Youngstown actor celebrates being himself | News, Sports, Jobs
AUSTINTOWN – James Major Burns has a lot to celebrate this year.
He will be getting married soon after his marriage was postponed to 2020 due to COVID-19. He will turn 30 after his birthday celebration was also delayed by the pandemic. It celebrates its 10 years of theater. And he’ll be performing a one-hour show at the Pride in the Valley festival on July 31 at Warren’s Courthouse Square, which he described as a sort of autobiography.
Burns, the son of Samuel Burns and Carla Moore, grew up in South Youngstown and attended Sheridan Elementary School, which no longer exists. He was in the second class of high school Rayen Early College, from where he graduated in 2009.
“We were like the lab rats of the Youngstown School District,” Burns said of the high school that opened in 2004 – a year before it started.
He said only 31 students were in his class, and he still talks to most of them because they were a tight knit group.
Burns falls in the middle of a group of six children: five boys and a girl. He also has two nieces and a nephew.
In high school, Burns earned three letters in track and field and two in basketball. Today, her favorite sport is tennis. He has been playing since 2007 and says he fell in love with tennis watching the various tournaments – US Open, French Open, Australian Open – on TV, mostly in the middle of the night.
Previously he was a manager at Raising Cain’s Chicken, but now he drives a transport van for Turning Point Counseling.
“I’ve always loved playing, and especially loved singing, but I was bullied a lot in school and in early adulthood, so I stayed away from playing,” Burns said.
He joined his college choir, which he was in for about two years. He also joined the choir at Faith Temple Church in Campbell, where his grandmother was the choir director. This stint only lasted a year or so because his grandmother “didn’t think I took him seriously.”
Burns said it was no surprise he found himself on stage because he was surrounded by music growing up and his talent was encouraged.
“My mom would put on music every morning to get me out of bed,” he said.
His first musical was “Hairspray”, a Top Hat Productions show at Struthers in 2010.
“I took a dance class at Youngstown State University, and I met a girl there and she took me to tryouts. I auditioned with Boyz 2 Men ‘Song for Mama, ”Burns recalls. “The casting agents thought I was a professional actor because I was so focused and didn’t talk to anyone. They didn’t know I was scared to death.
Although he was hoping to land the lead role of Seaweed, he was cast as the lesser-known Gilbert and only had four lines. But he was also able to sing as part of the ensemble’s cast, which made him “addicted” to the performance.
He landed the role of Seaweed in subsequent performances of “Hairspray” at Youngstown Playhouse in 2017 and Akron in 2011 and 2019.
However, it was his role as a donkey in “Shrek: The Musical” at the La Comedia Dinner Theater in Springboro, Ohio in 2019 when his career really started to take off.
“It was my first gig away from home, and I was gone for two and a half months,” Burns said.
Ironically, the guy he beat for the role in Springboro was the one who beat Burns for the role in a New York production five years earlier.
He said playing Donkey was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
“It was 72 performances, and I learned so much and grew as a performer,” Burns said.
In 10 years of career, he played in 27 plays, including 25 musicals because music remains his passion.
“I had always wanted to sing and dance, but I had terrible stage fright, so I made up for lost time by playing as much as possible in my twenties. I would (play) for free, but it’s good to get paid for it, ”he said.
This month marks Burns’ 10th anniversary in the local theater.
“Ten years means so much to me. I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my friends and theater peers, ”Burns said. “I’m living the life I’ve always wanted. So many dreams have come true.
In 2013, at the age of 22, Burns decided to “come out” announcing his homosexuality because he said he just wanted to be himself.
Burns said that while his friends and some of his family already knew, it wasn’t until he told his dad he was gay that he took it as official.
“I am grateful that my family has been so tolerant. I have a big extended family and have spent my life thinking that they would kick me on the sidewalk when they found out, ”Burns said. “It was a relief to finally be able to stop hiding who I was.”
Burns is now engaged to his longtime partner, Trevail Maurice Smith, whom he met during a production of “Cats” at the Youngstown Playhouse. Smith will direct the Youngstown Playhouse production of “The Color Purple” at the Powers Auditorium in the fall.
Burns has said he will perform original songs at his next performance at the Warren Pride Festival, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on July 31.
“I wrote a lot of songs during COVID. I can’t wait to share my love with everyone, ”Burns said. “I feel like this is my first opportunity to fully tell my story – who I am and how I got here. My music is my feelings, and I’m all about self-love. I want to be who I am and I no longer live by the rules of society.
He said his motto, which he tattooed on his chest, is “Be who you want to be, not what other people want to see”.