True Colors Artistic Director’s Journey From Football Field To Theater

Jamil Jude spoke to Lois Reitzes on today's "City Lights."
Jamil Jude spoke to Lois Reitzes on today's "City Lights."
Credit Summer Evans / WABE

The recently installed artistic director of True Colors Theatre Company entered Colgate University as a football player. But an injury on the field led him to the theater.

“At 17 and 18, I was a such a meathead,” Jamil Jude laughingly admits. “I loved being around athletics because it pushed me, it motivated me, it gave me a reason to want to fight and be better.”

“I had a lot of free time and a former football player from Atlanta named Will Arnold wrote a play,” Jude said. “And he was like ‘hey, I think you should be in this play.’ It was about racial tensions in the South, and I was so inspired by what Will was able to do. He was able to write a story, create something new, talk about something that was personal to him, and have an audience respond to it. He really taught me about theater’s ability to create community and create change, and I was bit by the bug.”

Jude said he discovered his strength was in advocating for other people’s voices and from there, developed skills in producing and directing theater.

In an effort to continue to elevate other voices, True Colors is launching a series of staged readings with themes that parallel those of their full productions.

In advance of their production of Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew,” True Colors is producing a staged reading of Josh Wilder’s “Wrong River,” about Flint, Michigan’s water crisis.

“True Colors really wants to lie at the nexus of artistic excellence and civic engagement,” Jude said. With competition coming not just from other theaters, but from Netflix and Hulu, he says that they recognize that audiences want to be entertained, but he hopes that through theater, they can spark larger conversations.

“With theater, you walk in and you ‘re immediately in community with 300 plus people,” he said. “We want to … de-mystify the artistic process, that’s why we have the community conversations. We’re gathering hundreds of people together to talk about issues that are immediate for them.”

But the young artistic director, who took over the position from theater co-founder Kenny Leon, recognizes the importance of maintaining the “artistic excellence” half of the equation as well.

“We have 16 years of history that says that True Colors produces top level theater,” he said, “and that won’t change.”

The staged reading of “Wrong River” takes place at the Southwest Arts Center on Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and is free. True Colors’ production of “Skeleton Crew” runs from Feb. 12 to March 10.

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