Many people dream of seeing their names in lights on the Marquee, but few ever get the chance or pursue the desire. Marietta’s Carlos Valdes is chasing his own passion and currently is performing as a Swing in the National Tour of Jersey Boys, but he has remained grounded in the foundation that began in high school.
When Jersey Boys opens at the Fox Theatre on May 22, Valdes will be returning to his home city for the first time as a professional actor. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Valdes began his journey into the arts at Cobb County’s Pebblebrook High School, where he was part of the famed Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, a magnet program housed at the school.
“I was part of the program under the direction of Earl Reece and Frank Timmerman,” he mentions. During his freshman year, Valdes was under the direction of Reece, who built a strong legacy for the program, but during his sophomore year Timmerman took over the program. It was Timmerman’s mentoring that had the largest impact on him.
“He had a severe impact on my education and on my growth,” Valdes explains. “His teaching style and his passion for making music influenced me in a very formative way, and I am extremely grateful for that.”
As a magnet program for the fine arts, the school provides more instructional opportunities and a chance to build a solid foundation of skills than a traditional public school would offer. One feature of the program allows former students to be guest speakers, where the graduates explain their own path to success. Valdes did not realize how much he really learned from these speeches until he was on his own career path. “It wasn’t until I graduated and moved on that I realized, oh wow, I really picked up some useful skills and tools of the trade,” he says.
Those skills have never been more evident to him than now. Performing in Jersey Boys is his first professional job, which alone requires a learning curve, but he has the added challenge of being a swing, which can understudy multiple members of the cast but mostly covers ensemble members. Doing so requires the individual to know all of the dialogue, movements, choreography, and vocal parts of each actor he/she covers. For Jersey Boys, Valdes covers five different roles.
“It seems daunting in theory to have to learn five different tracks and to be ready to go on for any of those at any given time, and it does take a fair amount of work; I will say that,” Valdes explains. “But, it is surprising what your brain and body does when it really doesn’t have the choice.”
“The position really requires you to not only memorize each role but also not get confused with who stands where in what number. There are several instances where many of the characters that I am responsible for filling the track for are in the same scene. So, I have to know not only where they stand on stage, but also their traffic patterns backstage and costume changes.”
Despite the challenges of being a swing, it is a role that Valdes feels comfortable with. Since he “compartmentalizes” things when he thinks, he feel he has the right mental make-up for a swing, and he also realizes how his training has provided him with the necessary skills to accomplish the task.
“When you are a swing, you have to step in when called upon to do so. I am very grateful for the training that I had because it has prepared me,” Valdes mentions. “It is like the muscle was honed in school so I could flex it when I needed to. ”
Touring provides another challenge for him, one that school can’t prepare anyone for. Adjusting to the rigors and pace of a tour can be difficult for anyone whether it is a first professional production or the hundredth. But, Valdes has found a way to adapt.
“At first it wasn’t that big of a deal for me as I was caught up in the excitement of always moving and taking the show to new place, and that excitement kind of cradled me in a blanket of security I guess,” he explains. “That initial haze has definitely dissipated, and now I am starting to have to adjust to touring. Now, I have to adjust my mind to continually readjust every three weeks to a new city.”
One thing that helps him adjust is the fact that the show sits down in each city for three weeks, which is longer than the week engagement of most touring shows. “I do consider myself to be fortunate, though, to be a in a show that has comparatively long sit downs in cities. Regardless, it still takes some adjustment,” he says.
The length of the stay also has its own challenges. “You are doing a show at night, and by day you are living life as a regular person,” he explains. For most actors, this time is filled with mundane chores and household tasks. Yet, for a touring actor, being away from home isn’t always like a vacation, but the schedule allows him time to explore each city that the company is performing in.
“It should be interesting for Atlanta. I never really got a chance to take full advantage of not only Marietta, but also Atlanta,” Valdes states. “It will be interesting to come back with my days mostly free and to reacquaint myself with Atlanta and Marietta.”
During the Atlanta engagement, he would like to visit familiar places as well as discover places within walking distance of the Fox Theatre while he is here. Two places he is sure to visit are in his hometown. “I will go to my favorite Marietta spots like the square and SweeTreats. You can always count on SweeTreats,” he says with an excited laugh.
In addition to visiting the city, Valdes looks forward to performing in front of his family and friends. Since he doesn’t have a regular performance schedule as a swing, it can be difficult for him to tell anyone specifically when he will go on. However, he covers the dance captain, who has to watch the show every three weeks, which provides him with a set date to invite them.
“I pretty much told friends and family to come on this day and support me,” he mentions. “I have a generous influx of friends and family coming to see me, and it should be exciting too, most of them I haven’t seen in about a year and a half.”
Jersey Boys, part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta series, runs through June 10 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. For more information on the show, please visit Broadway in Atlanta’s website. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, the Fox Theatre box office, or online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/.
By: Kenny Norton