Beginning on February 16, 2024, Sisters Freehold will be presenting “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea” at The Peale. It is written by Nathan Alan Davis and directed by Makeima Elise Freeland. Jaylen Henderson stars in the title role and is making his professional debut. The supporting cast includes Sha-Nel Henderson, Jae Jones Joi Kai, Autumn Koehnlein, Majenta Thomas, and Maren Yolovia Wright-Kerr. The creative team includes Bruce Kapplin (Scenic Design), Liz Miller (Costumes), and Taylor Reneé (Choreography).
The plot revolves around Dontrell Jones III who believes his destiny is to search the Atlantic for an ancestor lost during the Middle Passage. Playwright Davis blends poetry, humor, wordplay, and ritual to take Dontrell on his quest “exploring the lengths and depths we must got to redeem history’s wrong.” The play is set in Baltimore with familiar landmarks.
Jaylen Henderson is a Prince George’s/ Calvert County-based artist making his professional theatre debut on to the DMV’s illustrious theatre scene. He is a recent graduate of The Honors Acting Conservatory at The Theatre Lab, Class of 2023.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born and raised in District Heights, MD for the majority of my childhood, where I attended John Hanson Montessori School in Oxon Hill, MD up until 6th grade. In 7th grade, my parents, my two little brothers, and I ended up moving to Calvert County, MD, where I would spend my final middle school year and the rest of my high school years, attending Southern Middle School and Patuxent High School. Growing up, I always had the bug for performing, whether it was my middle school chorus concerts or me giving my best Michael Jackson set to my family on Thanksgiving, I always wanted to perform, but I didn’t find theatre until I was a sophomore in high school. I currently stay in both Lusby, MD and Camp Springs, MD, which I love because both areas have such a unique energy. I love the hustle and bustle of the city. As a waiter at Carmine’s in DC, I’m in the heart of the city during the week which, for me, a 21-year-old college kid, is a dream. But on the weekends, nothing beats relaxing with my cat in the serene quiet beach-filled friendly town of Lusby. Nothing like it.
What formal acting or theatrical training have you had or have you just learned by performing? Did you have a mentor or someone who gave you support?
Last year I got the awesome opportunity to attend The Theatre Lab’s Honors Acting Conservatory, which is a year-long intensive acting program based in DC. It is run and taught by Buzz Mauro, Kim Schraf, Deb Gottesman, and a host of some of the best actors in the DMV area and beyond. It turned out to be the most mind-blowing experience of my life. Growing up, the idea of going to a school for the arts seemed nearly unthinkable to me. The Theatre Lab truly changed my life and made me confident enough in my skills as an actor to feel like nothing is out of my reach, which is something I’ll eternally be grateful for. Aside from a year of nonstop studying, rehearsing, and performing decades of theatre and different techniques and practices all squeezed into one extremely short year, I also was super fortunate to attend an incredible high school that treated the arts and students as if we were already professionals. Patuxent High School is one of the best, if not the best, high schools for the theatre. With the help of my director, Allen Price, and my chorus educator, Marisa Drake, I was able to hone my skills and instincts in a way that have been so beneficial for the transition out of high school and into the actual world of an actor. I mean, we were trained like professionals at a young age. We worked so hard day in and day out, through COVID, and throughout everything, and we learned what it took to be a great actor. We were taught to trust our instincts onstage and how to do the ‘work’ of an actor. Some of my favorite characters I got to play in both high school and Conservatory were George Wickham (“Pride and Prejudice”), Dr. Astor (“Life Sucks”), Septimus Hodge (“Arcadia”), Oshoosi Size (“The Brothers Size”), and Willy Loman (“The Death of a Salesman”). My biggest mentors and supporters throughout this whole journey would have to be my parents. They’ve always believed in me and sacrificed so much to give me the confidence and strength to feel like nothing is impossible. They’re the most hardworking two people I know, and I’m so proud to be their son above anything.
Can you tell us a bit about the character you are playing, Dontrell Jones III?
Dontrell Jones III is an 18-year-old kid from Charm City, on the cusp of honoring his family and friends. He is about to embark on the next big stage in his life by attending the ever-prestigious John Hopkins University on a full scholarship, but before that takes place, he gets put on a quest of a lifetime to uncover the haunts of history and to discover who he truly is.
How is Dontrell like you and how are you different?
I think Dontrell is like me in many ways. Aside from the fact that we both tried to learn how to swim by jumping head first in the deep end, I think we share a particular type of fiery life about ourselves. Dontrell is a slightly awkward, deeply passionate person who thinks a lot about everything and cares very deeply about those he loves—which is something I resonate with greatly. Above all though, I resonate the most with Dontrell’s drive to do whatever it takes to attain his goal. I feel like that speaks volumes for my journey up to this point in my life. I’ve always felt like I was being gently guided in the direction that would lead me to this great point. But there were times when things felt impossible. Through perseverance and my family always having my back, I was able to overcome anything. As far as differences go, I think Dontrell is a bit bolder when it comes to his choices and how he makes them. I’m for sure a better swimmer, but other than that, Dontell and I are pretty similar.
This is your professional debut. What are you doing next, or what would you like to do next?
I would like to continue to just experience more theatre, both by hopefully being in more shows and definitely seeing a bunch more. One thing I learned at Conservatory is that there is an insane amount more to learn, which is super exciting because it feels like I have all the time in the world—I mean, I’m only 21. I hope to audition for a couple of programs in New York this fall to further my theatre education and overall knowledge.
“Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea” will be presented February 16-March 3, 2024 by Sisters Freehold at the Latrobe Room, The Peale Museum, 225 Holliday Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.