Thousands of would-be actors toil at day jobs, struggling upward toward the rarified air of Broadway.
Jacob Pinion is the other guy.
The Union County native has worked in “Mamma Mia!” at the Broadhurst Theatre since 2011 yet pursues a dream: Creating, writing and directing series for Internet-based Stage 17, which so far pays most of its dividends in satisfaction.
“I leave my house about 9:30, show up (at his Stage 17 gig) about 10, leave at 6:30, hit the gym and go to the theater to pay the bills,” he says. “I get home at 11 p.m., so I’m generally exhausted, but that’s the price I pay to work at Stage 17.”
The 30-year-old Pinion has been a dynamo there. He’s mainly responsible for “Middle Stage,” a Web series starring former “Mamma Mia!” co-star Stacia Fernandez. In the musical, she played Tanya, who’s drawn to the younger Pepper (Pinion at the time); in the Web series Pinion and she created, she plays an actress wrestling with middle age, unemployment and justifiably rocky self-esteem.
Pinion also works on “Fabby Knows Best” (humorous advice from a professional bon vivant), the behind-the-scenes “All Access Broadway” and the style-conscious “Dress Up!”
“The company is both a start-up and a website that curates content we think our customers want to watch,” says Pinion, its producer of original content. “If we like your show, we’ll try to strike a deal to license it. We’re going after venture capital now: That part isn’t for me, but I do handle some of the budgeting. I’m copywriting, marketing and working with designers, so it’s like going to film school and advertising school at the same time.”
“We looked at our demographic – people who love theater and moms – and asked, ‘What kinds of shows would they like?’ You have to remember that the viewer’s finger is on a button that can click away from you at any moment.”
Pinion has built showbiz savvy since he was 3, wearing a white unitard and flailing multiple arms as a baby spider in Union County Players’ “Charlotte’s Web.” That was a big year: He was also Little Mr. Matthews, riding in the Stumptown Parade and scoring an interview with TV’s Larry Sprinkle. (Parents George and Jody Pinion live in Weddington.)
After that, he “did theater anywhere it could be done”: as a youngster at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and then in its High School Ensemble, at Matthews Playhouse, at Northwest School of the Arts, at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte in the 2001 musical “Violet,” directed by Eric Woodall. (Remember that name.)
His Stage 17 bio notes Pinion “has been producing original content since before it was cool, writing middle school puppet musicals on the founding of Rhode Island, the discovery of the polio vaccine and ‘The Miracle Worker.’ ” Say what?
“There wasn’t much of a theater program at Sun Valley Middle School, and I was starved for theater. For assignments, I wrote elaborate musicals for sock puppets. Eventually, the guys at Grey Seal Puppets took pity and taught me how to make Muppet-style foam puppets.
“Even at my bar mitzvah, I pulled out a puppet – and who knows what I said! If there was a chance to turn something into a show, I would. I don’t know that it was entirely about attention; I needed to tell stories and find the best way to do that.”
After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of Drama, he worked at Kevin Spacey’s Bridge Project Shakespeare and pounded the New York pavement. Woodall, now a New York casting director, steered him to “Mamma Mia!”
“I had auditioned for two years and could not get cast in something to save my life. I was on unemployment, so once I got into ‘Mamma Mia!,’ the idea of being without work again daunted me,” says Pinion, who’s now in the ensemble and understudies Sky. “It’s different from a lot of shows, because people are loyal and kind and give leaves of absence. But people call it the Golden Handcuff.
“It’s a funny thing: Your goal is to become a working actor, but if you’re in a musical for too long, that doesn’t look good on the resumé. The other option is to go from show to show and have no stability.”
Hence his desire to spring into Stage 17 and, from there, to something in film or television.
“The Web is where the pipeline for new talent is,” he believes. “Disney and Nickelodeon just bought companies that predominantly make stuff for YouTube. If you have a Web series that gets noticed, maybe HBO or a network calls to ask for a pitch. If that happens, I hope my experience will give me extra insight.”