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ODU Grad Cast for Role in Disney's High School Musical: Get in the Picture

Old Dominion University graduate Montré Burton is something of a renaissance man. A singer/dancer/actor who has appeared in such pop-culture phenomenons as HBO's "Entourage" and FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," he most recently parlayed his myriad of talents into a prominent role on the Disney reality-TV show "High School Musical: Get in the Picture."

However, in spite of his entertainment credentials, his most valued talent is without a doubt his ability to overcome adversity.

In 1998, the then sophomore theatre arts major was returning from a semester studying abroad at the British Drama Academy in London. He had been experiencing an inordinate number of headaches, and decided that he needed to consult a doctor. The prognosis was worse than he could ever have expected; the doctors told him he had two brain tumors, and that immediate surgery was his only option.

"They didn't tell me how bad it was until the surgery was actually over," he said, recalling how he had received the diagnosis on a Thursday and had the surgery performed the following Monday. "I was young, and I didn't have a lot of time to really think about it, which looking back on it now was kind of a blessing."

Thanks in part to his youth and a supportive family, Burton made a full recovery, instilled with a renewed sense of purpose and drive.

"People were coming to see me every day, telling me that I had to get out there," he said. "They were telling me, 'You've got a gift you need to share with the world.' "

He credits his instructors and classmates in the theatre department with creating a welcoming, encouraging atmosphere for him when he returned to school the following spring. He said that without the support of his extended ODU family, his recovery would likely have been much more difficult.

Burton's return to the states was marked by more than just a health scare. While overseas, he had begun to re-evaluate the direction his life was taking. Although he had enjoyed the performance aspects of his studies at the drama academy, he had begun to question whether a career in classical theatre was really for him. He witnessed how professional stage actors often struggled to pay their bills, despite playing to sold-out halls night after night.

"People told me, 'This is the life of a professional stage actor,' " he recalled. "I told them, well, this is not the life of Montré Burton."

He graduated from ODU in 2002 with his mind made up. Against the advice of some of his friends and relatives, he left his lifelong home of Norfolk for Los Angeles in hopes of making it in Hollywood. He knew that breaking into the entertainment business wouldn't be easy, but his close scrape with death had convinced him that he couldn't just sit back and wait for things to come to him.

Success didn't come immediately, but his perseverance and self-confidence eventually paid off. Initially working as a dance/acting instructor to support himself, he landed roles in "Entourage" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" in 2005. His biggest break, however, was yet to come.

"At first, I didn't even know what I was auditioning for," he said, explaining that the casting advertisement had asked only for individuals with theatre and teaching experience, without specifying what the role was. "It was only after the job that I knew it was 'High School Musical.'"

A phenomenon among young teen audiences, "High School Musical: Get in the Picture" is a follow-up to the smash hit Disney television movies "High School Musical" and "High School Musical 2" (which drew more than 250 million and 195 million viewers, respectively). In addition to providing Burton with a national showcase, it was an opportunity to work on a project that he believed in and that allowed him to be himself.

Burton initially worked as a talent scout for the show, traveling to five eastern states to discover and recruit singers. In "Get in the Picture," he is one of the "faculty members" who act as coaches for the show's contestants. The singers compete each week to stay on the show. The grand prize for the eventual winner is the opportunity to make a music video, which will be aired at the end of the forthcoming "High School Musical 3."

The taped show, hosted by Nick Lachey, premiered July 20 and is scheduled to run through mid-September.

Burton said that the best part was working with the kids and knowing that he could make an impact on them.

"It isn't like most shows, where you get kicked out and go home with nothing," he said. "We're able to help them build their talents, so that at least they go home knowing what they're already good at and what they can improve on. I wish someone had been there when I was that age to give me that kind of instruction."

Most important to Burton is that the contestants go home with the right kind of attitude. Shaped by his own unforeseen close call, he said that he tries to instill in every one of them the belief that life can only be lived one way: to the fullest, every day.

"I always tell them, 'Live your life extraordinarily, every day,' " he said. "That's how I live my life. I don't know any other way to do it."

This article was posted on: August 19, 2008

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