James Joutras came to UMass Lowell with an explorer’s mindset. The terrain he planned to explore was himself.
The Honors College student started by taking classes in history, psychology and life science.
“I found out they were not for me, but that’s OK, because I was still learning about myself,” he says.
As a fan of anime and cosplay, Joutras was fascinated with Japanese culture, so he took an introductory Asian studies course – and loved it. An immersive scholarship allowed him to study abroad in Beppu, Japan, during the summer after his freshman year. He completed a year’s worth of Japanese language study in two months.
“That course challenged me in a way I’d never been challenged before. I didn’t know if I was going to pass it, but then it clicked,” he says.
He decided to minor in Asian studies, taking classes in Chinese here and later continuing his study of Japanese through classes at Middlesex Community College, which has a language exchange program with UML. But Joutras still needed to figure out a major.
He also took The Language of Video, taught by Prof. Wael Kamal, head of the Digital Media Program, and loved it. He was so enthusiastic that he wanted to direct the class’s final video project. That was another step in his journey of self-discovery.
“I found out I’m not a good director,” he laughs. “But I discovered I was good at editing – taking a bunch of different elements that don’t necessarily make sense and putting them together in a way that creates a coherent story.”
Joutras also took acting classes with Asst. Prof. Dale Young. He had done lots of singing, beatboxing and acting in the schools in Weston, which he attended through the Metco program, which brings children from Boston to public schools in the suburbs. Being a Metco student was often lonely, and theater offered him a haven – a place where he felt welcome and everyone worked together toward a single goal.
His classes with Young only improved on that. Joutras, who stands 6 feet 6 inches and has a full, booming singing voice that won him a spot touring Europe with American Music Abroad, had always felt too tall, too loud and too different.
“I had always been told to be a little quieter, to blend with the choir,” Joutras says. “Dale Young told me to be proud of my voice. In his class, I got to be loud. He also taught me to refine it and to develop my full resonance.”
Joutras didn’t dream of acting on Broadway, although he wanted to incorporate what he was learning into his video work. Uncertain about majoring in Theatre Arts, he talked with his Honors College advisor, Megan Hadley, who told him he could combine concentrations in digital media and theater through the Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree.
He did, and continued to make videos, picking up freelance work with the university and Anime Boston for real-world experience. His honors capstone was the first installment in a series of six videos that he’s calling The Hexalog.
Now his journey of exploration is taking him back to Japan, where he’s applying for jobs in video production and editing, theater production and voice-over work. Meantime, he’s planning to go back to studying Japanese full time.
“I love it there. I felt an immense sense of peace,” he says. “The Japanese respect nature, and there’s a great balance of human infrastructure and nature there.”