JJ Humphrey sees nomination for acting award as 'big deal' for him and other neurodivergent actors

Oct 7 2022 • By Roger Mooney

What intrigued JJ Humphrey about his starring role in the play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” was his ability to relate to the lead character.

While never mentioned in Mark Haddon’s novel, Christopher Boone, the protagonist, is on the autism spectrum. So is JJ.

A neurodivergent actor playing a neurodivergent character.

“I want to see the world through his eyes for a little while,” JJ said last November, before the play opened at the Tampa Repertory Theater.

JJ Humphrey

Passing on the stereotypes actors generally rely on while playing a neurodivergent part, JJ saw Christopher’s world as he sees his own.

“I think I did a good job representing Christopher,” said JJ, 18, who lives in Central Florida and receives the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities managed by Step Up For Students.

Others agree.

JJ played the role so well, he is one of six finalists (and the only one still in school) for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play by Theatre Tampa Bay. The winners will be announced Oct. 23 during Theatre Tampa Bay Awards Gala at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus.

“I’m truly honored and excited to be nominated,” JJ said. “It’s a big deal for me because I have a disability. For the disability community I think, me being nominated shows that individuals with disabilities can be on the same playing field as an individual without a disability, that we can be equally as good as them and stand a chance.”

Read about JJ’s rise as an actor here.

JJ received that chance because Emilia Sargent, the play’s director and the producing artistic director of the Tampa Repertory Theater, wanted a neurodivergent actor to play the role of Christopher. It helped that JJ was recommended to Sargent by Mickey Rowe, the first neurodivergent actor to play Christopher.

“He was Christopher when he walked in the door,” Sargent said.

And that’s because JJ put his own spin on the part.

“Usually, people portray Christopher in a different way,” JJ said. “You know that robotic voice that people stereotype individuals with autism? I decided to play it a little differently and use my normal voice. I don’t have a robotic sounding voice. (I have) a lively sounding voice.

“Having that lead role on my resume, hopefully people will see it and say, ‘I know that show. That’s a big show.’ Hopefully they’ll see that and think I can handle more.”

Since starring as Christopher Boone, JJ has signed on with Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates Inc. (KMR Talent), because the agency has a diversity department. He auditioned for voiceover roles in a TV series and several commercials and was in the ensemble of “Sister Act” at the Lakeland Community Theater, where he played a dart player, male fantasy dancer, altar boy and newscaster.

He hosted the Disability History Session panel for Family Café and will again this June, is a co-leader for the Florida Youth Council, became the social media manager for the Tampa Repertory Theater, is a member of the Epilepsy Alliance Florida Youth Advocacy Council and took part in the documentary called the Art of Recovery by Grubb Arts

JJ is also a member of the 501st Legion, an international costuming organization that celebrates Star Wars. They participate in charity events such as visiting hospitals.

JJ with members of the 501st Legion.

JJ, who uses the education savings account from the FES-UA to pay for his home schooling, drama and music classes, sees himself as a role model for young neurodivergent actors, just as he sees Rowe as his role model.

“I want to show people that it’s possible, that you can fulfill your dreams whether it’s in acting or it’s something else entirely,” he said. “You can do it. If you put the time and effort into it, you can make it happen regardless if you have a disability or not.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].

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Roger Mooney