By Sheila Wickouski
Washington, DC native Jay Staten made his name as a dancer, performing in locations from New York City to Italy and appearing on several TV shows. As the new Associate Choreographer at Arena Stage, Staten is currently working on the production Toni Stone.
He provided an interview to The Southwester, which has been edited for clarity.
The Southwester: How did growing up in Washington, DC shape your career?
Jay Staten: Attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts was one of the biggest highlights of my life. That place was life-changing for me. It was a safe haven for me and still is for a lot of other budding artists in DC. When I think to myself, “how am I here?” I give most of the credit to Ellington, a place that doesn’t get enough credit or funding for the amount of lives it touches and changes.
SW: Do you have any specific memories of Arena Stage?
JS: I used to ride past Arena Stage every day on the way to middle school and high school. Arena Stage and every other DC theatre has always been on my bucket list. It’s great to be home!
SW: Toni Stone has been called “one of the best [baseball] players you have never heard of.” What did you learn about her while working on this production?
JS: I had never heard of Toni Stone before the production. What I learned is that strength and perseverance have been running strong in Black women for generations. Before there was Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, there was Toni Stone, paving the way and hitting balls.
SW: Arena Stage’s production of Toni Stone will be simulcast at Nationals Park. Have you been involved in a simulcast of a live play before? How does that feel?
JS: I think it’s amazing that during these crazy times, problem-solving has really made the theatre community become more creative. Some of that creativity has really pushed us forward. Watching a play about baseball at Nationals Park — it doesn’t get any better than that!
SW: In addition to your credits as a dancer, you are a community activist whose dance company for African-American youth has served more than 200 children and secured over $3.2 million in college scholarships. What inspired you to create this opportunity?
JS: Dance really changed my outlook on life. It has given me opportunities that I never thought I would experience. I mean, it’s not every day that a young man from Southeast DC is dancing and choreographing all over the world. I wanted to bring those opportunities to my community. I know I have a gift for communicating with the youth and I was always taught by my mom that giving back is important. I took those things and ran with them.