CHICAGO — Jalen Gilbert can still remember the
reaction he received after playing the lead role in his second grade school
play. “People kept reaffirming: ‘You did a good job, you should look into this more.’
So I did,” said Gilbert.
He will graduate this June from The Theatre School at
DePaul University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting.
Most of Gilbert’s childhood was spent jumping between
various arts schools in his home state of Mississippi, and he said acting
always served as the “solid base” in his life. So Gilbert knew he was in the
right place at DePaul. After touring The Theatre School and completing the
audition program, Gilbert remembers thinking to himself, “I love this place.”
power of acting
One doesn’t need to talk to Gilbert for very long in
order to see how significant acting has been in his life. During his time at
DePaul, Gilbert has been part of many productions including “The Misanthrope,”
“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and “The Duchess of Malfi.”
By “exploring the vulnerability of people” onstage,
Gilbert has come to better understand the human condition. Acting allows him to
express a certain level of emotion that not many people are able to express in
their daily lives. “Even when you go to a fully emotional spot, you just have
to cut if off to get through your day.”
Playing a variety of characters onstage is deeply
personal for Gilbert, who engages in self-reflection after taking on a role.
Acting is “a two-way street. I look at the character,
analyze it, get the play then I go back in my own life and reflect on, ‘What
lessons can I take? What did this character teach me?’”
must be done?
The question of “What must be done?” had a
particularly strong impact on Gilbert during his senior year. For one solo
performance class, Gilbert came up with a performance piece about racial
issues within the African-American community. After this class, Gilbert
realized what must be done.
“I have to use the skills I’ve been given to speak on
things that are uncomfortable, to start up that conversation so we can make
some progress start happening,” he said. Gilbert believes one of the best ways
to reach people is through the communal aspect of theatre. When people “all
agree to sit down and go on this journey with you, and if you’re on that
journey, you can tackle some of those taboo subjects. It makes it a little bit
easier to talk about through the lenses of the play,” said Gilbert.
In addition to performance and studying, the young
actor served as a resident advisor — or RA — for three years.
Being an RA while at DePaul played an instrumental
role in shaping Gilbert’s college career. “It’s also become a major part of my
identity. I don’t even look at it as a job anymore, it’s just my lifestyle,” said
Working in DePaul’s residence halls not only provided
Gilbert with a tight-knit community, but also helped him overcome his fear of
“I love harmony, I love peace, I hate making people
uncomfortable and I hate confrontation,” Gilbert said. And with his friendly
demeanor that isn’t hard to imagine. Yet Gilbert is thankful that being an RA taught
him to utilize his “more assertive side,” which is something he claims to have
While some might have a hard time making the
connection between acting and being a resident advisor, Gilbert sees a direct
correlation between the skills he learned onstage and the skills he has used as
“I love how I could take skills I’ve used in theatre — listening skills, collaborative skills — and put that in a job setting,” said Gilbert.
After graduation, Gilbert plans to continue acting in
Chicago and to use the connections he has developed in The Theatre School. When
asked what he would tell his freshman year self, Gilbert said, “It’s OK to be
uncomfortable and make other people uncomfortable, because when you’re
uncomfortable, that’s when you grow the most.”
Read more stories from the class of 2016.
Kristin Claes Mathews