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The Jammer's Christopher Jackson: Skating Off-Broadway by Night, Winning Emmys by Day

The actor-singer-dancer is more than just a multi-hyphenate on stage.

Christopher Jackson and one of his Jammer co-stars.
Before we even get to Christopher Jackson's night job, co-starring as Charlie Heartbreak in the Atlantic Theater Company 's The Jammer, we needed to get a handle on his multiple jobs By day, he is a writer and composer for Sesame Street. Every hour of the day, he is the father of a seven-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. "I consider that an overriding full time job and the reason why I do what I do," he said. Jackson is humble and understated, so we'll fill in the blanks for you: In addition to starring both on-and-off-Broadway in shows like In the Heights (which Jackson had been a part of since an early reading), Memphis, The Lion King and Lonely I'm Not, and guest-starring in various television shows like Nurse Jackie, White Collar, and Oz, Jackson spends his days composing Emmy award-winning music and lyrics for classic children's shows like Sesame Street and The New Electric Company, collaborating with Will.I.AM, cutting an album, and throwing it down as a member of the hip-hop improv comedy group Freestyle Love Supreme (FLS).

This interview took place right after Jackson got home from picking up his daughter at school and before he headed downtown to strap on a helmet and body check a cardboard cutout castmate.

You have a bunch of fascinating jobs. Multitasking is clearly your strong suit. How did you get started with the day job of writing music for children's television?

Believe it or not, through Freestyle Love Supreme. Tommy Kail [FLS co-creator and the director of In the Heights] had been contacted by the Executive Producer of The New Electric Company before they brought it back. They [the producers] collaborated with FLS and we shot the pilot. [This was also when] In The Heights was moving forward to Broadway…so it all happened at the same time. There were many days where I would lay down a demo in my dressing room during intermission of Heights. On some of the demos you could actually hear the stage manager calling people to "places." I'm used to multitasking...I like it that way. I like when things are busy. I strive off the pace.

How did you get involved with Freestyle Love Supreme?

Tommy Kail and Lin Manuel-Miranda. FLS came out of our breaks during In The Heights readings. We'd go in the corner and freestyle on our five minute breaks. Anthony [Veneziale] (one of the founders) asked me to be a part of it…and it has been an amazing source of creativity and fun. We've traveled the world together [performing] on three different contents. And we did all of this while Lin was writing Heights. I remember days while we were in Scotland with FLS when [Lin] was locked in his room working on the second act [of Heights]. [FLS] is the lifeblood for my writing. It informs everything we all do.

From your day jobs to your current night job, how did you come to The Jammer?

I read the script and I hadn't read anything that was quite this style before. When I initially met Rolin [Jones, the playwright] and Jackson [Gay, the director] in my audition, I thought they were super cool and really engaged and it made me want to be a part of it even more.

I get great joy from being a part of a play that doesn't take itself too seriously. [My character] Charlie Heartbreak--any one that speaks in the third person is someone I want to explore. And certainly [it's been] a lot of fun to explore the stage outside of a musical stage.

In your exploration of the character, did you do any research on roller derby?

It did require that we all get a cursory knowledge of the rules of roller derby. My idea of what the derby was was a mix of WWE on wheels, the drama, and certain violent aspects to it. I was able to go on YouTube and see a lot of the vintage matches and getting a sense of personality. Having a background in dance was helpful to get what we had to do movement-wise, which is one of the fun parts of the show. I approach most every job that I do with some sort of team ideal involved. I've been playing team sports since I could walk…so anything sports-related story is always fun for me.

Afrer your run with The Jammer, what's up next for you?

Feb 21st, Freestyle Love Supreme is going to be at the Gramercy Theater...We have a couple of special guests. I also have a couple of projects that I'm writing …and I'm working on a couple of children's musicals--it's very early in the writing process. I'm starting up with some recording, hoping to have a new album in the fall. And maybe another play, but I'm trying not to do too much because it's pilot season--one day you could be making bagels and the next day be on a set making a show.