Travers Takes on Off-Broadway


Johnny Travers, FCLC ’20 has landed the role of Yancey in the Off-Broadway show “Matata and Jesse James: An American Tragedy.” (COURTESY OF JOHNNY TRAVERS)


The classroom was bubbling with excitement as Mrs. Slagel, the third grade teacher of Johnny Travers, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’20, passed out scripts for the class’s showcase, a compilation of scenes written by all the budding artists in the third grade class. Travers was terrified because he “didn’t like the idea of going up in front of people,” but his father encouraged him to audition. The moment he looked at the script, third grader Travers began to impersonate accents he had heard in the movies he had seen. From then on it was clear to his teacher that he had been bitten by “the acting bug… and never stopped from there.” Years later, Travers has gone from a third grade superstar to making his Off-Broadway debut as Yancey in “Matata and Jesse James: An American Tragedy” at the Castillo Theatre.

It all happened rather quickly for Travers. He was shocked into silence when he found out he was going to be opening a show Off-Broadway. “The first thing I said was ‘oh wow,’ and it was a robotic reaction, because I didn’t even know what to say,” Travers said, referring to the phone call he received that led to the good news.

Travers, FCLC ’20, arrived this semester as a new BA theatre performance transfer from Pace University where he was working toward his BA in Acting. He said that he missed acting this semester, since the majority of his classes are core classes, so he signed up for a Backstage, a subscription based website where actors can create a profile and self submit to jobs, account to stay in the theatrical loop. So Travers began to submit to any audition that called for a caucasian male from age 18-35. After submitting to The Castillo Theatre on Backstage, they sent him an email a week later asking Travers to come in for a live audition for “Matata and Jesse James: An American Tragedy”. He went in and they asked him to read one of the sides, a section from the script used for auditions, and then redirected him based on his reading before dismissing him. “I thought I messed up and thought that was that, but the next day the theatre sent me an email about coming in for a callback to read the roles of Billy and Yancey,” Travers said. After a five hour callback and a conversation with the casting team, Travers got a call a few days later from John Rankin, the associate managing director, who told him he got the job.

“Matata and Jesse James: An American Tragedy” is a story about the American Dream and racial issues in America during the Reconstruction Era. Travers’s character, Yancey, is a part of the James Gang, but is the most compassionate toward the less fortunate, no matter what their race or background, which leads him to face problems with the racist gang. “With prejudice still around in America today, I want people to understand that they should keep an open mind and be courteous, respectful, and helpful to those that are in need,” Travers said.

With opening night approaching, Travers said he’s excited, but also very nervous about his Off-Broadway debut. “We’re on a good track, and I have a lot of faith in the cast and crew,” Travers mentioned. As for the whole process, although it may have been hard balancing being a student and delving deep into character for an Off-Broadway show, Travers said it has gone pretty smoothly. “When you have actors who work as an ensemble it makes for a great overall piece of theatre,” said Travers.

Directed by Allie Woods and written by Dan Friedman “Matata and Jesse James: An American Tragedy” runs from April 6th to May 6th at the Castillo Theatre on 543 W 42nd St. The theatre sells $15 student tickets that can be bought online or at the theatre.