‘My advice for kids is to find what you do better than everyone else and do that to the best of your ability.’
Jakeim Hart, Huntington
“My father was a musician and started me on piano when I was 4. I was really intimidated by how good he was, so I started playing guitar to be just as good. Playing instruments was a connection for us. He died about two years ago. I came to find out [later] that he was as in awe of me as much as I was of him.
“When I wanted to make friends at a new school, I had tried out for the basketball team. I was terrible and I didn’t fit in. The coach said, ‘Why don’t you do the musical with the other kids who didn’t make it?’ It was my earliest memory of rejection! I followed his advice and tried out for ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ I felt very comfortable and at home and was able to come out of my shell. It spurred this fire in me to keep chasing that feeling.
In the Playbill, I wrote: ‘Proudly on the autism spectrum.’ I disclosed that because I thought it was important for other autistic people to feel seen.
“Being a musician helped me get a role in Broadway’s ‘Almost Famous.’ On the audition tape, I played an Eric Clapton song and soloed a bit to show some of the advanced stuff I do. They valued that and thought it would be cool that I’d actually play guitar onstage. I didn’t have many credits, but I had the right ones because they were mostly actor/musician credits. In the Playbill, I wrote: ‘Proudly on the autism spectrum.’ I disclosed that because I thought it was important for other autistic people to feel seen. They can see that I’m doing this, and that they can get into the field and do it too. I wish that I could have seen something like that when I was going to Broadway shows when I was younger.
“Throughout my career, I have learned that I am resilient in the face of rejection. Taking the good with the bad is a huge part of this life. I’m taking many lessons with me as I work on Alicia Keys’ new musical, ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ at The Public Theater. She has an incredible work ethic, and it’s the best music that I’ve ever worked on in a show.
“My advice for kids is to find what you do better than everyone else and do that to the best of your ability. I had to grow my music as much as I had to grow my acting. You’ll get more jobs if you find what sets you apart from others. You’ll be recognized for it eventually.”
Interviewed by Iris Wiener