As a professional actor in New York, I've found that one of the ways I stay creative and inspired is by teaching. It has become one of my biggest passions, almost a secondary career path. A few years ago, I started teaching and directing young artists in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York. I had grown up doing community theater in my neighborhood, and always felt most at home when I was working alongside my friends as we put on a show, doing what I loved with others who loved it too. Now as a director/teaching artist, I get to inspire the next generation of kids from my neighborhood and allow them to experience the magic of coming together to tell a story.
As of this year, I have my very own company, which I began with my best friend, Kristen. Ironically, we met doing community theater over a decade ago. After reuniting and returning to our roots in community theater, Exit II Theater Company was born. Named after the highway exit that takes you to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (the birthplace of where we first fell in love with working with young artists), we hope to develop a theater company that provides a range of opportunities for actors, both aspiring and professional. We believe that the values instilled in us by community theater are the most important aspects of our craft: teamwork, dedication, passion, and most importantly, a sense of community.
This summer, we are producing our first "real" show: Edges, a song cycle by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Pasek and Paul have recently skyrocketed to great success, but Edges was their first show together, written when they were Musical Theater students at the University of Michigan. It was the beginning of their brilliant collaboration, and since hearing these songs for the first time as a college student myself, I've followed their careers as they've continued to develop their style. I've always admired their honest and authentic approach to Musical Theater storytelling. Their songs are rich and thought-provoking, emotional and raw. It is the perfect material for actors who are developing their craft and exploring how to create a personal connection to their work onstage. It forces you to be vulnerable, to ask big questions, to be honest!
Because I've fallen so in love with teaching and song study, Edges seems like the perfect first show for our company. It will allow us to be process-driven, to get inside of this material and connect to the songs and with each other. As an actor, I love getting opportunities like this, so I wanted to create an experience that would offer it to others.
The show asks classic coming-of-age questions about identity, relationships, love, expectations...it forces us to confront how we interpret these ideas. It provokes real conversation about how we feel about these things in our own lives. It's the perfect vehicle to connect with other artists in a meaningful way, and there's no way I'd rather spend my summer. Our production will be sparse---no elaborate set or lighting design, just people telling their stories, asking questions, and dealing with all of the messy, complicated emotions that come with growing up.
And so it begins! Shamless social media plug: follow us on Facebook and Instagram @exittwotheater to follow our journey. Or dont! Most importantly, let's keep making our own opportunities and creating that sense of community for one another.
Listen to Jason on our 54 Below show here.