We got the chance to meet J. Jason Daunter this summer while he was touring with Making Magic, Defying Gravity, which he co-created. We chatted with him about his journey from a small town in Missouri to the professional stage manager for Broadway smash hit Wicked. We asked if he has any advice for passionate young artists out there who aren't sure if they have what it takes to pursue a profession in the world of performing arts. He did, and below you'll find 5 tips about how he made it big and what it takes for you.
1. It doesn’t matter where you started.
“I didn’t grow up with a glamorous lifestyle. I was raised in O’Fallon, Missouri about forty miles west of St. Louis, Missouri. My mom was a single parent and raised my brother and me with the help of my grandparents. Finding theatre truly saved my life. Academics were not a priority to me in high school. I was bullied daily. After almost not graduating high school because of my academic record, I was accepted into Northwest Missouri State University on academic probation.”
2. Find ways to get hands-on experience.
“My college experience was integral to my training and my professional work today. I also had the good fortune of working on the local technical crew for some one-night national tours that came through campus. This gave me a glimpse into what the touring life was like. Every summer during college, I worked at Stages St. Louis, a professional company in St. Louis, Missouri. At the time I was the youngest Stage Management Production Assistant the company had hired, and this real life application to what I was learning in the classroom strengthened my drive to work professionally.”
3. Hard, quality work pays off.
“This industry is about establishing yourself and networking. I have made some great connections through the years and have worked really hard and that quality has remained with those colleagues and companies. After Stages, I was lucky enough to tour for over three years with the various companies who had come through Northwest with shows during my time there. I also was volunteering with The Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) having been a International Thespian Society Alumnus (ITS) from high school and the influence it had encouraged me to “give back” to this association.”
4. Make a lot of connections.
“I got my first NYC interview because of a recommendation from an EdTA staff member who acknowledged a potential in me I didn’t know even know myself. I was offered my first job on a Broadway show: Cyrano de Bergerac starring Kevin Kline. I worked on three Broadway shows in my first year in New York City. Eventually, I landed in Oz at the Broadway blockbuster Wicked. I spent three and a half years on the stage management team there before taking over on the First National Tour. And that’s where I’ve been for the past two years.”
5. Never forget your passion.
“I am a firm believer that in this industry, you learn by doing. Also, you need to be interning or working professionally during the summers. Find a way to make this happen financially for yourself. It WILL NOT be handed to you, but if you want to work hard and are passionate about it, you can do it. If I had listened to every naysayer in my life there is no way I would be where I am today.”
Jason is currently serving his first term on the Board of Directors for the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA). One of the leading advocates and outreach professionals for arts advocacy Jason’s life changed when he was introduced to educational theatre at a young age. As an alumnus of the International Thespian Society he feels privileged to give back and “pay it forward” by being involved with EdTA in numerous capacities.
Professionally, he currently serves as the Production Stage Manager on the 1st National tour of the mega-hit Broadway musical Wicked. Previous Broadway credits include Wicked, the short-lived Glory Days and the critically acclaimed Cyrano de Bergerac starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner. (Jason also served as Mr. Kline’s artistic associate during the New York run). National tour credits include: Wicked, Chicago, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and A Christmas Carol.
He is proud to be one of the creators of EdTA’s Making Magic, Defying Gravity working alongside Gai Jones, Matt Conover, and Kristen McFadden on this incredible advocacy outreach fundraising benefit that has been touring the country raising funds for Thespian scholarships since January 2012. In addition to his work with EdTA his philanthropic efforts include the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, American Cancer Society, and during his 5 years with Wicked has lead these companies to raise over 1.5 million dollars in support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.
Jason is a proud member of the Actors Equity Association, The International Thespian Society (Troupe 5140, an honorary member of Troupe 5929 and 2129), a member of Alpha Psi Omega (the National Honorary Theatre Fraternity), and a professional member of the Educational Theatre Association.