The boom in Georgia’s television and film industry has drawn young actors from all over the country to Atlanta. Many are cutting their teeth in the city’s professional theaters with the hopes of making a full-time living doing what they love. Though opportunity brings them here, it’s the supportive artistic community that makes them stay. After talking to casting directors, artistic directors and producers across the city, the AJC has identified eight young actors who are lighting up metro area stages.
On a rainy fall day, Ficken bursts into the Colony Square Starbucks declaring that she is going to write a book about the ails of Atlanta traffic. She has a few hours between gigs, having just left her babysitting job and headed to rehearsals for "A Nice Family Christmas" at Dunwoody's Stage Door Players. The actress, who once thought she'd be a ballerina, earned degrees in musical theater and dance from the University of Alabama and planned to move to Los Angeles after college. But a friend convinced her to try her luck in Atlanta. She spent a year auditioning before landing her first gig in "Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club" at Georgia Ensemble Theatre.
“When you get out of college, no one tells you how weird and hard it is,” Ficken says. “It’s like, ‘What do I do now? How do I become this person in society?’”
The petite, blonde actress, who looks younger than her 30 years, says there are often lulls in her career, but she enjoys the variety that acting allows. She's appeared in the Alliance Theatre's "Hand to God," "Grand Concourse" at Horizon Theatre and "Electric Baby" with The Weird Sisters Theatre Project. Next, she portrays Mary Shelley's sister in Found Stages' immersive production of "Frankenstein," and in February she'll be in "Goodnight, Tyler" at the Alliance Theatre.
“I always thought of myself as playing the girl next door or the mean girl in high school, but it’s been so much more than that,” she says.
Tyree, 24, grew up in Rocky Mount, Va., where she was raised by her grandparents. On Sundays, she sang with her sisters in the church choir, and that’s when she realized the power of live performance. After graduating from Old Dominion University, Tyree moved to Atlanta for the Aurora Theatre Apprenticeship Program and learned by understudying the lead role in “Memphis," which was co-produced with Theatrical Outfit.
“I typed in Google, ‘What to do in Atlanta for theater after you graduate,’ and Aurora was the first thing that popped up. I didn’t click on anything else. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I got lucky.”
She's steadily been building her resume by performing at Serenbe Playhouse, the Alliance and Atlanta Shakespeare Company, but it was playing the title role in "Aida" at Atlanta Lyric that showcased her vocal range, which has the depth of Toni Braxton and the airiness of Kelly Rowland. When she's not performing, Tyree she is teaching songwriting to kids at the Boys & Girls Club. She has a single on Amazon called "Take Me Away."
Magby, 24, grew up in Stockbridge and has been making a name for himself both as an actor and musical director since graduating from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). He got into theater by performing with the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, which has produced such talented performers as Keenan Thompson. He’s been onstage in “In the Heights” at Aurora Theatre, and “Blackberry Daze” and “Freaky Friday” at Horizon Theatre. He’s also a mostly self-taught piano player and composer, who directed music for "Aida" at Atlanta Lyric Theatre, “The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” at Horizon and he worked as a music production assistant for “Pitch Perfect 3.”
“My goal next year is to travel more and work regionally so that I can see how what I’ve learned here translates other places,” said Magby. He's currently onstage in "Christmas Canteen" at Aurora Theatre through Dec. 23.
Growing up the youngest of four in Augusta, Pendergrast’s love of the stage started with music and dance. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from piano to trumpet, and he was introduced to dance in high school when his friend’s mom signed him up for a ballroom class. That led him to explore hip hop — something that worked to his advantage playing Graffiti Pete in the Aurora Theatre/Theatrical Outfit co-production of “In the Heights” in 2016. Pendergrast started doing ensemble roles at professional theaters as a student at Kennesaw State University, where he earned his degree in theater and performance studies, and continues to work choreographing performances for the KSU summer intensive.
“Theater is … one of the few areas that rewards you for being a Swiss Army knife,” he said.
Now 24, he also works as a rideshare driver, a personal trainer and a massage therapist to help pay the bills. Despite having performed roles in “Mary Poppins” (Aurora Theatre), “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (Aurora and Theatrical Outfit) and “Newsies” (Aurora and Atlanta Lyric), Pendergrast says finding meaty roles as an Asian actor can be a challenge.
Up next, he’ll be in the ensemble of the world premiere musical adaptation of “Ever After” at the Alliance Theatre, opening Jan. 15.
McKee, 25, loves playing characters who exist on the margins, and he has one primary motivation in his work: Make mom proud. His mother died from breast cancer in 2012. McKee grew up in McDonough where he started acting with The Henry Players at age 12 and went on to major in theater arts at Piedmont College. After graduating, he moved to Lawrenceville for an apprenticeship with Aurora Theatre and his since landed roles in “Tim Tesla and the Terrific Time Machine” at Aurora, “Grease” at Serenbe Playhouse and “I Love You Because” at Marietta Theatre Company.
“I love playing geeks and nerds,” McKee said. “I specifically like confronting this idea of what masculinity is. I was in a production of ‘Rocky Horror Show’ at Warehouse Theatre (in Greenville, S.C.), and I played Brad. When you think of Brad you think of a man’s man, but I took this approach that he’s just really bad at being that. I’m interested in confronting what society expects of us versus what we really have to offer it.”
Doyle co-founded Catalyst Arts with six other Atlanta artists with the intention of pushing the boundaries of what theater can be by creating more immersive performances. He directs the company’s next production, “K2,” about two men trapped on the side of a mountain in Pakistan. The show opens at The Bakery on January 25.
“I want to do more site-specific theater, devised work (a collaborative style of performance) and blend that with film and virtual reality,” says Doyle. “Intimacy and surprise are what separate theater from film, so my goals have shifted to more holistic theater making, rather than just acting.”
The SCAD graduate also builds sets for area theaters and used to work full-time welding and fabricating chandeliers. He picked up these skills from his parents, who run a building company in his hometown of Clearwater, Fla. Over the past few years, he’s split his time between here and there, and even did a brief stint in L.A. He admits that the road has not been easy.
“I’m finding my way to advocate more for myself as a performer, because I’ve been craving that recently,” Doyle said. “There is a lot of opportunity here and what I love about this town is, as much as we’re trying to find our audiences and show them how theater is connected to their lives, there is a beautiful opportunity to create something new.”
The desire to innovate storytelling is what drew Anderson to theater. Anderson, who uses the pronouns they, their and them, grew up in a trailer park in Sparks, 30 miles north of Valdosta, and graduated from Valdosta State University before moving to Atlanta with nothing more than a backpack full of clothes. Anderson has come a long way since then, using their affinity for physical theater to tackle roles in “Cardboard Piano” at Actor’s Express and “Nomad Motel” at Horizon Theatre. Most recently they performed aerial work in “Curious Reverie” with Havoc Movement Company. Still, with all of their experience, Anderson has not forgotten about their friends and neighbors in Sparks and wants to create theater for people who don’t think it’s for them.
“I studied with the Mayans in Belize and learned from their storytelling tradition and sophisticated non-verbal communication,” Anderson said. “I would love to be able to apply those principles and facilitate play for underprivileged communities everywhere. All you have is your story and your legacy, and I want to find a way to imbue that for the people who need it the most.”
Pearson has a knack for playing women who are pushing for change — something her roles in “Split in Three” and “Be Here Now” at Aurora Theatre, and “The Crucible” and “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Actor’s Express have in common. She moved to Atlanta from Chicago because her career stagnated after performing in the Off-Broadway success, “A Twist of Water.” She’d heard about the burgeoning opportunities here and applied to the Actor’s Express intern company. She was accepted and moved here, sight unseen.
“Every rejection is an opportunity for me to move on to the next thing and find out what work I’m supposed to be doing,” Pearson says. “A lot of that comes from my dad. He never told me that I couldn’t achieve my goals and my dreams.”
Pearson works as a nanny part-time and teaches Pilates and Gyrotonic training to make ends meet. As long as she’s performing, she’s happy, she says.
“When I was in the ensemble of ‘Rent’ at Actor’s Express, I had maybe two or three solos, but I had more fun than everyone else,” she said. “I try to find a little bit of myself, a little bit of humanity, in every role that I play so I always have a really good time when I’m onstage.”