Many arts lovers will likely visit The Smith Center soon for shows with dazzling melodies and dance numbers, such as Broadway smash “An American in Paris” and Bollywood revue “Taj Express.”
But little do they know the individuals selling them tickets are talented performers themselves.
Jamar Thompson and Cassandra Tolliver, staff members in The Smith Center’s Patron Services, can both be found starring on local stages when they aren’t working in The Smith Center’s offices.
“The Smith Center is super encouraging when it comes to performing,” says Thompson, who can be seen as lead dancer in “The Little Mermaid” at Henderson Pavilion on March 24, 25, 31 and April 1. “I think working here and performing go hand in hand.”
Thompson always knew music and dance were in his blood, from his father’s talent as a reggae singer.
“He taught me how to sing. That’s how I started, was in reggae,” Thompson says. “Then I went into more of a Broadway sound.”
He couldn’t have foreseen this passion would lead him to auditioning for “Hamilton” in New York City in 2016, however.
“They’re looking for a specific type, but that was one of my best auditions,” says Thompson, who has also auditioned in the Big Apple for shows like “Dreamgirls.” “That showed me I’m ready for more than community theater.”
He has had plenty of experience already.
Trained under Fresno City College’s acclaimed dance program, Thompson has performed with top dance companies in California such as Miss K’s Dance Bungalow, which provided opportunities like performing with the Harlem Globetrotters.
“I love performing because it allows me to be myself,” Thompson says. “Sometimes in life we hold back, but on stage we don’t have to.”
During his several years living in Las Vegas, theater lovers have likely caught him performing in productions with most community theaters in town.
These include shows with Signature Productions, such as “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Hairspray,” the Onyx Theatre’s production of “Heathers,” and a Broadway revue by Broadway in the H.O.O.D.
Thompson has also performed in multiple shows at the popular Super Summer Theater at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, including “Bring It On The Musical,” which allowed him to flex his skills as a triple threat with singing, dancing and acting.
All of these experiences have been truly valuable, Thompson says.
“There are definitely a lot of avenues to grow in Las Vegas,” he says. “You not only have community theater, but training schools like Las Vegas Academy, and you have the Strip and national tours where you can audition.”
Now aiming for more regional productions and tours, Thompson was cast in a winter 2016 show “Motown Magic Holiday Concert” that toured in Washington and Arizona. He also performs with a Motown group booked on the Holland America Cruise Line.
It helps to work at The Smith Center, he adds, which supports his acting efforts and allows a flexible schedule for rehearsals and shows.
“The Smith Center has been so incredibly flexible making it possible for me to perform,” Thompson says. “My team is really an amazing support system and I know I can count on them to encourage me to pursue my passion.”
Trained By the Best
While Tolliver’s friends might know she enjoys dance, they likely don’t know she has trained with world-class professionals, including Alvin Ailey.
“I’ve just always loved, loved loved anything about dance and acting,” Tolliver says with a laugh.
Raised in Dallas, she fostered this love by attending an arts magnet school – which often brought in elite artists such as Ailey – then majored in dance at the University of Texas.
Her lifelong priority has been to pass along her expertise and give other children the same introduction to dance she experienced, she says.
“I believe children should be able to have that opportunity to pursue whatever they want to,” she says.
That’s why Tolliver started teaching dance shortly after moving to Las Vegas decades ago.
This led to opening her own dance studio, then expanded to teaching dance at Clark County’s Desert Breeze Community Center for 20 years.
“It was really rewarding. I love children and I love the arts,” Tolliver says. “There are kids I taught when they were 3 or 4 years old who now bring their kids.”
Once her own children were grown, she deemed it time to return to performing herself.
This led to her dancing in high-energy shows with Broadway in the H.O.O.D, such as “Dreamgirls” and “The Wiz,” where she performed alongside many other local talents.
These went so well, Tolliver looks forward to getting back on the stage again soon.
“It was absolutely fabulous. I enjoyed it immensely,” she says. “It feels awesome that I can get up there and hang with those beautiful, wonderful dancers and singers and still be on my A game.”
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