Multi-talented Jason Downs deliberates ‘Why Am I Not Famous?’
Howard County Community College alum/actor/singer recently discussed his touring production of Why Am I Not Famous,” slated at HCC’s Blackbox this weekend. Jason returns to his hometown for a series of workshops, rehearsals, and the evening shows featuring fellow HCC alumni, faculty, and local performers from his teenage days as a singer and dancer.(A note from the writer: I remember watching the then 13-year-old Jason in the Columbia School of Theatrical Arts’ production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He brought down the house with his Elvis rocking and fabulous singing as Pharaoh).
Carolyn: You have to have both talent and chutzpah to call your show Why Am I Not Famous? I know you have talent…
Jason: Doing this show has been the most challenging, scariest, and thrilling adventure to date. Yes, most actors would say that whatever show they are doing is the best, but Why Am I Not Famous? is especially rewarding because it’s such a challenge. I love doing this show and I always enjoy myself in a performance. And it’s special having so many friends involved – we all grew up in Howard County. I thought where better to start a pilot program to bring this show to colleges then back home where people know me. I have backup singers, a four-piece orchestra, aunts and uncles who will be in the audience. Dean Valerie Lash, Director/Producer Sue Kramer, and other faculty support me. It’s the right time to do this show here.
Catch me up on life after high school.
Wow! After Mt. Hebron High School, I took off to California to study acting at Pepperdine University in Malibu. I tried my hand at auditioning in LA and nothing panned out. It was a blow psychologically so I ended back home for a time. That’s when I attended classes at HCC and worked in theater in Howard County. My father taught Math at the college, so I knew many of the professors.
Theater was always part of my life. When I was 12 years-old I performed in Peter Pan at HCC with my father. Around that time I performed with Kids on Stage, directed by Betty May. She was the one who turned me on to Elvis Presley, which in turn influenced my role as Pharaoh in Joseph.
Then I traveled around the country performing Shakespeare with The National Players. I was accepted to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU around the same time I was peddling a demo of my songs. The latter evolved into a record deal with Jive where one of my singles reached the top 20 in the UK and other European countries. Five years later Jive was sold to BMG and I was swept under a rug.
Which led you to where?
I bought a house in upstate New York and focused more on acting and landed a lead role opposite Melissa Leo and David Strathairn in the film, Racing Daylight. That led to a better agent and more roles. I live in the Catskills near Woodstock in the beautiful Hudson Valley that gives me access to NYC and a major airport. I’ve been supplementing my income these past few years as a personal assistant to movie stars, first Aidan Quinn, then Melissa Leo.
When did you first think of adapting your professional life in the current show?
My personal life suffered for a long time – basically since high school – until I married Sophia and had two kids (now 5 and 8). My life took on a new meaning and it’s one of the main impulses when I created in Why Am I Not Famous?
What other themes have you selected to include in your production? I remember when you performed in Joseph–incredibly talented with a voice that brought down the house. Do you still sing? What kind of music?
I’ve never stopped singing. It has always been a love of mine and always will. I got my start in musicals so that, along with early pop music my parents listened to. But I’ve studied different styles of music since my ‘Joseph’ cameo, and I still need more. The music I made with Jive Records was a mix of Country and Hip Hop, but still pop. The music I make on my own is now what I call ‘sweet, sad Rock ‘n’ Roll – a fusion of Alternative Rock, Southern Rock, Acoustic, and Folk. My latest independently released album, Love Me Alone, produced by Grammy Award winner Malcom Burn.
I read your bio and was impressed with the number of TV shows and movies credited. What’s your favorite?
It’s rare that I don’t enjoy whatever I happen to be performing in at the moment, but most special thus far would be Hairspray and Racing Daylight. Hairspray because it was my first; John Waters was wonderful. Racing Daylight because I had my first real role as an adult. The movie itself is very sweet as my wife produced it, and friends we know and respect helped make it, very special to me.
What are your expectations of the upcoming show in Columbia?
First and foremost, here’s my chance to do what I love. Second, it’s the opportunity to put MY show in front on an audience once again, which I hope will lead to more performances elsewhere. Third, I specifically hope to present this show at more colleges and universities because I think the message can speak directly to students. HCC agreed to be my pilot for such engagements. And lastly, as I’m always looking to challenge myself, as a person and as a performer, bringing such a personal show back home after all these years scares me to death. I dig that.
How do you see yourself in 10 years?
Happy. I’m still auditioning so there’s always the chance that I’ll finally get that TV show or film that allows me to sustain myself and my family solely on my craft, but I’m not holding my breath any longer. Life is happening now and I intend to live it and enjoy it. It’s good to be home. Please come laugh at me on this Friday and Saturday evenings, October 11th and 12th.
Libation & Conversation, a discussion and question-and-answer session, follows each performance.
Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors, military and groups; and $10 for students with ID. Tickets may be purchased through the Box Office by calling (443) 518-1500, or purchasing them online.
Jason Downs will also lead a workshop on finding the creative voice on Sunday, October 13, from 3 to 5 p.m. Admission to the workshop is pay-what-you-can and open to ages 16 and up. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org