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Jacob Ryan Smith – Albert Stanley Medal

Nov 13, 2020 | Awards & Accolades, News, Students

Jacob Ryan Smith - Albert Stanley Medal RecipientJacob Ryan Smith completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre and was one of the first-ever graduates to earn the new Musical Composition minor. He has been writing for over a decade, having written four full-length musicals; two short, 15-minute musicals; a short musical film; a song cycle; and hundreds of pop and standalone pieces of all genres. He is currently attempting to write a song a day, every day, for all of 2020 on Instagram (@the_song_smith).

Academic and career accomplishments

  • Wrote Painless: The Opioid Musical in partnership with Michigan OPEN and Precision Health at the University of Michigan
  • Performed selections from Painless: The Opioid Musical at University of Michigan and Harvard University’s “Opioids Policy to Practice Summit” in 2019
  • Performed “Stories of Me and You: The Music of Jacob Ryan Smith” with SMTD alumni and Broadway luminaries at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City in July 2019
  • Performed in roles at SMTD, including Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance and Gary Gauger in The Exonerated. Jacob’s other SMTD acting credits include playing Andrew Jackson in MUSKET’s Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and performing in the dance ensemble for Sweet Charity
  • Played the role of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast for Ann Arbor in Concert in 2019


“The School of Music, Theater & Dance is a place for process and creation. Not just in music and art, at which we all know it truly excels, but in allowing a space where people can craft who they want to be. I came to Michigan a very different person than I came out of it, which is what you hope to say after graduation (and what your parents definitely hope to say after paying out-of-state tuition for four years). When I first arrived at Bursley Hall in the fall of 2016, I knew who I wanted to be in this new place, but not necessarily how to get there.

There’s a misconception that you can redefine who you are once you move to college. I don’t fully believe in it, or at least I don’t believe it’s as easy as people say. When you first get to your new home you’re still the person you were before, chock full of all of the fears, anxieties, and insecurities that guided you back in your old life. The only difference is now you’re on your own and now you’re with people who actually know what they’re doing. Terrifying. And that fear is what starts the process.

See, I still knew who I wanted to be — that never went away. I knew I wanted to create. To make absolutely anything and everything I could. But I felt crippled when I heard my peers sing beautifully or saw them execute a perfect piece of choreography. Why couldn’t I do the same? Instead of celebrating their successes, I took these moments as personal attacks because they were closer to the person I wanted to be than I was.

That year I got to see a piece entitled “The Process Project,” a culmination of work written and directed by alum Gavin Creel that had an emphasis on the process that goes into creation rather than the eventual product. During the hour-long demonstration, I didn’t just witness fantastic performances of this new work, but I also saw people tangibly change. The room had a spark to it unlike anything I had felt before because we were all learning in tandem that we were all still in the process. Even students three years my senior realized that we had all been creating since the first moment we arrived here, but it’s so hard to actually identify creation until we deem it to be a finished product. And none of us were close to finished products yet.

It was thrilling and it was scary. Because learning — really learning — is always so, so scary. But that’s what we were doing together in that room: learning through pain and discomfort and trial and error and discovery. That’s what we were doing together in this school. We were all a part of each other’s processes.

Creation is not something to be jumped into and it is not something to take for granted. The beauty of creation is that the pieces had to come together in just the right way to make a brand-new thing, and that is a science that is not easily learned. It takes time and believing in the people around you. It takes trust and it takes encouraging others’ successes. It takes seeing someone’s accomplishment and allowing it to be a part of your growth as well. It takes failure. And it takes time.

I am not a finished product. But the one thing I know is that in my time at Michigan, I learned. And I created. The process was difficult, thrilling, hysterical, sorrowful, lonely, heartfelt, and filled with so much good music. It was a process. And in the end, I created the person I wanted to be, as did all of my beautiful and incredibly talented friends. And we’re still doing that as we leave to join the real world.

We will not stop creating, because the process never ends.”

Jacob Ryan Smith’s achievements at SMTD have been nothing short of extraordinary. From playing a lead role in a main stage musical to engaging in an interdisciplinary composition collaboration with Michigan Medicine, he has achieved excellence in whatever he has set his mind to. Jacob will be a powerful force for artistic and social change.— Prof. Jason DeBord

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