A ‘F#%king Up Everything’ interview with Jason Gotay: Hipsters, Acting and Theatre

Jason Gotay

Jason Gotay

F#%king Up Everything is taking Off-Broadway by storm with its beautiful mix of heart, hipsters and puppets. This boy-meets-girl story follows the lives of twenty-something Brooklynites as they learn the importance of being true to themselves in life and love. Jason Gotay, who stars in F#%king Up Everything as hipster rock star Jake, chatted with Stage Door Dish about his on-stage adventures.

SDD: When did you first become involved with F#%king Up Everything?

JG: My first involvement with the show was my audition around the end of January or early February. We heard that they were casting for the upcoming off-Broadway production and I’d never heard about any previous incarnations of the show. It was totally new to me and there was no script to read before I went in to audition, so I took what little I could find out about the character from the audition sides that I was sent and I just kind of learned as I went. That very short audition process was my initial involvement, back in the early part of this year.

SDD: You and your castmates seem to have really great chemistry together, do you have a lot of fun working onstage with one another? Did you guys know each other previously at all?

JG: No, actually, none of us knew each other at all. I was a little familiar with George Salazar who plays the drummer in our show, he and I had worked together a little bit in smaller concert gigs and I knew him kind of well. But everyone else, we were all kind of strangers to each other, and it is exactly what you said – it’s amazing chemistry. Everyone got along so well from day one and our director, Jen Wineman, was so great about creating a really fun, laid-back environment to create the show in. I think part of the fun of doing a show like this is getting to be silly and laugh with the group. She [Wineman] just put together a group of such amazingly sweet and generous people and it’s been great. It’s really a joy.

SDD: Your character Jake could have been just an outright jerk, but you bring so many layers to him and show that he is actually a sweet guy underneath it all. How did you find that within him?

JG: It took a little while to find those layers because at first glance the character is totally what he comes off as initially, which is this douchebag and manipulator. He has a mask on from the beginning and he puts on this veneer of being the hot, cool dude and can get anything he wants. But as we started to work through each of the scenes and as my relationship with Max Crumm’s character Christian developed, I started to understand this other goofy, sweeter, more vulnerable side of Jake. Jake and Christian have been best friends since they were really little and Christian knew Jake when he wasn’t the cool guy. He knew him when he was a kid who liked to run around and play video games. So having that history informed a lot. We talked about the way that things probably developed – Jake and Christian were probably cut from the same cloth, and they probably grew up as the kind of kids who loved being silly and goofy and a little dorky. Then they grew up and Jake kind of discovered that when he put on this cool attitude he started to get the girls, and Christian was never that way. He probably grew up and was more into his puppets, and things started to change but that youthful, dorky, goofy side of Jake never went anywhere. I think it just got lost underneath all of that fake bravado that he puts on. But it was nice to kind of think about that and to think about how maybe the history of those two characters’ relationship might have informed the way he is now.

I think as things develop, you think about the history between each character. The joy of working on the show was finding out that these aren’t stereotypes of Brooklyn hipster characters, we’re not really mocking them, we’re actually bringing them to life in a really human way. They’re going through real things and that was such a pleasure to discover after thinking “this might just be a spoof” or “this might just be a 90-minute comedy sketch.” Although the show has it’s moments of being really quirky and tongue-in-cheek, these are real people and they’re dealing with real things and discovering that was really one of my favorite parts of this process.

Jason Gotay and Max Crumm

Jason Gotay and Max Crumm

SDD: Do you have a favorite song in F#%king Up Everything?

JG: There’s a song that my character’s bestie, Ivy [Dawn Cantwell], sings in the show. It’s her one solo and its called “If You Were Mine,” which is her solo soliloquy moment about how wonderful life would be if her best friend Jake was as in love with her as she is with him. It’s really sweet, and just a rocking ballad, and she just totally kills it. Another female solo, the one that happens towards the end that Juliana [Katherine Cozumel] sings, “Fallen,” is just so beautiful. It reminds me of Ingrid Michaelson, who is one of my favorite artists. It’s just so beautifully written and she kills it too, she just sings it so beautifully every night. So the both of them, they’re such a joy to listen to and those would probably be my two favorite songs.

SDD: F#%king Up Everything has some pretty distinctive and authentic costumes. Do you have a favorite costume in the show?

JG: I kind of love the costume that I start the show in, which has a pair of little black skinny jeans. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because skinny jeans were such a scary thing for me before this show happened, but I’ve embraced the skinny jean and its been going well. I come out with this red and white tank top with a huge skull on it and my black skinny jeans and my big combat boots. It’s cool, I feel like a badass in it and that’s probably my favorite. But I really do love everything I get to wear, the leather jacket and the different sleeveless shirts. They’re a little revealing, but they definitely help me get into the world of who this guy is for sure.

SDD: Have you found yourself wearing skinny jeans in everyday life now that you’re doing the show?

JG: Oh my gosh! I was just telling someone today, I have one pair of black skinny jeans and I find myself wearing them like every other day now. It’s very strange. I think that in all of the roles that I’ve played, the character’s style rubs off on me a little bit in real life. The last character I played was into male accessories, like things around his neck and things on his wrist, and I started incorporating that into my everyday life. All of a sudden I’m like “yeah, this totally fits me, right?” I have one pair of skinny jeans and they’ve become my new favorite pair of pants, so yeah. It has totally influenced my life outside of the show.

SDD: This show is in a very small house, and it seems like a very intimate production because you are so close to the audience. Does that effect your acting? Does it change what the experience is like to perform it? 

JG: Oh, absolutely. The small house and that intimate setting totally informs everything. For example, if there’s a really huge crowd that night, being close to them and hearing that really loud energetic response from them makes it almost a completely different show because you can feel that energy. The reason we do live theatre is kind of feeding off of that kind of energy. For my character specifically, part of my staging includes really specifically walking into the audience and picking out members of the crowd to sing to. I have to be really inappropriate with them actually, and every moment of that interaction is blocked very specifically. So that is an adventure every night and it’s really interesting. It’s really interesting to see the people you find in that front row and sometimes you’ll only have a second to look out and pick who you’re singing to, you don’t really have a long time to kind of gauge who you’re going to so you’ll find yourself singing to an older man or a child under the age of 15. Then before you know it you’ve probably crossed some sort of line but I think that’s part of the fun of this show, is that we’re so in your face and we’re not apologizing for being so out there or over the top. So you just kind of have to roll with it and trust that the audience is going to hop along for the ride, so that’s definitely been a huge challenge but also really rewarding and fun.

SDD: Has there ever been an audience member that reacted differently than you expected when you approached them?

JG: Most of the time they feel a little caught off-guard and they start looking around awkwardly and not really making eye contact with me, which I guess I kind of expect. To my surprise the other night, I put my foot on the armrest and really got all up in someone’s face and she was like, “Wooo!” She put her hands up and she was really into it, and that actually caught me off-guard and I was like “Oh my gosh, you like this! Okay great. That gives me permission to have fun with this now.” It varies from night to night but it’s really fun to see how they’re going to respond to that.

Jason Gotay and Katherine Cozumel

Jason Gotay and Katherine Cozumel

SDD: These characters are recent graduates, would you say that their experiences are similar to your post-college experience?

JG: In terms of what my character goes through, I think I relate to his experience. Not my character specifically, just in the general sense of what he learns. I think that actually I can make some sort of parallel to the industry that we work in. I think this guy sees that he gets what he wants in the music world and he gets what he wants socially by putting on an act. By the end of the show he learns that he doesn’t really have to do that in order to be successful or find true love, he can be who he is. We’re all continuing to work on that but that’s definitely been something that I’ve found in my post college life that kind of relates to the show. You graduate college thinking “these are all the things I have to be to be successful in this industry.” Little by little you let the veneer kind of crack, and you realize that just by being yourself and embracing what it is that makes you a little goofy or a little weird. That’s actually a great thing and it actually helps you socially and professionally – just being who you are and embracing that. So I can relate to that aspect of it, but the rest – hooking up with numerous girls at a time and betraying your friend and then singing to them in a park…that stuff I can’t really relate to, but watching the change he goes through, I definitely see all of us in that a little bit.

SDD: With both F#%king Up Everything and Bring It On, you were part of the show’s original cast and developed it from the ground up. What has that been like?

JG: It’s a gift. It’s such a gift for an actor to originate anything and to have been able to do that twice is completely out of this world. I’m so, so grateful because with both shows I’ve had the opportunity to work with the creative team behind it. We had all of our writers and composers with us in the room at Bring It On. We had our composer and book writers in the room for pretty much every day of the rehearsal process for this show. To be able to work with them and be able to ask them questions about what we’re doing musically and with the characters is such a joy.  It’s so, so rare to be able to do that, and you find that the character evolves a little bit. With Bring It On, I know some of the writing changed based on the people that they cast, and it was catered a little bit more to the kind of energy that they brought to the table. It’s the same with this show. I don’t think that I’m the first person anyone would have thought of for this role, but our director Jen [Wineman] just kind of responded to something that I brought into the room. We played with bringing that other side to Jake – this vulnerability and this sweeter, goofier side. It was always really hard to find that in him because I think the tendency is to stereotype him and to just play the douchebag and the jerk the whole time. But it’s so much more gratifying to get to play with those other layers and I think a huge part of being able to originate this was finding that other side. So it’s really been such a joy and it’s really a gift for an actor.

SDD: Do you have a particular creative process when you are trying to get into character for a role or does it change every time?

JG: I think it changes every time. I think that theatre is so collaborative. You’re working in a room with a huge group of artists, and whatever energy that they bring into the room too helps to dictate how you work. So it totally depends. For this show, we played around with a lot of different ways to do things, and a lot of different live readings, and a lot of different options for the comedic moments. In this show, there was a huge spirit of play and grabbing the bull by the horns and just going for it and making really bold choices. So I think it does change depending on the show and the role and who you’re working with.

SDD: You also had your first solo concert this year right?

JG: I did!

SDD: What was that experience like?

JG: That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was a huge amount of work and really terrifying to think about being the only thing people are watching for an hour and a half. But it was an opportunity for me to get in a room with some really amazing singers and really amazing musicians and sing music that I love and express every different side of me. And as scary that is, it was just so incredible to be able to experience that. The build-up was a little nerve-wracking, and the preparation really took a lot. It was a lot of work, but that night was just one of the most incredible nights of my life, it was really amazing.

SDD: Do you have any unusual or hidden talents or hobbies?

JG: You know, not really. That’s always a hard question to answer. Hobbies?

SDD: It sounds like an ice-breaker question, doesn’t it?

JG: I know! People are always like “tell us something interesting about you” and my go-to thing is that I’m a Puerto Rican Jew. My dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is a Jew from Brooklyn and so the colliding of those two worlds has always been very interesting. It’s not a hidden talent or a hobby necessarily. I also love to teach. I’ve been doing a lot of teaching on the side and I coach younger kids. Out in Brooklyn, where I’m from, I work with the community theatre and I do different workshops with young kids. It’s not the most unique hobby in the world but it’s definitely my other passion and it’s something that I’m interested in pursuing.

SDD: Stage or screen?

JG: Stage.

SDD: If you could delete any song from existence, which song would you choose?

JG: “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

SDD: What is your favorite word?

JG: Phenomenal.

SDD: What is your current obsession?

JG: Probably the guitar and ukelele, which I fall off of but I’m really into getting to learn those instruments and getting better at that. Yeah, I need to do that. Thank you for reminding me.

SDD: What is the last great show you saw onstage?

JG: The Last Five Years. Definitely. At Second Stage Theatre, Off-Broadway. It was really beautiful. It’s great.

SDD: Who was the last person who made you feel starstruck?

JG: A new musical theatre composer who came to our show recently, Joe Iconis. He came to our show two days ago. And I didn’t get to meet him after, but I did see his face in the audience during our finale where we sing to everyone. I had this moment of being onstage and seeing him and we were all talking about it backstage and that was definitely a starstruck moment for me, to be sure.

SDD: If you could trade places with anybody on Broadway, who would you choose?

JG: Oh my gosh, these are such hard questions! Bernadette Peters. You have to go with one of the leading ladies. She can really do no wrong, so I’d have to go with her.

SDD: Which Broadway star would you most want to get a drink with?

JG: I worked with this guy, and he lives on my block – he’s so talented and we haven’t had a night to grab a drink, but his name is Max von Essen and he’s so cool. Every time I see him I love chatting with him. We did a reading together a couple months ago and he’s just the coolest. Everyone loves him and I’d love to get a drink with him sometime.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

JG: Passionate, I feel passionate about things. I am excited…these are terrible! Oh my gosh, this is so hard. Everywhere, I feel like I’m everywhere, that’s a good one. All over the place, all the time. Passionate, excited, everywhere, and, my gosh this is hard. Peaceful. Am I peaceful? No, I don’t want to say that. I’m just going to go with those three. These are terrible! Where is this interview going and who’s going to read this? ‘Jason thinks he’s passionate, excited and everywhere,’ what does that even say!? Let’s go with those three.

Jason Gotay in 'F#%king Up Everything'

Jason Gotay in ‘F#%king Up Everything’

For more information about F#%king Up Everything, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

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About Claire H.

Writer, performer, picture-taker, New Yorker. Find me on Twitter at @Claire_Hannum.

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