James DeVita began his professional career as a first mate on a charter fishing boat. But his true passion was always the stage, where he finds himself now as an accomplished actor, director and playwright.
A Long Island, New York native, DeVita held a string of odd jobs in his younger years – including fisherman, caterer, factory worker and cook – but he always had an interest in classical theater. If he wanted to be an actor, his instructors at Suffolk County Community College told him, he would need speech and voice training to cover his Long Island accent. So he went searching for programs that specialized in that and discovered the Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts.
He describes the intense program as “boot camp” for actors: “The instructors always asked us to work harder, push harder. Intense is the best word to describe it. It took entire days, from 7 a.m. till after midnight – classes all day and rehearsals all night.”
But DeVita found the speech training he was looking for. “Susan Sweeney, the voice and speech instructor, changed my life,” he says. “That’s not hyperbole. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She didn’t just teach me how to speak, but about everything involved with acting – intention, phrasing, stress and technique. It’s not all about ‘talking properly.’ It takes a lot of muscle to wrap your mind around these long sentences; it’s a different skill.”
Following graduation, DeVita worked for companies like the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and First Stage Children’s Theater, where his long-lost passion for writing finally made its way to the stage. “The first thing I ever wanted to be was a writer,” he says, “but I never acted on it.” While at First Stage, DeVita showed them an unfinished draft of an adaptation he had been working on. He now works as the theater’s resident playwright and has written and adapted more than 19 plays for children and adults. DeVita has also published two novels and is working on a third.
In addition to writing, for the past 18 years DeVita has performed with the American Players Theatre in Spring Green. He’s also directed and served as the literary manager for the company; his wife Brenda went from working as a company manager to her current position as associate artistic director.
DeVita enjoys the life he’s made for himself in Wisconsin, especially the relationship he has developed with the theater community over the years: “I meet people all the time who say things like, ‘I saw you perform as a student at UWM!’ Or a 25-year-old will come up to me and say, ‘You taught me at First Stage when I was nine!’ The community has a sense of ownership – they’ve seen us succeed and fail, they watched us grow up. That’s an exciting part of the theater.”
James DeVita is currently performing in his own one-man play, In Acting Shakespeare, which he wrote based on Sir Ian McKellen’s one-man show, Acting Shakespeare. For more information, click here.