R Gaelyn D. Smith and Marquis D. Gibson
in Studio Theatre's production of Fat Ham.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

Fat Ham is a play that seems to draw audiences in from the very beginning. Why do you think this is?

You know, James Ijames wrote an amazing script. It’s so authentically Black. Not only in the words but the cadence of the conversation. Also, it’s hilarious! I mean, that first scene features Only Fans and a ghost. It would be hard to make this show unfunny. And, of course, Taylor Reynolds is an incredible director. She really understands how to balance comedy and tragedy in ways that elevate the words on the page.

Before performing onstage at Studio Theatre, you were part of their house management team. In the time you were in that position, what would you say was your most unforgettable encounter with either a patron or volunteer usher?

Front of House was such an interesting part of my journey…you know, I was always surprised when people showed up to the theatre late and were upset that the show had started without them. While I’m grateful for the experience, I’m glad that my time in Front of House has come to a close as my career on stage is taking off.

You recently joined the DC production of Drunk Shakespeare. Do you perform with them on your nights off from Fat Ham or are you on a leave of absence until Fat Ham closes?

During rehearsals for Fat Ham, I was doing a few nights a week with Drunk Shakespeare. Now I’m on leave until Fat Ham closes just because it can get exhausting doing 8 Fat Hams a week! Opal and Gaelyn need their rest!

Being out of college for only a few years yourself, what advice can you give to a college student just starting out on their professional theatrical journey?

Work on student films and projects. Use student projects to build your reels and resumes. I wish that I had done that in college. It is so important to have footage to share with people. So much of my early auditioning was just about learning to put myself on tape. And I wish I had taken advantage of more opportunities to do student projects.

The other thing I will say, and I think it’s especially true for Black actors, is to have a strong vision for your career. So much of my experience in Drama school was me feeling unheard and misunderstood. And because I wasn’t super clear on exactly what I wanted to do; I don’t feel like I was able to maximize my training. If you know exactly who you are and the stories you want to tell, you will pick better classes to prepare you, you’ll find collaborators earlier, and you’ll be able to take control of your career earlier.

Interview: Theatre Life with Gaelyn D. Smith
L-R Kelli Blackwell, Matthew Elijah Webb, Gaelyn D. Smith, 
Greg Alverez Reid, and Tanesha Gary in Studio Theatre's production of Fat Ham.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

What do you think is the message audiences should take home with them after seeing Fat Ham?

Everybody has to take up their own armor of God. Hahaha! But there is truly a power in providing people with a safe space to share their thoughts. We all need to be free to speak what’s on our minds and hearts in order to truly be able to be ourselves.

After Fat Ham finishes its run in January of 2024, what does the rest of the year hold in store for you?

So far, my 2024 is open! After a brief hiatus, my podcast No Sleep till Hollywood will return for a third season. I have some scripts to finish and projects to start. More content on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram (@gsmittyyyy).  And hopefully, more theatre, TV, and film!

Special thanks to Studio Theatre's Associate Director of Marketing and Communications Rebecca Fischler for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.


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