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Pigskin and Penzance

Tight end-turned-singing actor Joseph Akin tackles Gilbert and Sullivan for Tulane's Summer Lyric Theatre.



Joseph Akin heads out every morning at 6:30 a.m. on a career path that's far from set in stone. The 24-year-old Tulane grad student balances plans of becoming either a physical therapist or doctor with current stints as a professional actor and singer. This ambition takes Akin to the Metairie lakefront each morning to Crane Rehab Center, where he works as a physical therapy technician until 1 p.m. After that, he heads Uptown to Tulane, where preparations for his lead role in the Summer Lyric presentation of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance keep him occupied with two rehearsal sessions that run from 4 p.m. to often beyond the scheduled end at 10:30 p.m.

But then, Akin is used to grueling routines. The daily trips to Crane bring him to its offices inside the Doubletree Hotel, where Akin often stayed with his Tulane football teammates when they would hole up there on Friday nights before home games. So Akin, who played tight end for the Green Wave during the 1998 and '99 seasons, is no stranger to the phrase "two-a-days."

"Football two-a-days just drain you of everything," Akin recalls on a recent afternoon, sitting outside Dixon Hall awaiting choral practice. Standing at 6 foot 3 inches and 215 pounds (down from his playing weight of 250), his unshaven good looks top a solid frame but are under an unkempt mop of thick black hair. The Pensacola native sports worn gray athletic shoes, a Boone's Farm T-shirt and baggy cargo shorts that collectively underscore his casual demeanor.

"In football, everything was so physical," he recalls, "it would just zap of all your energy. Singing drains me because it's so focused, so concentrated."

Akin's background was decidedly non-musical before college; he arrived at Tulane never having sung, acted or played an instrument. He came to play football as a walk-on, hoping to impress then-coach Tommy Bowden. Akin was awarded a football scholarship, and scored two touchdowns in a career highlighted by 1998's 12-0 season, an experience Akin sums up as "one long marvelous blur."

Akin left football during his junior year, citing "disillusionment," at about the same time he was taking Fundamentals of Acting -- an introductory course that, he says, "I just really, really got into."

His instructor, professor Rita Lovett, told Akin, "I think you would be a good pupil for Michael Howard," he recalls, at the time knowing nothing of the respected music department chairman known for one-on-one tutelage of singers of superior talent. "I went into his office, sang a few scales for him, and he said, 'I'd like you as a student.'"

Howard still serves as Akin's teacher, having taught him every note he'll sing as leading Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, a feat made more complex by the fact that Akin can't read sheet music.

"When Joseph was Freddy two years ago in My Fair Lady, every night when he sang he brought the house down," recalls Howard, Summer Lyric's artistic director the past 15 years. "But this Frederic is a lot more challenging. It's his first role of this caliber. It's very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally. Joe's young, tall and handsome, with some real stark qualities about him that suit him to this rugged, romantic lead. I chose him because he can do justice to the role. It's an important one; we've put a lot of faith and trust in him.

"I love the talent that I hear; my expectations are very high," Howard says regarding Akin. "He's kind of a peculiar circumstance; he came here as a football player. I never thought he'd have this much potential. He simply has God-given talent. Somebody with that talent should consider a professional career. But that's just what I want; it's up to him what he does. Opera and football and very different things, but with both Joe has that determination, the focus and desire, and you have to have all that to succeed."

Akin's own predictions vaguely echo his mentor's. He's not drawn to the big lights of New York or Los Angeles in pursuit of an acting career, saying, "I see through the illusion of fame; that's not a goal for me. I want to have a family.

"Singing is a natural talent for me," Akin says, who also plans to take the medical school entrance exam as soon as he adds some science courses to his communications degree. "I love acting. I love an audience and performance itself. Football and acting ... they're very similar, but very different. I've screwed up plenty in both. But that's just part of the process of doing your best. It's not what you do, but how you do it. I'm a firm believer in that."

"In football, everything was so physical, It would - just zap of all your energy," recalls Joseph Akin - (right), here with Pirates of Penzance director - Michael Howard and co-star Andee Reed. "Singing - drains me because it's so focused, so - concentrated."
  • "In football, everything was so physical, It would just zap of all your energy," recalls Joseph Akin (right), here with Pirates of Penzance director Michael Howard and co-star Andee Reed. "Singing drains me because it's so focused, so concentrated."

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