Carnegie Mellon University

John Clay III, Performing Artist

Bring Stories Alive

“I love the work, the stories and the characters,” says actor John Clay III (CFA 2017). “Performing artists are storytellers who make people's lives seen on screen and on stage as a representation of them, and that's what keeps me in it. I've always wanted to see someone who looks like me do the things that I like. Through my work, I can influence other people and keep representation going.”

John’s most recognizable role to date is his Broadway debut as AJ in “Choir Boy.” The 2019 Broadway show follows five young Black men coming of age in prep school as they explore their own identities in the face of racism, sexism and homophobia.

“Choir Boy is close to my heart because I was a part of the original Broadway cast and [writer] Tarell Alvin McCraney created those characters based on the cast. We were his vessel for his work,” John says.

McCraney wrote John’s values, interests and athleticism into the character of AJ, a “hunky, sweet-hearted jock” who bucks that stereotype with his voice, a source of strength and support for his fellow characters as they search for self-acceptance.

The writer then empowered John’s performance.

“I knew this character, McCraney gave me the reins. And I felt free to do things I normally wouldn’t with someone else's work.”

Currently, John has a recurring role in Starz’ crime drama series “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” where he relishes the opportunity to work alongside fellow Tartan Patina Miller (CFA 2006). The second season of the well-regarded series was shot in early 2022 and has been renewed for a third season.

“When I love something, I can be a little obsessive about my work,” John says. “Carnegie Mellon is a conservatory that allows you to obsess over your craft and perfect it. CMU made it possible for me to lose myself in my work, and it's honestly a lot of fun to do.”

Story by Elizabeth Speed