He knew from the tender age of five that he was going to be an entertainer and when the opportunity presented itself for Jason Cohen to play Jerry Lee Lewis in the national tour of the Million Dollar Quartet, his life was changed forever.
His co-creation of the spin-off Great Balls of Fire has landed him on the Suncoast for an 11-week run at Florida Studio Theatre, and now you get to hear the story of his path to Broadway, his love of Sarasota patrons, the importance of close-toed shoes in New York City, and just exactly what he would say to Jerry Lee Lewis if he had five minutes with him.
All that and more on this week's episode of the Suncoast Culture Club podcast.
Come along and join the club!
• Jason Cohen Website & Facebook & Instagram
• Florida Studio Theatre Website & Facebook & Instagram & YouTube
• Million Dollar Quartet Website & Facebook & Instagram
• St. Armand’s Circle Website & Facebook & Instagram
• Siesta Key Beach Website & Facebook & Instagram
• Lido Key Beach Website
• Sage Restaurant Website & Facebook & Instagram
• The Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota Website & Facebook & Instagram
• State College of Florida Music Program Website & Facebook & Instagram
Support the show (https://scf-foundation.org/suncoastcultureclub/)
Robyn Bell: Today in studio, we have the amazingly talented Jason Cohen who is currently starring in Great Balls of Fire. A Jerry Lee Lewis tribute show that Jason co-created it's being performed at Florida Studio Theater. Now through August 29th. And I invited him to talk to us today about his life career, the Great Balls of Fire show and some of his favorite things he has experienced while living temporarily on the Suncoast during the run of the show. So Jason Cohen, welcome to the club.
Jason Cohen: Thank you very much, Robyn. Thank you very much for having me,
Robyn Bell: Jason, most musicians, I get to visit with tell sort of a timeless story that they took piano lessons as a young child. Maybe they joined band in seventh grade, learned the clarinet, that kind of thing. They went to a famous and expensive conservatory to get their training, but this is not your story in any way, shape or form. So take us back, like way back as far back as you want to go and tell us how you got into theater and how this whole music and piano playing thing stumbled across your path.
Jason Cohen: Yes. So honestly, I have been interested in working in theater and being an actor since I was probably four or five years old. It really never. Was a question. It never kind of occurred to me. Oh, maybe that's just an interest and not a profession. At no point in middle school, high school college, did I ever really kind of question it when I was a kid? Honestly, what I think started it was the movie, the Hunchback of Notre Dame Disney movie musical has an amazing score by Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz. But beyond that is, I mean, I understand that it's animated, but these visuals are astounding. And I remember being so moved as well, you know, four-year-old five-year-old that I was thinking, okay, well, what if this were on stage? And what if you could feel that you were. Experiencing this, but it wasn't on your TV and you were actually seeing it in front of your face
Robyn Bell: as young as five years old. You had these thoughts.
Jason Cohen: Wow. I was a weird kid, I guess, but yeah, but so then I would just tell people, when I was four or five, six years old, I would say yeah, I'm going to direct produce and play the Jason Alexander gargoyle and the hunchback of Notre Dame on Broadway. And people would get very confused because I was obviously a child and that obviously was not correct. I did not do that as, not yet. Not yet. Not yet.
Robyn Bell: There's still time.
Jason Cohen: Exactly, exactly. So, when I was eight years old, I started going to a musical theater summer camp in Jersey which really. Of course, incredibly influential and some of those friends are still good friends of mine today, friends from when I was eight years old and being able to spend two weeks every summer in this program, learning show tunes and being able to express myself creatively and being able to be silly and be goofy and be the kind of odd ball quirky dude that I have always been,
Robyn Bell: I mean, it's about play.
Jason Cohen: Totally, absolutely. That's why they call it a play. Yes. So that was a really, really influential part of my life. And it's very important to me now to make sure that I am providing you know, one of the things that I do is that is I teach kids in theater. I've got kind of a portfolio career in the theater, but it's super important to me that I make sure that children have the same opportunities that I was so lucky to have as kid.
Robyn Bell: So I've picked up a couple of things. You're from New Jersey.
Jason Cohen: Oh baby. And why not be more proud of it,
Robyn Bell: Jersey? All the way all day baby. And the other thing is this didn't necessarily start with just drama or theater in the public schools across this was musical theater, right? From the start.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I went to a private day school through eighth grade. So there wasn't a drama or theater program.
Robyn Bell: Right.
Jason Cohen: You know, there was some music options, but they were, limited. No, certainly the only one of my class of, I don't know, 17 or 18 kids that was really interested in theater, but where I grew up in Jersey, we have these magnet schools, there's six different high schools. And, you've got computer engineering and you've got medicine and health and all these different kinds of programs. You can go to any of them,
Robyn Bell: like a major, almost high school student.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, exactly. And one of them is a performing arts school. And it's an audition based program and your elective and your gym and an additional class are part of the program. You take acting classes, voice, class, dance class. And that was also, super important for me that allowed me to then take this. Seriously then went to NYU to the Tisch School of the Arts.
Robyn Bell: I was about to ask where'd you go next good. All right.
Jason Cohen: Yes. And that was you know, got my BFA in drama. And that program was really well suited for me because they have this kind of studio system where it's a very large school. You basically study at a studio and they have the Lee Strausberg Institute. They've got the Stella Adler Academy, or what have you. They Meisner trainings, these are different approaches to understanding, acting training, and the studio that I was assigned based on my interview and audition was the Playwrights Horizons Theater School. And The goal of the program of that studio is interdisciplinary theater training. So it was not just actors. It was people who are there to direct people who were there to write, people who are there to hyphen actor, director, actor, writer, writer, director, that type of stuff. And at that point it was starting to become more popular to be this multihyphenate. I started college right after In the Heights had won the Tony Award. And obviously now we know the massive success of Lin Manuel Miranda, but that was still pretty new at that time to have somebody who's writing and starring in a show. And. When I started seeing this idea of somebody being able to create something that they then perform in and kind of say, Hey, I'm not going to be boxed in these traditional labels of theatrical roles. I mean, I was always a little bit of a rebellious child, so that really kind of spoke to me that I have multiple interests and yeah, I'm not going to just try to satisfy one because then the others will be left, lacking. So. Tish. I was really able to pursue that. I took directing classes. With amazing teachers Rachel Chavkin, who is the director of Hades Town, won a Tony Award for that. These really spectacular teachers we even took a class called COW creating original work. And it's basically the first semester you take it. The only assignment is you have to have five or seven minutes. Solo material, whatever it is, those are the only parameters. And it was a lot of really great experiences. I also was able to take more traditional acting classes. I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London to study Shakespeare there during my time.
at NYU which is also amazing. And also the ability to see theater in London which is first of all, significantly more accessible from a financial standpoint than it is in the U S, which is especially important for someone on a fixed budget, like a student, but the risks that they are able to take and the boundaries that they are able to push in. Defining the genre of what theater is, was incredibly important for me to see at, 19, 20 years old. And to see that theater is not just one thing. You know, there's an audience and then there's performers and that's kind of really all that. You need to do it. And then the content is whatever you want it to be in the approach of it
Robyn Bell: Now Jason, musically during this time, were you mostly developing your voice as a singer or had you been studying instrumental music somewhere along the way?
Jason Cohen: So when I was about 12, I started to play the piano. My cousin was taking piano lessons. She's three months younger than me. So of course there's a little bit of cousin rivalry. And I was jealous of the attention that she would get for playing Hot cross Buns. So I, so I said, Hey, can you show me what is middle C? So she pointed to it on the piano. She showed it to me what it looks like in treble clef and in bass clef. And I went home we had sheet music from whatever musical, Oklahoma laying around my house. So I'd say, okay, well, if that's C, then one up is D E
Robyn Bell: it's not rocket science, right?
Jason Cohen: Yeah, no. I taught myself how to read music that way. And then, because we had these scores, with chord symbols above, I was able to see, oh, I understand. So I'm playing an E-flat and a G and a B flat, and that's an E flat major chord. Okay. Because that's the scale. I was able to start to teach myself theory and, then able to look at more advanced musical theater scores and, , really understand what is music theory. So all of that was. self-taught
Robyn Bell: yeah, that's the sort of the academic side of music. There's also sort of the technical side of playing a piano.
Jason Cohen: Right.
Robyn Bell: But of course what you're doing now with Jerry Lee Lewis, he wasn't really technically like he probably wouldn't go in and get an A in piano lessons.
Jason Cohen: Absolutely. But what I'll say about like, the reason why I think personally music theory is so important to learn is so I didn't grow up listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, right? This music was very new to me when I booked my first production of Million-dollar Quartet at the national tour of the show. What allowed me to learn the music. And the style so quickly is being able to understand that, okay, I'm in C. And so my scale, this is a formula one, flat three, four, augmented four or five flat seven. Right. And that, if I'm soloing oversee, those are going to be the notes that I use. And now moving from C to F right. We basically play just a bunch of 12 bar blues. Right. So, what are the Tones, what are the shared tone? As opposed to having to learn all these things in individual keys. Okay. So now, we're going to go play Blue Suede Shoes in the key of A. So now it's not an issue now. I don't have to say, wait, hold on. What he's and what this, you know,
Robyn Bell: just transfers from key to key exactly. Concept. Totally,
Jason Cohen: exactly. Whereas sometimes, you know, my mom and I used to really argue about this because I wasn't playing Beethoven and Mozart, not because I wasn't interested in it, frankly, because we just didn't have the sheet music lying around the house. But because I was more interested in reading the score of Rent or whatever, and seeing what Jonathan Larson is doing by seeing the chord symbols and starting to simultaneously play and understand the theory of, composition and how to create, a song.
Robyn Bell: Well, it sounds like you actually have a lot of real natural talent and affinity for it. Anyway. I mean, if you'd have been in music lessons, you would have come at it differently, but inside of you, it's there. And just that one little tidbit here's middle C and you just being curious about how all this works, look at the world it's expanded for you.
Jason Cohen: I know how I was as a kid and also how I am as an adult in that if I was taking music lessons, I don't know that they would have worked well. I probably would've gotten frustrated because I didn't want to play scales. I wanted to play, recognizable music and what I knew when I was 12 years old was showtunes. And there's a psychologist who talks a lot about this, Angela Duckworth about this idea that. There's this cycle of, a child is naturally predisposed to something based on interest, right? They're interested in something they're going to start spending more time doing it, because they're gonna spend more time doing it with more focus, because they're interested, they're going to get better, which is gonna make them more interested, which is gonna make them spend more time, in that cycle. You know, that was kind of the experience of me learning music was that I was interested and then spent time then got good. Then spent more time than got better, and that's, really. Super important.
Robyn Bell: The other thing I say often is that as we grow up from like infants, we learn to talk long before we learned to read. And so the fact that we can make music without learning simultaneously how to read music, that's, to me, the same process of I'm learning to speak a language, then I'm going to learn how it's put together and say the same thing about music. I'm gonna learn to make music, listen to music, understand, melodies and sing along and maybe even fiddle around on a piano. And then I look at notes, I go, oh, that starts to make sense to me. Just like we do with reading.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, exactly. In the same way that, if you really start thinking about. As you're talking. If you start seeing the words in your mind, you can start to see them that goes able to develop the ability. I don't want to make it sound like I'm a musical genius. I'm assuming it
Robyn Bell: might be, as we're sitting here talking, I'm going, man,
Jason Cohen: I'm not a musical genius. And I have a lot more to learn on piano and I've a lot of practicing to do. And my technique definitely can be better. But yes, it's
Robyn Bell: gotten you pretty far, Jason.
Jason Cohen: Yes, yes. Yeah. Or, I have been able to just kind of trick people into thinking that I know what I'm doing, which is awesome. That's a very important part of it. Fake it till you, make it, you know,
Robyn Bell: well, to you about, cause you mentioned the Million Dollar Quartet. So you finish at NYU, you get your BFA. And how then do you get on the national tour of the Million Dollar Quartet show?
Jason Cohen: Well, I started getting interested in this idea of active musicianship in about 2005, 2005. There was a revival of Sweeney Todd directed by John Doyle, who is incredibly smart director. He's from the UK. He used to work at a theater called the Watermill Theater, which is outside of London. And the Watermill is 200 person intimate theater where they would do a lot of these acts musician shows where the actors are also playing instruments, not actor slash musician, but actor and musician as one separate entity, not actor who plays not musician, who can act, but , a totally third idea which to be clear is not what I believe Million Dollar Quartet is what was fascinating about Sweeney. Todd is Sweeney. Todd the character is not playing the guitar, right? Mrs. Lovett, the character is not playing the tuba. These are more abstract ideas that are being presented. And when I saw that, when I was a freshman in high school, I was like, what in God's name is this? Cause that is fascinating. That's theater. I mean, I certainly don't know why anyone would want theater to try to. Movies or TV,
Robyn Bell: right? It was revolutionary though. It really changed.
Jason Cohen: Oh, that, production changed a lot of things. But that to me was really embracing theatricality, which is why I'm more interested in that medium. I don't want to, you know, movies are great. TV shows are fantastic, but they each have their strengths. And the strength of theater is that we kind of just like accept. We have this, willing suspension of disbelief. We just kind of accept that. Things are a little bit more abstract, which is so cool. And yeah, that production in the American theater changed a lot and influenced a lot. There's shows that have come since that I personally believe can certainly their origins can be traced back to the success of John Doyle's production. But that came at a really pivotal time for me when I was really first learning how to play piano. And I was like, I don't know what this is, you know? So it's, a, it's a combination of seeing that at the beginning of my high school career, seeing this idea of like Lin Manuel Miranda. And now it might not seem as, wild of an idea. I mean, we have tons of more mainstream actor, writer, writers, you know, these these people who are kind of doing no bullet
Robyn Bell: was really fresh, then
Jason Cohen: it was super fresh then. And especially to happen. And in theater, we can see that a lot in the indie film scene you know, big fan of the Dublas brothers or filmmakers. Oh yeah. Massive, massive fans of theirs. And they kind of do a similar thing, but the fact that I saw it in theater, so it was kind of those two things that I was like, all right, well, I'm just gonna. Follow this thing. And so I started being kind of on the lookout for these active musician projects.
Robyn Bell: Okay. So it was intentional. Yeah,
Jason Cohen: I suppose. Yeah, it was intentional. I started doing a little bit of it in college, started working on projects where I would be music directing and being in the cast. And that was also like something that I started to see somebody who went to college couple years above me, who was recently nominated for a Tony for orchestrating Moulin Rouge was an actor and music director in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which came to Broadway in early 2010. So I started just seeing these like boundary defining people. And it was in college, you know, Million Dollar Quartet. On Broadway and I'd kind of heard about it. I knew a little bit about Jerry Lee Lewis. I probably knew the song. Great Balls of Fire.
Robyn Bell: Right.
Jason Cohen: And I had auditioned for the tour probably two times previously to the time that I actually finally yeah, got it.
Robyn Bell: Third tries to charge.
Jason Cohen: Exactly, exactly. And the audition was just a regular audition. I went in, I played Great Balls of Fire. I tried to beat the hell out of the piano, you know, tried to show them that I can, play underneath my leg or I can, play behind my back, whatever. And they offered me the job and I also think. Interesting to see about my experience is that like everything rolls into the next thing. So what I mean by that is I was aware of the show of Million Dollar Quartet, which by the way, has given me basically every single, personal, and professional, anything since two massive
Robyn Bell: doors that has opened for you
Jason Cohen: yet, but not just, in my career. I mean, friends, colleagues, collaborators, but before Million Dollar Quartet, I was doing a production of a show called the Buddy Holly Story, which is about Buddy Holly. One of the guys who I was doing that with was a former Carl Perkins in the Chicago production of Million Dollar Quartet. He was an understudy in the very first production, then moved up to Carl Perkins. So I had learned a little bit more about the show from him mentioning it, but also I got that show because a teacher from NYU. Recommended me to the director, when I was a kid, I thought, oh, you go to an audition, you get the job. And then you go to another audition. And , that just has, it happens to, for some people, it has not happened to me. I don't know I'm doing, but that's certainly not been the case.
Robyn Bell: So the end of the run of the Million Dollar Quartet happens. And is it, I'm just assuming you saw with your Great balls of Fire, your Jerry Lee Lewis show that you've co-created that you could take that character and expand on that and bring that to audiences. Is that how it came about it?
Jason Cohen: Did. I mean, I started thinking about it, maybe four or five months into the tour. I was thinking, okay, well, what's the next, I knew that I had certain career goals that I had wanted to achieve, which thankfully all came true at the time I was unrepresented. I was able to Hm. make the fact that I was on the tour. I was able to get meetings with agents and, get myself represented. I wanted to work at so-and-so theater. I wanted to do a couple of these that did show thankfully got me to do. And one of the things was what, is next? Like what can I have more control over? And I can see how much these audiences love the show, the tour would sell these massive theaters year after year after year. I mean, I was only on it for a year, but the music is so popular in audiences, , and. immediately after I finished the tour, like two weeks later, I did a regional production of Million Dollar Quartet. So I kind of talked about this in Great Balls of Fire. What's interesting about Million Dollar Quartet is that it's done so, so frequently in the American regional theater scene. And by that for regional theaters, what I mean is Florida Studio Theater here in Sarasota, Florida, Repertory Theater in Fort Myers. These theaters that are not touring, right. They, hired their actors. They rehearsed their production, they put on their production just in that theater and it was done so, so frequently at these theaters, but because it was kind of a hard show to learn in that there's no score. It's basically all taught orally like through legend basically, you know They wanted these theaters would hire people who had previously done Million Dollar Quartet. And so doing one, that led me to do my second, which led me to do my third, my fourth, my fifth, I did seven productions of the shows, an actor and I directed and musically directed and eighth production. And that's pretty like par for the course for somebody who has been doing it for my first production was six years ago. And so, yeah, it just kind of felt like this is the natural evolution of what I do next got to make my own show. It frankly took me like two years to. Get the chutzpah to actually, you know, let's, let's figure this out. I was doing a benefit concert with our bassist here. Nathan Yates Douglas. He was in Virginia at a theater and he said, Hey, they want to do this fifties rock and roll concert. Are you around? And I said, oh sure. I can, figure that out. And the artistic director at this theater Matt Silva, he said, oh, you know, if you do a Jerry Lee, something, I'll produce it. And that's really what I needed to hear.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: We did get to do a concert during the pandemic at Delaware Theater Company in Wilmington. But it wasn't like I sent him the script and he said, great, let's put it in the next season. I just needed somebody to say, Dude, stop talking about it and figure it out, just go do it and use some connections. And. That was really, really, really important.
Robyn Bell: And you've touched on two things that I wanted to ask you about, first of all, you talked about your bassist, so it's not just you and the piano. You have a cast behind you talk a little bit about your, backup band there. Yeah. So like you have
Jason Cohen: an amazing, an amazing band and I think band is actually not even giving them enough credit. They also are acting musicians. These are guys who I have met doing Productions of Million Dollar Quartet or other shows. So they are colleagues that I've worked with repeatedly. Nathan Yates Douglas is our bassist. He plays the double bass. He slaps that thing. Like it owes him money. It's amazing. He's an amazing, amazing performer, amazing singer. He's also a killer harmonica. Absolutely can, beat that thing. It's amazing. Luke Darnell is our guitar player, Luke and I met, we were doing a one night only performance of Million Dollar Quartet at the Mohican Sun Casino in Connecticut, massive, massive 5,000 people in the audience. jumbotrons Who's crazy massively. Well it's, you know, Million Dollar Quartet is a play it's a play with music, maybe a musical. I don't really know what defines what, but I don't really also care about titles, but anyway, there's not just dialogue in the show. this arena, you know, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are playing there the night before. And we're trying to say this dialogue and it's coming back to us three seconds later. It's insane. It was wild. Very, very cool experience. So Luke Darnell is our guitar player. Justin Brown is our wind's player. He plays tenor and bari sax, clarinet, and piccolo.
Robyn Bell: That's not easy for bari sax to Piccolo man. First year, right there.
Jason Cohen: It's unbelievable. He's incredibly skilled musician and actually, and also acoustic guitar. He does play acoustic guitar on the show. So
Robyn Bell: I want to meet this guy.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, he's fantastic. And then our first drummer during the run, John Rossi. tour together, we've done a handful of production. So he actually had to leave to go do a musical called Million dollar Quartet up in Vermont that he's musically directing. So he had to leave on Sunday and our new drummer, Donald Snoopy Watts is spectacular.
Robyn Bell: Anybody named Snoopy? I mean, come on.
Jason Cohen: Exactly. So, you know, I'm, I'm really surrounded by amazing performers, amazing musicians. And, it's an ensemble thing. I mean, yeah, am central to it and my face is on the posters, but I certainly could not do any of this. And, and I'm not just trying to be cool and, polite and scared that the guys might listen to this podcast and ask where's my shout out. But certainly could not do it without them. There's five songs that I do not sing on. You know, sing for 80 minutes straight. I mean, that's gonna rip my chords to shred. So just even having that ability to give them the mic and have them really show what they can do, not just like, alright, you're going to sing this song because I told you so, but we really talked about like, well, what can you bring? What do you do well? you can bring to this,
Robyn Bell: a nice variety for the audience members as well. Yeah. And it's not just a show of song after song, after song. I mean, this is a sort of biopic, if you will, or whatever you want to call it. A jerry Lee Lewis
Jason Cohen: I would say it's about my relationship with Jerry Lee Lewis and, going from not knowing him at all to this guy being the most influential. Person who I've never met on my life and how he and I have nothing in common besides the music, and this music has bridged the gap of generations, of backgrounds of cultures. And it's this thing that myself and all these actors who do Million Dollar Quartet feel indebted to, and, that we need to protect and to preserve this, music, you know,
Robyn Bell: so Jason, let's say Jerry Lee Lewis walks through this door right now, and you get a chance to spend one minute with him. What do you say to him?
Jason Cohen: Oh man. I mean, honestly, I think the first thing is I got to say, thank you. I want to explain to him. What has happened over the past, six years and how much this has meant to me, how many opportunities and how, this has been such a great ride in my career, , and to be able to play this rebellious guy. I guess that's something that he and I have in common. We're both. Yes. We're both a little bit rebellious. You know, how much I've been influenced by. Totally surprising.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. That there would be something, I mean, he's still he's is he the only one still alive at the moment?
Jason Cohen: Yeah. Five years old, 86. This September
Robyn Bell: that might happen for you,
Jason Cohen: you know, it was a goal. And then now that we're in the sort of post COVID world hopefully I can make that happen. He is he's in, I believe he's in Memphis. See?
Robyn Bell: Okay, well, yeah, I could do a show there and word gets out. Maybe he's listening to the podcast. Yeah. All right. The other thing I was going to ask, because I know like right now, , the Great Balls of Fire show is what you are doing and you're going to be here through August 29th. You're going to go someplace else with the show after that, do you have both the other places?
Jason Cohen: runs booked like, week or more long runs, similar to what we are doing at Florida Studio Theater. We also have one night only concerts that we have booked. Immediately after this, we'll go back to New York. So that the next engagement we have isn't until, mid-October.
Robyn Bell: Okay. So you got some time off from terrible folks on some other things, but when well, oh great. Cause that's what I to say when you're looking at the grand scheme of things, Jason, I mean, you've got Jerry Lee Lewis and he's your sort of professional life and his story, but what then let's flash forward 10 years. What's next for Jason?
Jason Cohen: Oh my God. 10 years.
Robyn Bell: I'm sure you have some goals and some things that you want to do that maybe it's not performing. Maybe you want to write or direct or do something different.
Jason Cohen: Honestly, I keep trying to remind myself this when I auditioned for a show and don't book it, that I have no idea what not booking a job is going to lead me to. And I've had so many instances in the older I get, obviously the more auditions I go on, obviously the more jobs I do not book just, but, you know, because of numbers, the more I'm able to really realize, oh, well, if I had booked the show that I thought that I really wanted, I wouldn't have gotten to do this other thing that was really, really important. That has happened many times. So
Robyn Bell: very important perspective.
Jason Cohen: Yeah. Listen, it's a lot, I should've say you know, when, I have to go for the final callback for a show and I'm like, this is it, baby. I'm about to book this. And then I hear from my agent that I didn't, I'm still crushed. So I only can say this, now, but it doesn't mean that I can always put it into, into play, but I am trying to, remind myself that if I'm just going to kind of keep focusing on what I do, what I want to do, what I enjoy doing, and the rest is going to kind of fall into place a little bit, you know, there's not like another artist that I'm interested in kind of pursuing life-wise, but you know, immediately. So I have a couple of different things. Well, one is that I run a. Theater school on the Jersey Shore run a theater program, which is part of the axle prod arts center.
Robyn Bell: Nice.
Jason Cohen: Yeah. So I'm the director of that theater program. I do that remotely now and we'll go back to doing some of that. I also have a bunch of different projects that I'm working on writing Michael Schiralli, who's my co-creator on Great Balls of Fire he and I have a bunch of things that we are in development for hopefully to be able to bring some of those to FST in the future.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: And so it's a lot of that type of stuff. It's also, going back to New York post pandemic, that's a big plan, but 10 years down the line, man, , I don't even know. Yeah. Tell, tell me what mistakes I'm about to make. That's really, what I want to know is what bad judgment calls are right around the corner from me.
Robyn Bell: You mentioned the pandemic, and I know that maybe this show was really started to develop and take off about that time. And then all of a sudden, as I say, our world shut down, what did the pandemic and living in New York look like for you and what was your creative outlet during that time?
Jason Cohen: So yeah, the show was in my mind, I thought, you know, 2020, we're going to really we had a really great concert on new year's Eve of 2019 up in Maine, that was the largest version of this show. We'd gone through a couple of different iterations of it and COVID well, what COVID looked like was I was living in Manhattan and as you know, Manhattan is bunch of people living in very tiny apartments and they all live on top of each other and we all take these, metallic things underground and breathe each other's air non-stop. And so it was hit really, really intensely. And I thought, I think I got to get out and just stay with my parents for a bit and wait for this thing to calm down two three weeks, maybe four weeks. I mean, we're talking like pre masks. So it was in New York, maybe for two weeks from like the big shutdown, you know, March, somewhere, somewhere there. Yeah, exactly, exactly. Yes. Where, my income went to zero but you know, they thought, oh this just a couple of weeks. So I went back to stay with my parents for a little bit. I,
Robyn Bell: in Jersey,
Jason Cohen: in Jersey, I quarantined, you know stayed in a guest room. They delivered my meals at the foot of the stairs. I walked down to the stairs and I ate them. And you know, this is what they, said, you live in New York, you have to quarantine for two weeks. Wow. Yeah. this is w I didn't have a mask at this point. You know, nobody had had masks then. So, I thought, okay, I'm going to stay here for a little bit. I'm going to wait for this to calm down. I'm going to wait for my jobs to come back. And that started to look less and less like a reality. And in June I said, This is really bad. And I have to give up my apartment.
Robyn Bell: I was going to say, you're probably paying rent on your Mustang prints.
Jason Cohen: And I had to break the lease. And my parents and I rented a U-Haul and my sister came along and we had to pack up my apartment and drive it back to my parents' house. And I thought, you know, this is just for the summer. I'll go back in the fall. I could tell The renewal of the lease was right around the corner and I thought, let's just break it. I'm going to get another place. And this is, finally at another place in the fall. And you know, that did not happen. So I actually lived with my parents for 14 months, maybe at the beginning of April until then.
Robyn Bell: Cheers for family.
Jason Cohen: Yeah. I'm incredibly lucky. And also I'm, in the majority here, a lot of my friends. Moved with their parents. New York is a great place to live because of the fact that there's proximity you know, you can go to your friend's place at three minute, walk away when you're stuck inside your apartment, it is bad for your mental health. certainly an unhealthy thing. And I'm super, super fortunate enough that I was able to leave. And I really appreciate my parents helping me out, but that's really what it was. I mean, I wasn't making the money that I was making, you know, I had no opportunities to perform. And I had to kind of look out for that. So the pandemic looked like that the pandemic looked like me. You know, there's no possible way to state the. Horror that our country and our world has gone through during the pandemic. And it is mind boggling the deaths and the inhumanity that we have witnessed during the past year but there've been some really great things. I was able to focus on. Things that I just didn't have time to focus on. In the past I directed one of the only theater performances that happened that was not canceled in the summer of 2020. directed a production of Almost Heaven, which was about John Denver's music at the Surf Light Theater which is on the south Jersey shore. And I spent time with my parents and I played ping pong with my sister and went walking around my parents' neighborhood multiple times a day, trying to just clear my head
Robyn Bell: It's interesting. I have through this podcast and the pandemic, I've met the concert master for Hamilton and she and her husband, who's a trombone player. He had done King Kong and Beetle Juice and stuff. We had a really, they, they spoke to our students through Zoom or music majors. We did a podcast with them in the same. They moved with their parents to back to New Jersey.
Jason Cohen: It's kind of crazy, I don't have children, right. There's people who are. You know, I suppose I'm an adult sometimes I forget that. Yeah. But there's people who are real adults who have real response,
Robyn Bell: we got like this little ankle biter to take care of that,
Jason Cohen: waking up their parents it's wild as well as experienced, but
Robyn Bell: yeah, well, it's really nice now. And I saw that you were coming back here because you had been here for the Million Dollar Quartet 2016, I think
Jason Cohen: 2016. Yeah. We played at the, what they call the purple cow
Robyn Bell: Van Wezel yes. So you played there and now you're back in Sarasota here, the great Florida Studio Theater. Aren't those people wonderful to work with.
Jason Cohen: The audiences have been amazing. They've been so, so receptive. So kind last night I received an email from an audience member who. Came with his sister who had gone through cancer a few years ago and she had massive complications with it. And he said, he's never seen her so happy since she was in pain from laughing clapping so much. And she had an absolute amazing time. And it was just such a kind thing, to send to me of course I forwarded to my cast members my birthday was a couple of weeks ago and I was walking around St Armand's Circle. And you know, I'm just kind of walk in, just kind of thinking, okay, it's my birthday. What do I want to do this year? A kind of sometimes get a little bit heady on my birthday. And I walked into this art gallery just to kind of see what's up and the woman there, she started talking to me and, she eventually, pried it out of me that I was here to do a show and I was explaining. What I do and who I am. And she was like, this is so amazing. You have no idea how important art is, all these, politicians who are trying to take out arts funding in public schools, what's the point? What are we doing any of this for? I mean, it was this amazing pep talk. This is on my birthday. I'm kind of like what, this is like some weird, you know do you, are you in on this? Like, am I being, you know, like I'm kind of feeling a little bit down, like I'm another year older am my, where I want to be in my life, you know? And she and her husband came to the performance on Tuesday night and sat right in front of me and I'm playing the show and I'm like, wait, I'm like, I can't quite make out your face because of the lights. And I say, you're the art dealer in the art gallery, you know, and her and her husband bought myself and two of the other guys. They bought us drink after the show. I'm just so. Kind and welcoming and, you know, honors members are coming back second time, third time. It's it's really, really moving.
Robyn Bell: No, our Suncoast Sarasota area is so art centric that this really, yeah. It really hit us hard , for everything to be shuttered and canceled. We have this feeling about the organizations and what they went through financially, but I mean, people move here to be entertained every night. That's their, that's their goal, more arts events per capita in Sarasota than any other city, even New York is I understand per capita, but yeah, so we are so excited to see things back up and running and, and to have you with, you know, you went to St. Armand's, you've been here, I guess it will be about 11 weeks. Is your run here's a long time.
Jason Cohen: Yes. Yeah. We're just starting our seventh week, this week or halfway through our seventh week. Right now.
Robyn Bell: Have you had any time to kind of explore and find your favorite restaurants or breakfast place or beach.
Jason Cohen: We have had a good amount of time, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we don't do shows until 7:30, so we have our days and then Mondays we have off. So I've spent a good amount of time at the beach gone to, Siesta to Lido,
Robyn Bell: Check them all out?
Jason Cohen: Exactly, exactly. I find that it's a really nice, a nice way to relax. We actually on Monday, Justin, our sax player. He has some friends on Longboat and they took us out incredibly kind, incredibly hospitable. They've got two boats. They took us out to a sand bar. We grilled some food, we had some drinks. Amazing. It was unbelievable. And I had to take a video on my phone and I was like, cause I don't really know how to explain to somebody like what exactly I did. I'm like, I'm just going to put this, video on Instagram. It was really, really amazing. So spent a good amount of time. At the beach going to some local coffee shops we went to Sage. Wow. That's the way from the theater.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. Chris Covelli's place.
Jason Cohen: Yes. Chris was sitting next to me and I could tell that he was the chef or something that, you know, I said, oh, this is a really nice place. We started talking. So, so kind got us a round of drinks, set, you know, it
Robyn Bell: He never does that for me! What?,
Jason Cohen: care of you so happy that we have performances and Sarasota. I mean, it's really, nice it's always nice to be appreciated, but I especially look I'm doing this so that. The audiences as much as I get in my own head about my career and achievements that I want to do, ultimately I want the audiences to have a good evening, no matter what project I'm working on. I want people to see it and to
Robyn Bell: it's about bringing joy to other people's lives.
Jason Cohen: Exactly, exactly. To fulfill them. And it, was very easy for me to forget about that. As you know, like being an artist is an insane life. It can be very stressful at times, but the fact that the audience members are not only receptive, but like thankful to us and the locals in Sarasota are thankful to us. It really speaks to the quality of the people here. And I'm incredibly appreciative to be in a city that appreciates art the way that Sarasota does.,
Robyn Bell: and I want
Jason Cohen: to like that all the time, you know?
Robyn Bell: Yes. It's not like that. And I moved here to take this job at the college, having no idea what I was getting into. It was. Like I was poor after the first year. Cause I had bought so many tickets to somebody's face. Plus you got to come put the kibosh on that for a little bit, you know? So it is an amazing place. And we're so happy that you're here bringing joy to our lives. And Jason, we have reached our rapid fire section of the podcast. It's everybody. I think they just fast forward to that end. I know. It's listen, this is going to be life changing answers. Right? Are you ready?
Jason Cohen: Oh boy. Am I? I'm ever ready.
Robyn Bell: I love that I'm ever ready.
Jason Cohen: It's too late you know, I'm here. I got the headphones on. photo representative from the theater sitting right next to me. So if I mess up, then this is going to get back to them. That's it? That's it. My contract's nullified.
Robyn Bell: No mistakes, here we go. Sunrise with coffee or sunset with cocktail.
Jason Cohen: Oh my God. Okay. Sunset with cocktails, just cause I haven't seen the sunrise in a while in theory. In theory, sunrise with coffee in execution, sunset with cocktails.
Robyn Bell: It's the nature of our business. Totally. Okay. These are the piano dudes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John, or Billy Joel.
Jason Cohen: I mean, I got to say Jerry Lee Lewis, you know, but very good, very good piano players.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. I've often thought like for my Pops orchestra of doing a piano man show and getting those three together. Okay. A day at the beach or a day by the pool.
Jason Cohen: Oh, beach beach for sure. Come on. It's like 10 minutes away from where you can get to a pool anywhere in this country, you know, you can't just get to a beach.
Robyn Bell: Okay. But here's the thing, Jason is when you live here, it's just doesn't seem the same. I mean, like I have a pool at my house, but to go to the beach, I got to pack up chairs. I got to pack up. I got to find parking. I got to deal with and it's dirty. And I need somebody to say Robyn, just go to the beach.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, the parking actually. That's the problem. He's great. Lido. I've found like very easy parking where
Robyn Bell: you must get there, like eight in the morning with your coffee.
Jason Cohen: No, in the middle of the day. Oh, oh yeah. Listen, you got to go to, do you got to go to the Jersey shore? My God. That's several knife fights trying to park a car there.
Robyn Bell: Okay. Okay. This one isn't necessarily an either or so have you developed like a favorite brand of piano? One that just feels better on your fingers? Steinway. Yamaha. Baldwin. Yeah.
Jason Cohen: I prefer Yamaha. Oh yeah.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: I do. I find that Yamaha has. has more a percussive aspect to it. And I really
Robyn Bell: sounds or feels or both.
Jason Cohen: Both. Okay. Yeah. I like that. I want to play the piano in a percussive manner. Not just if I'm like playing Jerry Lee Lewis type of stuff, but just whatever I want to really feel it now. Yamaha does that,
Robyn Bell: you know, every time we have a performance here, we have a Steinway on our stage and, you know, we have a tuner that comes in and tune stuff. But for this particular show, is that so important that the piano is like really in tune? Cause he's just banging the hell out of it.
Jason Cohen: So actually we don't use a real piano is a keyboard keyboard in a realistic looking piano shell.
Robyn Bell: Tricks of the trade.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, because it would be a little bit too abusive on a piano for her, for this long,
Robyn Bell: but as long, my friend, Joe Holt calls them appliances, I said, acoustic piano or electric piano. He goes, oh, you mean an appliance? Yeah. Well, that's pretty good. But you can't tell, like if an audience member, if I'm sitting, I wouldn't be able to tell that's an electric piano
Jason Cohen: and it's just it's yeah. You, you don't have to tune it you don't have to deal with like the felt of the keys and all that. It's it's much better
Robyn Bell: That's interesting. Yamaha. All right. Sarasota in the winter or Sarasota in the summer.
Jason Cohen: Okay. So I'm here in the summer, right? it's the end of July, which is horrifying thought to think that it's the end of July, but I love Sarasota. I think I've made that very clear in case anyone hasn't hasn't understood. We all do really during my time in Sarasota, it is a lovely city and it is so you humid. Oh my God. Oh,
Robyn Bell: everything's green and lush.
Jason Cohen: It is intense it is. I mean, it's just, you know, I think, oh, I'm going to walk to the theater. You know, when I walked to the theater, I'd say it's about a 15 minute walk from where they've put me up. By the time I get there, it's like, oh my gosh, exactly. Yes. But I am happy to be here. If any producers or producers are listening, you know, if anybody from FST is listening and you guys want to bring me back in the winter, I will especially, oh my God, New York, winter. Yeah. That is a brutal winter
Robyn Bell: of 11 weeks stay in a Sarasota. We would have to call you a snowbird at that point though.
Jason Cohen: That's fine. Whatever. I'm I'm ready to retire.
Robyn Bell: Okay. Tennis shoes or flip-flops
Jason Cohen: flip-flops
Robyn Bell: you flip flop guy. He gets your, like your fancy flops and your beach flops.
Jason Cohen: I've just got this old pair of flip flops that I shouldn't be wearing they're stretched out. I have to grip them with my toes because they're so stretched out. They're not really staying on my feet. But I'm still rocking them.
Robyn Bell: Well, maybe if you get your paycheck from FST, you can buy yourself some Sarasota flip flops down on St. Armand's circle.
Jason Cohen: Exactly. Yeah. I got to do it. I can't wear flip flops in New York city. You're going to, by stepping in, you know, someone's God who knows what cocktail is lying on the side of eighth avenue, you know?
Robyn Bell: No, thank you.
Jason Cohen: God enjoy it.
Robyn Bell: Give me my close toed shoes, New York. All right. A day at the museum or a day at Disney.
Jason Cohen: Oh my goodness. Gracious. I have to say Disney.
Robyn Bell: I'm shocked.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, look, I do like character. Oh wow. We talking hero or villain.
Robyn Bell: That's a great question. Hero
Jason Cohen: hero. Oh, no I don't know that I've got a favorite hero. I think I've got like favorite sidekicks and villains actually. That's what it is. So think obviously Jason, Alexander's gargoyle, you know, and then villain Hades from Hercules hilarious. Absolutely hilarious.
Robyn Bell: Good choices.
Jason Cohen: That is the sidekicks. Really? Honestly. That's where it's at the sidekicks. Phil from Hercules, my God, Danny DeVito. You just don't get better. No, you can not get better than that.
Robyn Bell: But do you like going to the theme parks and doing all the disney stuff?
Jason Cohen: Yeah. I mean, come on. I think it's, it gives everybody permission to be a kid again. I mean, am a huge fan of Disney, a huge fan of Pixar and that, type of stuff, they, make incredible, incredible work that allows us to, you know, sushi. That childhood within us.
Robyn Bell: When I finished my doctorate. Boston University of doctorate of doctorate of musical arts at BU. The guy that runs Pixar was our speaker to our college of fine arts. That was such a cool speech.
Jason Cohen: There's a book called creativity Inc by Ed Catmull, which is, part history of Pixar part like how to be a leader in creativity. They, have like these articles that, Pixar people will write. I mean, they have amazing things of how to lead and be creative, cause you don't want to just be creative and like not know how to lead, not know how to run a company and produce
Robyn Bell: right. Brain left brain thing.
Jason Cohen: Exactly. And they know how to do it. And it's, amazing. Like one thing that I remember in this book is they used to have these meetings at these long tables, you know? And there would be these issues where people in certain spots wouldn't speak up, and they realized, oh, they're being excluded because they're far away or whatever. Now they have all their meetings at round tables, you know, things like that, things that find that stuff super, super interesting. Especially as I, run a small company of my own, but a company nonetheless, and have employees that are. To learn from a company such as Pixar,
Robyn Bell: yeah. It's totally a human resources and management and yeah. Yep.
Jason Cohen: But like fun, not the stuffy.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. And putting them in positions where as the leader, you can make sure that they are as creative as they need to be, then benefits your company and the world, you know, it's great. Okay. This is your last question. I don't know. Are you driving at all while you're here or you're on foot for everything?
Jason Cohen: We share a company car, so I drive some, some,
Robyn Bell: well, I asked this question of everybody on the podcast. And so since I know you've driven here in Sarasota, you're gonna appreciate it. Roundabouts or stoplights,
Jason Cohen: These roundabouts to have taken us a few years off of my life. So I'm going to have to go with stoplights. I mean, does anybody, and maybe this is like a listener poll, does anybody really understand how to do them? Because they're there.
Robyn Bell: Okay. There's no training. I suggested a jumbotron in the center of every one that kind of showed us. But, but I did have a guest who said, you know where your stoplight, you kind of go dead. You like brain-wise, maybe even you check your phone. You're not thinking at least in a roundabout, you stay alert.
Jason Cohen: Yeah, of course. I'm saying alerts that nothing I'm about to get into a car crash. I start sweating bullets, you know, I'm like, oh my God, I know
Robyn Bell: I'm going to die.
Jason Cohen: My mom and, you know, make peace with my past.
Robyn Bell: There was one thing about being in around the
Jason Cohen: Tamiami,
Robyn Bell: but around about in Sarasota, forget it I'm like death, so well, congratulations, Jason Cohen.
Jason Cohen: You do love applause.
Robyn Bell: You are now officially part of the clubs. So tell our listeners where they can go to follow you and your career.
Jason Cohen: Absolutely. You can go to my website. That's Jason Cohen, C O H E N. Jason Cohen, online.com. That is one word. I put things that I'm working on up there, but you can also, what's really cool is you can type in your email address. There's a little, like put your email address for a mailing list type in your email address. And then I will keep you posted about future performances. You can also, if you're like a Facebook type of person, you can go to facebook.com/ Jason Cohen online. And you said you have Instagram. I do it. That's a personal Instagram. But you can totally feel free to follow me. My Instagram is oh, yes. Like, oh, yes, yes. Oh, H Y E S J a Y C O G. Oh, yes. Jayco. That is one word. Got H Y E S J a Y C O.
Robyn Bell: Good.
Jason Cohen: I do. Okay. So yes,
Robyn Bell: I find Twitter really mean
Jason Cohen: technically. Yeah. Well, okay. So yeah, technically I do have a Twitter, but I am kind of just mean, on Twitter, honestly, what I, I use Twitter to basically yell at the MTA, which is the New York subway system. Yeah. And certain politicians that I may disagree with. So most of it honestly is me just yelling at the MTA and and any sort of trends. I actually, , I don't want to just do the MTA, you know, I want to make sure that I am yelling at every single public transit. So NJ transit the Metro north, I make sure that I. All of them. I keep them all an equal amount of love,
Robyn Bell: inclusive.
Jason Cohen: Exactly, exactly.
Robyn Bell: Uh, Links to all of this in our show notes. So that listeners can go to our website. They can click right to find you, they can click right to Florida Studio Theater and Great Balls Of Fire starring. Jason Cohen will be showing at the Florida Studio Theater until Sunday, August 29th. You can go to the Suncoast Culture Club, Calendar of Events, through our website to see all the days and times. And then from there you can click and go straight to FSTs website to purchase your tickets. Jason, what a pleasure it's been getting to know you today so
Jason Cohen: much. Thank you for the missing conversation. And, and I hope if you haven't bought tickets to our show, you'll come out and check out the show and please, you know, you can, write to me on, my Facebook page, you can on the Facebook that's what the kids are using. Get off my lawn. You can message me on my, on my Facebook page on, Instagram. I think my email address is on my website but please, please let me know if you've come to see the show I hope you enjoy it. And I would love to meet anybody who, comes to see the show, , tell to the usher that, you heard about this on, the podcast and I'll meet you in the lobby after the show. And I'll
Robyn Bell: awesome.
Jason Cohen: Shake your hands.
Robyn Bell: Well, I am really looking forward to seeing the show myself and enjoying your high energy performance is Jerry Lee Lewis. So Jason, best of luck to you. Yeah.
Jason Cohen: Thank you very much, Robyn, have a good one.