Jason Nettle has had a rich career in one of the most difficult professions to break into: the theatre. He has performed in major professional shows and has brought his talents to Northeast Florida. Today, he shares his dedication to the theatre with his students at Ponte Vedra High School.
How did you first get into theater?
I was 10 years old, in fifth grade, and they were having auditions for “The Music Man” at my high school. I auditioned for that, and I haven’t stopped since.
How long did it take you before you got your first professional role?
I moved to New York when I was 22, and the first show that I did was a children's show that toured the nation. Then I got little jobs here and there, but my first big show was [a national tour of] “Cabaret,” and I had been in New York for two-and-a-half years before that happened. They say that for every 100 shows you audition for you might get one. That is the hard part.
Do you have advice for someone pursuing theater professionally?
You have to be obsessed with it but in a healthy way. It's just like if someone wants to be a professional golfer, they have to learn everything about golf. The same thing is with acting. I think a lot of people think that acting is really easy because you just memorize lines, but it is an art, and it is a craft. If you want to be professional, you just have to be obsessed with the history of it and what it takes, and put yourself out there, and fail and succeed.
What brought you to Ponte Vedra?
I was a stage manager at the Alhambra Theater and Dining in Jacksonville, and I was also a professor at Jacksonville University. The teacher who knew me was the teacher who worked here before me. Through my reputation at those two jobs, he reached out and said, “Do you want to interview for this job?” and I did.
What do you like best about what you do?
Meeting students as freshmen who don’t know anything about theater and what it takes to do theater, and by the time they are seniors, they are ready to take on the world and go into programs. I have alumni who are already working professionally. I have one student who auditioned for “The Voice,” and then I have some who are auditioning in New York City and Atlanta, and one who just graduated last year wants to be a director. She is directing her first show at UCF next month, so it is nice to hopefully put them in the right path.
What do you hope your students take away from theater?
To be creative, to learn how to problem-solve, to learn better time management, and most importantly to take care of one another. In theater, you find out that you can’t do everything by yourself. You have to collaborate, and you need other people to help you do that, and that is going to stay with you forever.
What are you most proud of in the theater department?
The fact that we do three shows a year, and each one does not look like a typical high school show. We put in all of our effort, time, blood, sweat and tears, and the outcome and product are always fascinating to the audience.
Do you have a favorite play you have put on?
I think “Footloose” was one of my favorites. We had like 90 people, but it worked out so perfectly. We had a live band on stage for that. I thought “High School Musical” was great, we had the jazz band play. “Rumors” was great because the set was so big. I love one specific thing; in every show, something stands out.
Do you face any challenges running the theater program?
Yes. The biggest challenge is that I do it by myself. To run it smoothly, it would take about four people: musical director, producer, set builder and mental-health faculty director [laughs]. There are a lot of moving parts, and I am in charge of all of them, so that is probably the hardest part.
What is your hope for the future of the program?
We are pretty strong number wise, but I would love more guys to get involved. Every time guys get involved they wish they had done this sooner. They had such a pessimistic attitude about theater or looked down on people who did theater, but then they do it, and they love it.
What would you like people to know about the theater program?
We are a family, and it is a lot of hard work, but it is also a lot of fun. People come here in the mornings, and they all become lifelong friends. I was in Drama Club when I was in high school, and when I got married 25 years later, all of my groomsmen were from my high school Drama Club. That is the kind of bond you share. When you collaborate and you do so much together, you build a friendship that can’t die, and that is what has been happening in this department.
I know you did a one-act play in honor of 9/11. Can you tell me more about that?
It was a one-man show that I had written in grad school at UCF. All of the students that were with me in grad school weren’t in New York, or they were too young, so they didn’t really understand anything about that day. I felt like I should do something to keep the memory living on. I play 18 different characters, New Yorkers, and I explore how they experience the day and how they dealt with the day differently. Twenty-one years later, I am still doing the show, and it is to educate, entertain and to share that message that this could all be over tomorrow, so we should do the best we can today.