Today I'm thrilled to share an interview with Broadway actor, Jason Gotay, as a part of the Conversation with a Creative series.
Jason has one of those resumes a lot of young actors would kill for--on Broadway: Bring It On: the Musical, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, on television: Peter Pan Live! on NBC, original productions of A Bronx Tale and Freaky Friday, among many, many others.
I met Jason years ago before all those credits and it's been such a treat to watch his career flourish. Today Jason's giving us a behind the scenes look at what it's like to originate a Disney Theatricals role, his approach to handling career disappointments and the best piece of career advice he's been given yet. Let's dive in!
HS: What does creativity mean to you?
JG: Creativity is the expression of a thought, a message, or an idea that is presented in a way that is unexpected, out-of-the-box, unique, authentic. For me, there's no definitive explanation of what it means to be creative, other than the idea that thinking "creatively" is a way of exploring something differently than you may have explored it before. The root of the word "Creativity," of course, is "create" which implies making something new, unique, fresh, different, and authentically YOURS. Your creativity is your way of expressing your unique view or perspective. It's what makes us individuals!
HS: I think most people know you as a Broadway actor. Can you pull back the curtain on what your life looks like on a regular basis? Whether you’re in a show on Broadway or not? What does the day to day grind look like?
JG: Like anything else, life outside of performing is a range of things that has certainly changed over time. When I first graduated school and started performing professionally, the grind consisted of auditioning, concerts, workshops, readings, rehearsals. But to be honest, it also consisted of quality time spent with friends, loved ones. I've learned over the years that building your career is just as important as cultivating a personal life that is just as rich as you'd like your professional career to be. Tending to the important relationships in your life should remain a priority, and it's part of being a well-rounded human.
Nowadays, I'm spending my free time building a different career. For the past five years, I've also become a Teaching Artist and Director, working with young artists and performers in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York. I've returned to my roots in Community Theater and have been working closely with the community to provide opportunities for young actors and students to train and perform.
HS: You’re primarily a performer, but you’re involved with teaching and directing children as well. Can you tell me about your interest there and why that is important to you?
JG: Growing up in Brooklyn, working with kids was always a constant in my life, regardless of whether I noticed it or not. For years, I worked at a summer camp for the Performing Arts, and I was always performing with people of all ages in the Community Theater world. My theater family was always a home base for me, and I love kids. After my first Broadway show closed (Bring It On: the Musical), I went to the local community theater at home and proposed a Musical Theater Workshop for kids and teens. It was a huge success, and since then I've gone on to do six workshops and have directed three productions through various companies in my home town. I fell completely in love with teaching and the idea of giving back to kids like me who were passionate about theater and creating with their friends. Their enthusiasm, their passion, their willingness to learn, and the opportunity to mentor and instill in them positive values has become one of the greatest joys of my life. And I've just started! I'm excited to pursue it further and continue working with these kids and families who have had a huge impact on my life.
HS: Your current project is Freaky Friday. What is it like working on an original piece that is being produced by Disney? Has there been a lot of changes throughout the process since it is a new piece? What has it been like working with the creative team and cast?
JG: Freaky Friday has been a great experience, due largely in part to the amazing people who have brought it to life. I've gotten reunite with some people I've worked with before, and I've also met and collaborated with people I've never met but have been dying to work with. Tom Kitt, the composer of Freaky Friday has been a huge inspiration for me, and along with Brian Yorkey, has created a really exciting score. Bridget Carpenter, our bookwriter, has adapted this story and made it contemporary and relevant for new audiences. Our director Chris Ashley is incredibly accomplished and has been a great team player, allowing us to create these roles and find ways to make them personal to us, and Sergio Trujillo's choreography totally elevates the story and makes it exciting for audiences to watch. Along with our supportive and encouraging producers at Disney, the creative team has created an environment where we feel free to play, try new things, and have fun with one another. And our cast, led by the exquisite Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton, is incredibly talented and diverse. Our group is representative of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors...it's a joy to be a part of a cast that represents the world as we see it offstage.
HS: You’ve had your share of big breaks and a few big heartbreaks in the world of Broadway and stage performing. I noticed recently when you announced you were no longer attached to a project, you did it with the utmost class and integrity while other performers might have taken a different approach. What’s your philosophy on handling disappointments in show business with grace?
JG: This is a big one. I've been acting professionally for five years and have only just begun to understand just how much of a rollercoaster this business can be. I've experienced tremendously high highs and have also had some big disappointments, one of which occurred this past year. My philosophy on handling disappointments like this is to really focus on the positive and take stock of all that you have to be grateful for. In this specific instance, I wasn't able to move forward with a project that I cared deeply about, that I had poured a lot of myself into, that I felt was going to help move my career forward in a huge way. Although I didn't get to move forward, I was grateful to have been a part of that project at all. I had to focus on the fact that I was gifted the opportunity to work on it, to collaborate with an incredible cast and creative team, and to learn more about what I was capable of as an actor. The experience taught me so much and challenged me to push myself to places I had never been before. I had to spend a lot of time thinking about how much GOOD came out of that experience, and that made me feel grateful, humbled to have gotten the opportunity in the first place.
Also, I'm a firm believer that (as cliche as it sounds) everything happens the way it's supposed to. I trust how things fall into place and I let go of the things I can't control. Unfortunately, as actors, we're not given the power to control the way certain decisions are made. What we CAN control is how we handle ourselves and our response to these decisions. And I choose to respond with gratitude and optimism for what the future holds.
HS: What are your creative habits? How do you continue to “sharpen the saw?”
JG :The two things that keep me creative and inspired are seeing good work and getting in the room with my students.
Seeing good theater is huge for me. It allows me to be inspired by the work that my peers are doing, to push myself to meet them at that level and to strive for more. I love seeing theater that surprises me, makes me ask questions, reminds me why I love doing this for a living! I try to see as much theater as I can.
In terms of "sharpening the saw," working with my students keeps me thinking, communicating, and forces me to go back to the basics. When I'm coaching my students, I have to articulate ideas and communicate my thoughts clearly. I have to go back to the beginning and ask "why" a lot. This is really healthy! Being in the room with them reminds me to ask the important questions. And seeing their enthusiasm and watching them grow gets me excited and keeps me grounded as I have to navigate my own career. It reminds me why what we do is so special.
HS: You’re so young for having experienced so much. What does the future look like for you? What are your career goals at this point?
JG: I want to keep telling stories that I'm passionate about. If this falls under the umbrella of theater, musical theater, television, film, that's fine by me! I want to continue to do good work, to tell stories that are important and relevant. I want to play roles that challenge and excite me, regardless of if they're new/original, or in shows that have been done before.
I also want to continue to pursue my passion for teaching/directing. I definitely see it being a huge part of my future as an artist, and I'm excited to see where that takes me!
HS: Let's have an advice lightning round!
-What advice would you give to someone who may be in college who’d like to be where you are in a few years?
-What career advice would you give your younger self?
-What is the best career advice you've ever been given?
JG: Advice to young artists: Stay the course. Keep finding opportunities to do what you love. And while you should work as hard as you possibly can, do what makes you happy. Keep that at the forefront always. Your life is about more than just being onstage. Make sure that you continue to discover what keeps you happy, keeps you grounded. This is important.
JG: Advice I would give to my younger self: Don't worry about TYPE. Trust yourself. Your big break is going to be in a role that requires you to be exactly who you are. Don't try to be the leading man, or the quirky sidekick, or any other IDEA of who you should be. Harness what makes you YOU and embrace it.
JG: Best career advice I've been given: I've been given a lot of advice over the years, but something that has stuck with me recently came from none other than Heidi Blickenstaff. She talked about always leading with kindness. You can be strong and kind at the same time. Treat people well and be nice! Kindness and respect will always serve you!
Huge thanks to Jason for taking the time to chat today. Freaky Friday runs at the Signature Theatre in Washington DC until November 20. Grab your tickets here. And connect with Jason on Twitter and Instagram!
Read advice from Jason and other thriving creatives in my eBook “5 Minute Mentor for Creatives”. Grab your copy here.