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St. Albans actor goes from martial arts to theater arts

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St. Albans native Sean Watkins has been working in musical theater nearly nonstop since graduating from Marshall in 2009. He was involved in the development of the Gershwin tribute musical "'S Wonderful" and has been in three productions of it. In one part of the show, he plays Gene Kelly (seen here with Deidre Haren as Leslie Caron).
Courtesy photo
Before Sean Watkins became a performer, he was involved in karate, competing on the U.S. National Team for two years. He still teaches karate lessons.
WANT TO GO?Sean Watkins Broadway musical revueWHEN: 3 p.m. SundayWHERE: Alban Arts Center, 65 Olde Main St., St. Albans.COST: $10INFO: or 304-721-8896CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sean Watkins never got bit by the acting bug. In fact, the St. Albans native hadn't even considered the arts until he was approached by his high school's show choir director.Now, the genial 25-year-old is a successful musical theater actor living in New York. He's worked professionally nearly nonstop since he graduated from Marshall University in 2009. While back in the area for some downtime before his next gig, he's using his talent to help arts programs locally.At 3 p.m. Sunday, he will stage a Broadway musical revue at the Alban Arts Center. Proceeds benefit the center's Arts Academy scholarship fund.Making the arts accessible to kids is important to Watkins."Things are being cut so much in public schools that they're not really getting anything there," he said.In terms of theater, he added, "People don't realize how important it is. It can change your life for the better. It's saved so many kids' lives, it really has." Watkins was a senior at St. Albans High School when he was approached by then-show choir director Gail Kennedy. She knew he liked to travel, so she enticed him to join with a trip to New York the group had planned.The love of travel came from another of Watkins' passions: karate. Studying at USA Martial Arts in St. Albans, he won his first national title at age 9, earned his black belt at 10 and was on the U.S. National Team in 2002 and 2003. He's competed in France, Chile and Canada. Finding that passion was also kind of a fluke.
"The first time I went was when I was 4," he said. "I was a very, very small kid. My aunt was deathly afraid I was going to get beat up, so she said I needed to learn how to defend yourself."It didn't go well. He bristled at having to bow during the lesson."I said, 'I'm not bowing down to anybody!' And that was that," he recalled with a laugh.
When his aunt died four years later, he said he decided to try karate again. "I went back, and it stuck." It sticks to this day. Watkins still teaches karate lessons, both at USA Martial Arts whenever he's in town and also in New York.Show choir led to theater when Kennedy encouraged Watkins to audition for the Charleston Light Opera Guild's 2005 production of "Anything Goes." She told him to be sure to attend the dance audition as well as the acting and singing auditions. He laughed as he remembered the event.
"I was the only guy there, and I was in gym shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt with all these ballerinas in leotards. It was nuts! I didn't know what the heck I was doing."Whatever he was doing worked, and he landed a spot in the cast. The chairman of Marshall's theater department attended one of the performances and encouraged Watkins to participate in shows there when he began attending in the fall.From there, "it just kind of took over my life. That one show is all it took."During his time at Marshall, Watkins performed in shows including "Hair," "Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Diary of Anne Frank." He also directed Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" his senior year, and for his Spanish capstone project, the double major translated and staged the East Coast premiere of "La Historia de una Escalera (The History of a Staircase)."When he was a senior, he traveled to New York to audition for a play being developed called "Bruce Lee: Journey to the West." He got a part."Right after Marshall, I left and did that, got into the union and I've been working ever since," he said. "I've been extremely lucky."The longest I've gone without working is a couple of months, which is pretty unheard of."He has performed across the U.S. in shows like "Les Miserables," "The Producers," "Footloose," "Annie" and "The Drowsy Chaperone." He once sung with Patti Lupone at an Actors Fund benefit.He's also been involved in the development of four other musicals, including his favorite, the George and Ira Gershwin tribute "'S Wonderful." He worked with the Gershwin family on the five-person show, where he played, among other characters, Gene Kelly. "It's 45 Gershwin songs," he said. "The concept is taking those 45 songs and putting them in five different stories. The show is really five mini-musicals."Soon, Watkins' career will come full circle when he heads out on the national tour of "Anything Goes." He's in West Virginia until Aug. 23 and starts rehearsals in New York just four days later.The tour, booked through next July, will be his longest gig by far. Up to this point, the longest was three months."It's going to be amazing," he said with a huge grin.Watkins will teach a musical theater audition workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Alban. He will cover singing, acting and dance auditions including how to dress, enter the room, act a song and learn choreography.Cost is $35, and space is limited, so registration is required. Email Amy Robinson at
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