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Constance Alexander: The magic of theatre sparks an enduring passion for Kentucky native Jason Woods

Jason Woods remembers the single spark that ignited his lifelong passion. Born and raised in Murray, he was eight or nine. His team had just lost the last baseball game of the season. While trudging to the car with his mother, unfamiliar sounds from an unseen source lured him to a magical scene: Youngsters were flying in the air and onlookers were joyfully enthralled.

“I dropped the glove and turned to my mother and said, ‘I want to do that,’” Woods recalled.

A local production of “Peter Pan” — complete with the gear that enabled characters to fly – inspired Jason’s love of theatre.

“It was not about winning or losing,” he explained. “Everyone watching was happy.”

(Photo provided by Jason Woods Productions)

As a result, he tested his acting wings at the local community theatre, Playhouse in the Park. His performance skills continued to develop at Calloway County High School. Speech coach Larry England recognized his talents and urged Woods on.

“My abilities were tested through speech,” Jason said. “Because of speech team, I flew to Harvard and got first place in dramatic interpretation.”

Despite his many trophies and kudos, Jason described his state after high school as “directionless.” He took some classes at Murray State University but admitted, “I just didn’t connect.”

He experimented with music in his late teens and learned he had a good ear and almost instinctively understood music theory. As a result, music indelibly connected to his creative spirit.

Despite his affinity for the arts, he followed a more traditional path. He worked in construction with his dad, got married and had kids. After about seven years, his longing for more creative outlets beckoned. When he confessed his frustration to a friend, the advice that followed was in the form of a question.

“Why don’t you do it? Take some action,” was the response.

In addition, a medical episode — that looked and felt a lot like a heart attack — helped Woods make a shift in direction.

“It was like a nudge,” he recalled. “It made me look at my everyday life and ask myself, ‘What do you want to be doing five years from now?’”

One important step was creating his own solo version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” His productions did well but bookings were limited to one month out of a whole year.

In 2019, a vacation in New York got him thinking about stories and characters from fairy tales he always enjoyed. On the flight home to Jacksonville, he began writing a script on his phone that would be transformed over time into a solo extravaganza entitled “The Near Disaster of Jasper and Casper.”

And then along came COVID.

When his paying gigs dried up, he looked for other means of expression and communication. A lover of the Harry Potter series, he used Facebook Live to create “Storytime with Jason Woods” on Zoom.

“It was never intended as a replacement for theatre,” he insisted, “but it ended up being something magic. Everyone was comforted.”

By this time, he needed an objective review of “Jasper and Casper,” so he applied and was invited to perform at the United Solo Theatre Festival, an annual international competition that has been held in New York City for more than a decade

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

But the festival was called off, thanks again to COVID.

“I couldn’t be more grateful it was canceled,” he confessed. He used the time to workshop the script, gauge audience reaction, and use the feedback to guide revisions.

When the competition was rescheduled for 2021, Woods got to go to New York and perform. “I was there for two-and-a-half hours,” he said, “and didn’t think much of it.”

About a month later, however, he learned he was chosen Best Actor in the competition.

He conferred with his wife and they talked about the value of this objective verification that he was on the right track. Rejecting the idea of trying to “shop” his solo performance around the country, he decided it was time to get to the next level.

“In New York, after the show is over, the actors go home. It’s the producer who makes things happen,” he concluded.

In October 2021, he and his wife agreed it was time to get a production of “Jasper and Casper” happening in New York. The details were challenging. He needed to raise money, secure a venue, and make sure that every aspect of preparing and promoting the production was aligned and ready for the curtain to rise. Somehow he managed to get it all done in five months.

“I was floored,” he declared.

With twenty-five Off-Broadway performances at Theatre Row under his belt, he described every one of those days as a gift. He relished engagement with audiences and rejoiced with every serendipitous occurrence.

For example, one of the repeated lines in the piece is a single word: “Bing!” Talking to people after one performance, he spoke to a woman who mentioned that “Bing” was her name.

Reviews were uplifting and provided more confirmation that he was heading on the right path.

According to Stageandcinema.com, “Mr. Woods is either a phenomenal actor or triplets.”

Times Square Chronicles claimed, “Jason Woods is a New York discovery.”

Critic Christopher Caz said, “Woods embellishes his adept storytelling with well-placed music (of his own writing) and dramatic lighting, both of which are well-placed by sound and lighting designer Dave Ferdinand. The direction by Michelle Svenson Kindy orchestrates all elements to a delectable blend.”

Now back at home in Florida, Jason mused, “It is like the universe agreed with what I am doing.”

Asked “What’s next?” he mentioned things were happening but it was too early to talk about them. There is the possibility of some awards, but he is philosophical about those eventualities.

“If it doesn’t happen, it’s ok.”

In the meantime, he is getting ready for holiday performances. He will be doing some directing and also performing in his solo version of “A Christmas Carol.”

His website is already updated to reflect the New York debut, and he may be seeking representation by an agent.

No matter what, his appreciation of the magic of theatre continues to mature and blossom through his work.

“Fantasy gives people hope,” he explained. “How do you walk away from inspiring people and sweeping them into another world?”

For more information, go to www.jasonwoodsproductions.com.

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