You feel it right?. That sudden pang of sorrow when we think about Smash the NBC musical drama that gave us that authentic New York feel, as well as our Debra Messing infusion before she came back to Will & Grace.
One of the stand out characters was the prickly, but loveable Ellis Boyd played by virtuoso Jaime Cepero. The young performer’s voice, talent, and dare we say, good looks, made us put him on SOULE’s “must follow” radar. Thankfully for us, Cepero has been very busy over the past few years.
This Afro Latinx multi-hyphenate is the poster boy for “make your own luck.” He wrote and performed in the his own musical Francois & The Rebels (a punk rock re-telling of the 1791 Haitian Slave Revolution) which was recently produced through MTF Musicals at Joe’s Pub. Between crafting songs he gathered a gang of TV and film credits including Mess, I Am Michael, starring James Franco, Dating My Mother, Daddy, and Disney’s The Game Plan.
This weekend, if you are lucky, you get to see him perform more of his original work with his show SONGS ABOUT ANXIETY AND THE BOYS THAT PLAYED ME at 9:30 p.m. this Sunday at The Green Room 42. We got a chance to speak to Cepero about his music, his activism and how he keeps creating more @PapiMagic.
SOULE: What does SONGS ABOUT ANXIETY AND THE BOYS THAT PLAYED ME mean? Where did you come up with the concept?
Jaime Cepero: Basically I’ve been getting a lot of feedback asking when I was going to do another show of my music – and I had a little time this month – so I said “Hey, why not!” A lot of the songs featured on Sunday are about difficult moments and relationships from my past, moments that brought a lot of anxiety my way and also moments where someone I thought I knew turned out to be someone I didn’t know at all. Hence the tongue in cheek title!
How long did it take you to create these songs?
Some we crafted over years – and some were crafted in three hours. Songwriting for me is more about letting the song become what it wants than it is about sitting down and “trying” to make it bend to your will. When I am inspired, things come out easy.
What are we going to get at a Jaime Cepero show?
You are going to see some incredible vocalists sing my music, you are going to hear some awkward stories, and you are going to drink and be merry AF (at least for an hour or so).
Which do you prefer singing acting writing?
I’m not sure I can pick one, but I do have to say writing has always been a big part of my life ever since I was a kid. I used to make my own little magazines and comic books. The amount of paper I had in my room was really insane.
You are very outspoken politically. Where do you see the line between art and activism?
Someone once said “It is the responsibility of the artist to reflect the times.” I think that rings true, especially in 2018. If you have a voice, you have to use it. And I want to use mine to create a safe space for Queer Afro Latinx downtown punk weirdos. I want to be the person that I needed when I was growing up.
Tell me a little about how you got here. When did you think that this path was actually something you wanted to do?
In regards to activism? It honestly wasn’t until I started studying Queer History, the greats like Marsha P Johnson and Audre Lourde, STAAR and the crisis of the 80s, that I really started to consider making it a part of my life. Before the 2016 election I feel like a lot of us lived in a bubble of our own design. That bubble has since popped and now shit is real out here, especially for people of color. It’s not only a responsibility to be as loud and as proud as one can be, but also I think there is an urgency behind it as well. We can’t afford to be complacent right now. It’s our lives on the line.
When did you think performance was something you could do?
I’m a Leo (surprise) so I think performing and being the center of attention has always been high on my list. But as you get older you start to contemplate your position in the Universe in relation to how it affects others. While in the past I definitely enjoyed the attention, I find myself more concerned with lifting others up lately than I do with exalting myself. Nothing feels better than to give someone else a platform to shine, especially when they don’t often get that chance.
What was the difference for you as a performer to work on stage, versus on a sound stage in front of a camera?
Stage work is just… it’s full of this electricity. You create something for an audience one night, and then do it again for another. No two performances are ever the same. There is something so beautiful and attractive about that. Working in TV and film is another beast entirely. You get to do things over and over until it’s just right, but at the end of the day someone else chooses what take is considered your “best.” It’s also surprisingly intimate, even though there are like 30 people standing around you. It’s smaller, more contained. There are things you can do in theater that you can’t do on screen – and vice versa.
You have so many creative outlets and options, what makes you want to take a role, or create a project?
At this point in my life I want to work with people I like and respect on projects that SAY something. I’d rather eat soup out of a can and do a play that speaks truth to power than be a part of something popular for the sake of being popular.
Did you set out in the beginning of your career wanting to be OUT? Was that even a factor in your mind? What was that journey like?
It’s funny – because the world is such a different place than it was even 5 years ago. When I was doing “Smash” a lot of industry people told me to keep quiet and “classy” about my sexuality. Fast forward to now – and the world is even gayer than anyone could have imagined. I live for that, but I also sometimes regret not having that sort of visibility back then. There are parts of the world where gay men and women are thrown off of roofs for loving who they love. It’s a crime to hide when I have the right to live freely. I’m a gay man and I love being a gay man. What else is there to say?
If someone did restarted VH1’s Behind the Music and did an episode on you – what would you want them to say?
I’d want them to be honest. I am not a perfect person. In fact – I am a huge mess. But I like to think that’s a part of my charm. I just aim to be myself at all times. What else can I do? What else can any of us do?
For more information about the show and tickets please click here.