PHS graduate to star as Muhammad Ali

De'Yonte' Jenkins

De'Yonte' Jenkins once played sports for his pastime, but after a redirection of hobbies, he unexpectedly found a calling in theatre.

The 2012 Portland High School graduate, who now resides in Evansville, Ind., moved away soon after high school in pursuit of his acting goals.

“Every sport I played, I seemed to break a bone,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “My mom said, ‘you need to find something else to do.’ I looked into theatre. I started out on the Speech and Forensics team at Portland. Soon, I moved on to theatre.”

Jenkins’ love, understanding and appreciation for theatre continues to increase as he pursued his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance at the University of Evansville. Now, Jenkins is looking forward to returning to middle Tennessee for his upcoming lead role as Muhammad Ali in “And In This Corner: Cassius Clay.”

The play, which will run from Feb. 23 through March 12, will take place at the Nashville Children’s Theatre.

As a sports fan himself, Jenkins feels thankful to play the part of the champion boxer.

“I actually got offered this part because of a show I was in at the University of Evansville,” he explained. “The director of Nashville Children’s Theatre just happened to be there to see the show. I had two very small parts in this play, but out of the two small parts, he saw something within me. I ended up auditioning and got the call a couple weeks later. It was a very lucky chance for me.”

The inspiring play follows the life of the famous boxer all the way from childhood to adulthood. Amazingly, Jenkins will be playing all three parts.

“We start out with him being 12 years old when he first started boxing, and then the play progresses until he becomes an adult,” he explained. “I’ll be the child, the teen and the adult.”

The play spotlights Muhammad Ali’s backstory of courage, strength and dreams coming true. Before Ali was well known, he was Cassius Clay to his friends and family — a black teenager growing up in segregated Louisville, Ky. The play transitions to Clay exploring his dreams and facing the challenges that came with it. Clay overcomes ignorance, bigotry, poverty and injustice and became a hero not just for himself, but for others.

As one might guess, mimicking Muhammad Ali isn’t going to be an easy feat; Jenkins wants to do his character justice, and he’s willing to put in the long hours to do so.

“Right now, I’ve just been working out hardcore,” Jenkins said of his fitness routine. “I’m trying to get the boxer body and the boxer look. I don’t start the rehearsal until February. Right now, I’m doing a bunch of personal work and looking into the life of Muhammad Ali. I’ve been reading his bio.”

Aside from theatre, Jenkins has also appeared in major music videos and local commercials for Evansville, Ind. He doesn’t plan on resting on his laurels anytime soon — in fact, he’s just getting started.

“After this show, I’m planning on moving down to Atlanta for the film and television industry down there. I want to start working around there — producing and writing a few plays,” he explained.

Having worked with screenwriters and scriptwriters in the past, Jenkins’ passion for this art has developed beyond acting.

“I definitely love acting, but one thing the University taught me is to take a class within each part of theatre — lighting, costumes, building sets, theatre management and all aspects. I appreciate all aspects of theatre and entertainment. One of my goals is to produce and teach people through my art and through my work,” he said.

Though Jenkins has come a long way since he first graced the PHS stage, he’s thankful for those who launched him to where he is today.

“I want to thank Melody Ellen for teaching me theatre back in Portland. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am now. She’s had a major impact on me with my acting since high school. I also, of course, want to thank my mom.”

Tickets for “And In This Corner: Cassius Clay” can be purchased online at www.nashvillechildrenstheatre.org.

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