On Stage

Jimmy Mitchell on stage

'It's crazy how much that changed things'

By Michele DeVinney
Teachers can not only make a difference in the life of a student, they can sometimes change the course of that life forever. For evidence of that consider Jimmy Mitchell, a local performer and student at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. When still a young boy at Saint Therese Catholic School, he earned a role in the school musical, “The Music Man.” What makes that particularly remarkable is that he never auditioned or even considered being part of the production.

“Elaine Cooper is the theatre director at Saint Therese, and when it came time to do the play, she sort of forced me to do it. I didn’t audition, but she said ‘I’ve heard you sing, you’re going to do it.’ And it was a blast — I loved being in front of people. From that point on I was in every play and musical in school. It’s crazy how much that changed things.”

Cooper continues to give him new ways to spread his wings in music, providing a summer camp job which allows him to work with kids of all ages. He is also serving as her musical director for Saint Therese’s spring production of “Aladdin Jr.” But even as he attended Bishop Luers High School, Mitchell saw performing as a hobby and had other plans academically and professionally. Lead roles in school productions of “South Pacific” and “Beauty and the Beast,” along with roles in Kirby Volz’s summer theatre productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Rent,” changed all of that.

“Even as late as my junior and senior years, I was planning to major in either chemistry or physics with a minor in math. I was also involved in track and field at Luers, and I finally told my parents, ‘I think I’m going to drop all of those things so I can do music for real.’”

His parents, it turns out, did their part to push Mitchell to music, albeit less forcefully than Cooper did. He credits them with introducing him to music through their roles in the Saint Therese choir and says, “I have a weird dad who sings a lot.”

His first few years of college helped introduce him to the possibilities as he tried out life as a musical theatre major at Ball State before trying a theatre major at IPFW. Ultimately he chose to pursue a double major of musical performance and music education, something he feels provides a good background for what he hopes to do with his life.

“I think music teaching is the realistic goal, and it’s something I want to do and enjoy doing. I have maybe two more years of classes and a year of student teaching before I finish here, but I plan to move to New York after graduation and spend a couple years performing before I settle into teaching.”

In the meantime, community theatre helps keep him on area stages, and roles at the Civic in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Working” and University of Saint Francis in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” have  scratched that itch. With IPFW’s University Singers and work in the opera ensemble still ahead of him, Mitchell will be a fixture in Fort Wayne for awhile before he heads to New York. Sometimes teachers really do know best.

Posted: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 2:56 pm
Last updated: Mon, 10/29/2012 - 1:49 pm