JEAN BLANDON’S FULL CIRCLE MOMENT
Jean Blandon never saw it coming.
In October of this year, the second-year student at Toronto’s Sheridan College received a call from MTYP’s Artistic Director, Pablo Felices-Luna, asking him to audition for the role of Charlie Brown in MTYP’s Midwinter Mosey.
As if that wasn’t shocking enough for the young actor, he got another call from Pablo after his audition, offering him the role.
At first, Jean was filled with doubt. A thousand things were swirling in his head, “Am I ready for this? I’m still in school. I’m only in my second year. I’m still learning how to act and how to be a performer.”
Fittingly, seeing MTYP’s A Charlie Brown Double Bill three seasons ago had inspired him to pursue his dream of becoming a performer. “I wanted to play that role,” Jean recalls, “For me to see that a BIPOC actor was playing Charlie Brown was amazing, because typically it is a white actor playing the role. I thought, ‘That could be me one day.’”
But performing always gave him hope. Jean first came to MTYP in 2015, when he was in Grade 9. His friend Hillery Pham told him about MTYP’s After School Leaders (ASL) program and encouraged him to join her. A funded initiative of Healthy Child Manitoba, ASL partner programs offer unique after school opportunities to young people in high schools to meet those from different schools, and work as a team and as an individual while being mentored by industry professionals to help build their résumé with new skills and experiences. It turned out to be just the push he needed.
“I thought I was too shy for ASL,” he says. “On the first day when we arrived, I made this rule. I looked over at my friend, and said, ‘If our names are not on the attendance sheet, we are leaving.’” Because they had not formally registered for the program yet, when attendance was taken at the beginning of the class, as Jean had worried ASL instructor Cheyenne Schroeder didn’t call their names. “So I said to my friend, ‘That’s it. Let’s go,’” he remembers. However, as Jean further recalls, when Cheyenne saw them about to leave, she stopped them and very warmly said, “Don’t worry, you can stay.”
After thriving in the ASL program, he was asked to become a Teaching Assistant for MTYP Theatre School classes. He also went on to successfully audition for and perform in several of MTYP School’s performance companies, and now, almost five years later, he’s taking centre stage in his professional debut.
“My story has been a lot like Charlie Brown’s,” he smiles. “In the sense that I’ve tried to fit in multiple places. And now I have found my place in theatre. I found this group of loving people, the teachers, my friends, people who I can literally call my family at MTYP. They have surrounded me with love and delivered the message. ‘Jean, you are worthy. You are enough.’ And that’s what Charlie’s journey is. That’s why I connect so hard with Charlie.”
MTYP’s Midwinter Mosey combines the best of three of MTYP’s most beloved holiday shows, including the short section from A Charlie Brown Double Bill, where Charlie Brown famously chooses a less than stellar Christmas tree.
“Charlie Brown is just like all of us,” says Jean. “He’s this kid who just tries to fit in. And he tries and tries and tries and can never get it right. In this story, it’s literally about him finally getting approval from his friends and his sister. We all want to be loved. Sometimes we believe that we are not worthy of that. We let that get into our heads. We let that shape us as who we are as a person. When we get that stamp of approval, we’re like: we ARE loved. We are a part of this group.”
By finally believing in himself, Jean has realized he might have a future as a performer after all. And now he’s making his professional debut as Charlie Brown, a role he didn’t even allow himself to dream of landing a few years ago. “Charlie Brown never loses hope,” says Jean. “And when he comes and he sees all his friends around the Christmas tree that he picked out- that they first made fun of him for- he is greeted by this warmth and love from his friends.”
The holiday season is all about love for Jean. Having overcome some obstacles to get where he is, Jean is ready to share that love with MTYP audiences.