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Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater Company

Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater Company

Welcome to BroadwayWorld's new Education Spotlight! Here we will shine a light on Broadway performers who are paying it forward, working with students to inspire, teach and encourage their talent as they work towards becoming the future of the Great White Way.Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater Company

I got to chat with one of my favorite humans, Jason Gotay (BRING IT ON, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK), just before the opening weekend of his new theater company's first production EDGES. We talked all things teaching, theater and how his students inspire his work both on and off the stage. Jason's passion for performing and love of teaching is infectious!

How old were you when you first started doing theater? What was your first show/role?

I got my start in community theater in my hometown of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn when I was about ten years old. It was every glorious community theater cliché you could imagine: putting on shows in a church basement, rehearsing for long hours, making our own costumes and scenery...but I loved every second of it. My first show was The Who's TOMMY, which was pretty edgy for our community theater group. Don't worry, we cut "The Acid Queen" and stayed away from any physical violence or general creepiness in "Fiddle About" or "Cousin Kevin." If you don't know the show, Google it! It's brilliant!

Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater CompanyHow and when did you get started teaching?

After my first Broadway show closed (BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL), I went to my local community theater group (a different theater then the one I started at), and proposed a Musical Theater Workshop. It would meet every Sunday afternoon for six weeks and culminate in a showcase of the students' work for family and friends. It turned out to be a huge success and I went on to do multiple workshops/intensives. I then started to direct shows at various theater companies in the area, and quickly fell in love with being a teaching artist/director.

Who was your favorite teacher and how has he/she inspired you as a teacher?

Every theater teacher I had growing up impacted me in some way, but there were two in particular who I credit with inspiring me the most: Peter DeCaro, my drama teacher in middle school, and James DeForte, one of my teachers at the Professional Performing Arts School. Both of these gentlemen instilled in me a passion, focus, dedication and commitment to my craft and pushed me to reach my fullest potential. What I loved about them was that, although they never accepted anything less than our best, they made us laugh and allowed us to have fun and fall in love with what we were doing. It made coming to class or rehearsal my favorite part of the day. Now that I'm teaching and working with young actors, I pride myself on working hard and challenging each of my students while maintaining a sense of humor and never taking things too seriously. It's important to work hard and have fun at the same time, for kids AND adults!

How does the reward you get from teaching compare to performing?Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater Company

If I'm being honest, there is absolutely nothing like the sheer joy I feel when I see a student's growth. It sounds cliché, but any time I've taught a group of students, be it for a week, a month, or three months, the discoveries they make or the growth they experience makes every moment worth it. Tease me all you want, but after working with sixty kids from my neighborhood all summer and watching their opening night of SEUSSICAL: THE MUSICAL, I cry like a baby and I don't care who knows it! Helping them gain confidence and feel good about the work they're doing, encouraging them to let who they are shine through, and creating an environment where they can learn and connect to one another is a very different reward than the feeling I get onstage.

How does your teaching inform your performing?

The more I teach, the more I'm forced to articulate certain ideas to my students: how to create a meaningful journey within a song, how to connect to one another onstage, how to make specific choices, etc. Then, when I start a rehearsal process, I get to practice what I preach! Let me tell you...it's very enlightening to teach "acting the song," and then rehearse for a concert or production where I get to be the actor. I'm challenged to take my own advice and set an example! Working hard and asking the right questions is an important part of any process, and I love being able to do it from both perspectives. I think my teaching has made me a better actor, and vice versa.

What have been your biggest challenges as a teacher so far?

Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater CompanyI think one of the biggest and most rewarding challenges is having to articulate what the most important elements of theater training are for me, and leading with those elements in my classes. Different Musical Theater teachers prioritize certain ideas or concepts over others, and as a student, you get to take the best of what each teacher has to offer and find what works for you. I've had to think about what the building blocks are and how to articulate them to a student, all the while being fully aware that another teacher or coach will have a completely different set of building blocks. When I'm teaching a Musical Theater course, I focus on the text, what the lyrics are saying, making specific choices within the lyric, creating a meaningful journey from the beginning to the end of your piece...these are some of the most important elements for me as a theater artist. Finding what those are and discovering how to best communicate them to my students has been a great challenge!

At what point did you and your partner Kristen decide to make the leap to start Exit II Theater Company?

Exit II came from four years of teaching and directing for other people and deciding that I was ready to start doing it on my own. My co-founder, Kristen Calabrese, has been one of my best friends for many years, and she has been my stage manager/associate on all of the shows I've directed. She's the person I collaborate with the most, who is always on the same page, who approaches things from a similar perspective but has the ability to challenge me as well. At a certain point, it became clear that joining forces to start our own company made the most sense, and we haven't looked back since.

What are you hoping your students get out of Exit II?

Our mission statement reads: "Exit II seeks to inspire, challenge, and unite our community through the Performing Arts. We provide high quality education and performance opportunities to emerging artists in and around New York in order to celebrate theater and its power to connect and engage us." We hope that our students and any actors that work with us will find a sense of community, engage in quality training that is both challenging and supportive, and continue to fall deeper in love with theater and the impact it can have on our society.

You opened the theater company with EDGES by Pasek and Paul- do you have a list of shows you want to do next?Education Spotlight: Jason Gotay Directs EDGES at Exit II Theater Company

EDGES is the perfect show for us because it allows us to combine elements of song study and rehearsal in a piece that lets the actors shine individually and work together as an ensemble. We'd love to find more shows that accomplish this, but we don't have any specific ideas just yet. We'd also love to collaborate with up-and-coming Musical Theater writers who need a place to workshop and develop their material. Who knows? The possibilities are endless!

How was the opening of the first show at YOUR theater company compared to opening a show as an actor in the show?

We'll let you know! We open Edges on Friday, August 25th and that will be the first official opening we're celebrating together. But I have experienced an opening night of a show I've directed versus a show I've performed in, and there's a completely different sense of pride that I feel. There's also a completely different level of exhaustion, although don't get me wrong...directing and acting are both extremely challenging. No matter what role I'm playing in the process, rehearsing a show and presenting the final product is always extremely satisfying. I can't wait to see how people respond to what we've been working on this summer. Come see our show and tell us what you think!

EDGES runs Friday, August 25th at 7pm and Saturday August 26th at 3pm and 7pm at the Actors Fund Arts Center in Brooklyn. For more information visit Exit II's website here.

EDGES pictures by Chris Milligan Photography

Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos

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