When Jake Letts started out, he “couldn’t carry a tune,” he said. Now, he takes the stage in the touring cast of “Aladdin.”
When he turned 13 and his voice started changing, he was able to start singing lessons.
“Once I was able to get lessons for it, that was something that was like, ‘Okay, I really love doing this. This is my main passion,’” Letts said.
He was an involved student in the music program at Carmel High School, participating in a variety of show choirs and even being a founding member of the acapella group at Carmel High School.
“You could tell that he was very serious about [choir],” Kathrine Kouns, director of choirs at Carmel High School, said. “He really was excited to pursue this and be a part of everything.”
Jake Letts was 15 years old when he took the stage at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre in Carmel, Indiana, for the first time.
“I did their Young Artists Program – a production of Footloose – and I was hooked. At that point, I was kind of like, ‘Okay, this is most definitely what I want to do,’” Letts said.
Letts was also involved in musical theater while at Carmel High School; the Carmel High School choir program runs musical theater shows as opposed to the school’s acting classes, Kouns said.
Kouns also shared that Letts left a strong impression on the program when he played the Phantom of the Opera in the school’s production of “The Phantom of the Opera” while he was still in attendance.
“It's been six years,” Kouns said. “[Letts] has long since been gone from high school, and people still talk about that role and remember him in it because he just really handled it well.”
When it came time to decide what to do for college, Letts said someone told him studying musical theatre was an option, and he found his footing.
“I had a teacher in high school who … said to pick a university when you’re there,” Letts said. “There’ll be this general sense of … “Yeah, this [is] where I want to go,” or “These are people who want me.”
In his audition for Ball State, Letts said he remembered he got the sense of the theatre department wanting him there more than other universities.
He joined the Ball State Department of Theatre and Dance in 2021.
During his time at Ball State, Letts was involved in a variety of productions, including “Detroit 67,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet,” and “The Gift.” He also performed in theNew York and Chicago showcases his senior year.
Michael Daehn is a professor at the Ball State Department of Theatre and Dance and was the director of Winnie the Pooh, where Letts played Pooh. He shared that not being positive and kind is a “deal breaker” for the theater industry, and Letts was an actor who had that figured out.
“Jake just had this very positive, engaging energy that, after talking to Jake for just a few minutes, you usually feel just a little bit better about whatever it is happening in the world around you.” Daehn said.
Daehn also shared that Letts was a leader among his castmates and classmates, something that happens by always bringing positive energy to rehearsals, he said.
“Jake’s on my top 20 list in terms of those people that I’ve worked with,” Daehn said, “that have gone into a company and used all of those things about their personality that I appreciated so much in order to bring everybody up to a different level with them.”
These days, post-graduation from Ball State, Letts is playing Babkak in the national tour of Disney’s “Aladdin.”
When Letts auditioned for the show originally, he didn’t think he would get a named role, he said.
“I thought that maybe I was being considered for the understudy or the standby,” Letts said, “and it was like, ‘They want you to play the part eight times a week.’”
Letts said one day, he spoke to his Uber driver about the show, and the driver said he would probably take his daughter to see “Aladdin.”
“I’ve never met this guy before, but it’s … such a known and loved show, and it’s really cool to get to be a part of something like that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a serious impact on Letts’ academic career at Ball State, and it took a toll on his mental health, he said. He had been living at his parent's house, sending audition tape after audition tape and waiting for it to pay off.
“This job has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Letts said. “I’m reminded every day how much I love theater. It’s amazing to have a job that I want to go to so badly every day. It’s a dream come true.”
Contact Olivia Ground with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.