If lucky, a young person finds someone or something to help set a course for success in their life, even if that means tapping into his or her dark side.
“I was in a play in third grade, an adaptation of Get Smart,” remembers Jane Brinkley. Brinkley, 14, is active in Eugene’s community and semi-pro theater scene. She’s known for roles in Radio Redux productions at the Hult Center and has appeared at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.
Brinkley explains: “I played a super-villain. I remember auditioning, and the director was very impressed.” Despite her diminutive stature, she says, “I could be so mean and horrible.”
Mean and horrible are not usually traits to encourage in a child. But for Brinkley, that role helped her discover a passion for theater.
Looking back, Brinkley believes she’s always had a calling for drama. “Part of the reason I like theater is I’m very talkative,” she says, adding that she also “used to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies with my grandma.”
Brinkley has been doing shows with Radio Redux since she was 11 years old. Most recently, she played Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In 2016, she was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. “I enjoy these productions because they are full of experienced actors who are very inspiring and help me to improve,” she says.
Brinkley’s interest in theater has also led her to debate, public speaking, and community activism. In 2015, she organized Music Heals: A Benefit for all Victims of Gun Violence. “After the UCC shooting, our whole community was devastated,” says Brinkley. “I began to think about how music has always been a part of my life and has such a healing quality.”
She had the idea to have a benefit concert, with a suggested donation to the UCC victims’ families as the admission price. Brinkley enlisted the help of several local musicians, as well as her friend Quinn Hansen. Together, they raised $5,000. “It was a truly rewarding experience for everyone involved,” Brinkley says.
In 2017, the digital age of social media, why is live theater still relevant for a 14-year-old? “I think that if you’re watching something on the computer,” Brinkley posits, “you’re missing out. There’s so much thoughtfulness when you’re sitting in an actual theater watching a play; you’re participating in something.”
“It’s such a big part of our history,” she continues. “It will continue to be that way.”
Overall, Brinkley says she’s lucky to have grown up in Eugene, a place that supports young people interested in the arts. “There are lots of community theaters,” she explains, “even some paid work.”
Brinkley continues: “South Eugene High School, which is the high school I go to, has a thriving theater department. They put on upwards of eight shows a year—that’s pretty good for public high school. And I think that we have a lot of really talented actors who live here, doing cool things.”
But despite already having an impressive acting résumé, Brinkley doesn’t foresee a career on the stage. “This surprises people sometimes because I’m so committed to it,” she says. “I can’t really see myself having a career in acting.”
“I really love it because it’s fun,” she adds, “but it’s also intellectually rich. Part of the process is reading and thinking about the play. What I think I might like to do is be an educator in the arts. The arts are so overlooked.”
“I would like to be an educator to push kids who are ‘bigger dreamers’ to do that kind of thing,” she adds. “I love the arts, and I think they’re integral to the human experience.”
Despite her pragmatism, Brinkley does allow herself to daydream. “I’d love to be featured in the Royal Shakespeare Company,” she says. “Or even to be in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I’ve seen shows there my entire life.”
No matter what route she decides to take, Brinkley’s drive and determination will lead her down a successful path.