Shenandoah Spotlight on Garrett Tyler Thompson



photo courtesy Lauree Purcell

As JMU sophomore, Garrett Tyler Thompson, grew up in Harrisonburg, teachers at Keister Elementary, Thomas Harrison Middle (THMS), and Harrisonburg High School (HHS) all influenced his decision to follow a career path in musical theatre. Recently Garrett performed the lead role of Matt in Valley Playhouse’s The Fantasticks at Court Square Theater. He will be singing all over the east coast with JMU men’s a capella group, Exit 245, over winter break. On the album they released last April, Garrett has a solo called “Sugar.”

Last year, his favorite experience at JMU was working as an understudy, or “swing,” for the musical Sweet Charity. He had to learn the lines for five different roles and practice all the choreography in the rehearsals. During performances, he “ran the lines” by controlling some of the ropes to raise and lower the sets. Garrett thought it was a dream-come-true when Don Rierson, Director of JMU’s school of music, asked him to sing tenor on Forbes’ Center’s Main Stage production of the opera “La Boheme.”

Of the 200 students who audition for JMU’s Musical Theatre program, only 10-12 get accepted each year. There are about 40 total students in the program. Garrett felt fortunate when associate professor Kate Arecchi welcomed him into the program. “I’ve learned to push myself beyond what is comfortable and lose my social inhibitions. Theater is good training for any field of study, because we learn that everyone is weird in some way. It’s part of being human,” says Garrett. “Theater is just an exaggerated form of being.”

When he was attending Keister elementary school, physical education teacher Barbara Cavanaugh noticed his singing talent and had Garrett sing a solo of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” at Keister’s winter assembly. Seeing everyone’s appreciation gave him the confidence to try out for the middle school musicals at THMS led by theatre director Michael Strawderman and to sing the national anthem at many sporting events. As Garrett played clarinet in the HHS marching band under the leadership of J. R. Snow, and acted in all HHS musicals with the help of choir director Bethany Houff and theater director Stanley Swartz, he gained the necessary training and experience to sing, dance and act competitively in JMU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and to take a lead in a Valley Playhouse production.

Garrett is happy to see a resurgence of community theater with the success of Harrisonburg’s Valley Playhouse and Court Square Theater because it allows more people to see many local productions rather than having to travel to a big city for quality theater. He contends that theater makes us think and contemplate our lives as real people draw us in emotionally. He believes audiences become more attached to characters in a live play than watching a movie. The spontaneity can be exciting as actors might make a mistake or have to improvise at any moment. For Garrett, singing, acting and dancing are more than fun pastimes, he’s passionate about performing professionally throughout his life.

LAUREE STROUD PURCELL is an editorial consultant and writer for Living.

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