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The Youngest Member of Pure Theater Takes the Stage

The Youngest Member of Pure Theater Takes the Stage
May 2019

Meet Joel Watson, 23 years-old and ready for the spotlight

Watson reprises his role in Sweat for Pure’s Piccolo Spoleto program

Joel Watson has come a long way from the Rock Hill High School stage where he made his debut as the game show host in the one-act Puberty: The Game Show. Today, you won’t find the 23-year-old playing the host leading hapless teenagers through embarrassing situations. Instead, Watson is tackling parts in prize-winning dramas as the youngest member of the PURE Theatre Core Ensemble.

This May and June, the CofC theater major alum will join his fellow ensemble members onstage in PURE’s production of Sweat by Lynn Nottage, as part of the Piccolo Spoleto festival. Set in the blue-collar town of Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2000 and 2008, Watson plays Chris, a 21-year-old factory employee with aspirations to leave Reading and physical labor for good, in favor of college and a better life. dTaking a leap: I’d always wanted to act, but I was way too scared to do it. I didn’t start until my junior year of high school, when I took a Theater 101 class. I knew that if I didn’t force myself into a situation where I had to get on stage, I’d never do it.

Artistic evolution: I really started finding meaning and depth in my acting when I started doing shows with [PURE Theatre co-founder and artistic director] Sharon Graci. In 2016, she directed Superior Donuts at the College of Charleston, which I was in, and that’s when I feel like I really started improving, going deep into my characters.

Watson in PURE’s Small Mouth Sounds

Starting the process: When I’m learning a new character, I prepare in the simplest way: I lie down, close my eyes, and try to envision myself in not only the situations that happen in the play, but also ones that happened before. I try to build the whole life of the character in my head.

In tune: Every play I’ve ever done, I always discover a new musical artist. I make playlists of music that I think my character would listen to, or music that has a similar story. For Chris, I thought about the music he would have grown up listening to, like A Tribe Called Quest, and other ’90s hip-hop. Sometimes I’ll listen to the playlist before I go on stage, especially if I’m feeling too “Joel” that day—too much like my actual self.

Wardrobe change: The moment I put on a costume is usually when it all clicks for me. Chris wears these heavy steel-toed work boots and an oversized shirt—that baggy, early-2000s style—and the moment I put those on, I feel like him.

Sharing the stage: As I get older, I’m becoming less selfish. I’m thinking about more than just my performance—I don’t have to go out there and tear it up. I’m thinking about being part of something, telling a story, rather than being the be-all, end-all onstage.


Photograph (Small Mouth Sounds) by David Mandel