In Pipeline, Jaime Lincoln Smith plays Dun, a security guard in a public high school in a city resembling New York. Smith himself is familiar with the NYC system. “I work for a not-for-profit organization called Opening Act,” he told me. “They staff teaching artists in around 40 schools in the city. I work at a place in the Bronx called Frederick Douglass Academy III. During the school year, I go in once a week and teach the kids acting, mainly through improv. It’s very cool.”
Smith, who grew up in Bloomfield, Connecticut, related his real-life school to the one in the play. “I see the similarity in the lack of resources available to teachers and students. As teaching artists, we tend to bring in our own resources, not to rely on the schools to provide them.”
As Dun, Smith gives a terrific sense of exactly what role a security guard plays in a school. “Dun is talking to teachers, guidance counselors, and upper management. He’s everywhere, he’s the lifeline of the building.”
But Smith said Dun represents more than an employee trying to maintain order among teenagers. “I believe that Dun is the voice of the underpaid, the voice of the overworked, the voice that’s not heard. He’s the voice of the person who actually cares. This isn’t to say that the teachers don’t care. But Dun has a strong sense of how the kids are being overlooked in terms of what’s really going on inside.”
Smith, who has an MFA in acting from Rutgers, shared some of the back-story he’s created for Dun. “He comes from a single-parent home. He is putting his money toward the creation of a boxing gym. He’s very ambitious.”
What about Dun’s musical tastes? How do they compare with Smith’s?
“I’ve been listening to a rapper named Skyzoo and to Jay Z’s new album. I’m more of an independent or old-school kinda guy, and I don’t listen to radio rap. I think Dun, on the other hand, does listen to radio rap. He probably listens to what kids right now call trap music. Dun is more in touch with what kids are listening to than I am, since he’s interacting with them every day.”
Smith, who made his Broadway debut in the musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, about Tupac, and appeared in Baltimore in “Marley,” about reggae great Bob Marley, wants to show his musical side again soon onstage. He’s also keen to display his comedy chops more fully – they’re splendidly evident in Pipeline during his exit from the play’s tense hospital scene. His first professional job in New York was, after all, filled with humor.
“I had just moved to Brooklyn. It took me thirty auditions – it was the only time I’ve counted – to get my first gig. It was a comedic commercial for the New York Post. It was about some animal wildlife they were promoting. I opened up a newspaper stand and an octopus jumped on my face. That was a crazy way to introduce myself to the city.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.