Rising Star Jason A. Rodriguez: “How we can decrease gentrification by expanding, lifting and adapting our community with the arts”

I’d like to start a movement to protect your community. I would call it the Zenith Movement. Creating a zenith institution of the arts to help decrease gentrification by expanding, lifting and adapting your community with the arts. As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing […]

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I’d like to start a movement to protect your community. I would call it the Zenith Movement. Creating a zenith institution of the arts to help decrease gentrification by expanding, lifting and adapting your community with the arts.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jason A. Rodriguez. Jason is an American dancer and actor famous for depicting Lemar in Fx’s TV series Pose. Not only can you witness Jason’s acting skill in the highly acclaimed drama series, Pose, but also his choreographic prowess. Jason portraying a gay character opposite Jeremy McClain who plays Cubby.

Thank you so much for joining us Jason. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Born and raised in Washington Heights, Uptown Manhattan. I spent many summers in Dominican Republic which made me feel very connected to my culture. I was raised as an only child who was introverted and would come home to play video games. Found acting in the Drama Club in high school and played Shakespeare roles such as Lady Macbeth and Hermia which help me come out and feel confident in my identity. Then found dance at Brockport College which led me to train in it when I transferred to Purchase College.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

At Purchase College, Benny Ninja (Benjamin Thomas) who was the father of the House of Ninja at the time taught a vogue workshop. This was the first time I felt encouraged to learn a dance form which I felt connected to. I felt this was the key in finding who I was going to be while watching a gay hispanic man demonstrate not only his mastery in this form but mastery of himself.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Being cast on Pose! I was checking my mentor’s emails because I was his assistant at the time and saw an email for me. It was a casting for Pose and someone emailed it to him thinking it may be something I should check out. Went to the casting, vogued, and read some lines. A few months later I got a call from Alexa Fogel Castings offering the role of Lemar on Pose.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh goodness! I’d say within the Ballroom Scene was walking the wrong category. I went to a mini ball that was known as Vogue Knights at Escuelitas with my previous house. I competed in the wrong category by accident. It was Twister which was a voguer showing off his masculine self and then vogue in his feminine self. I was just feminine back then so I was on the block to get chopped! I got my tens but Jack Mizrahi who is a Ballroom Consultant on Pose and plays himself on the show looked at me and said, “I said TWISTER!” I learned to never walked the wrong category again.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m keen on introducing and stapling Vogue in the world of Concert Dance. Also, cultivating my Performance House called House of Eon. There are three kinds of houses: main, kiki and performance. My house specializes on bringing ballroom culture to academic, dance and historic institutions in a clear and professional package. I take individuals from houses to help organize a mock ball where the audience gets education and a sense of what it is to be at a ball. Also, we hold vogue workshops and panels to educate on ballroom culture. This house allows opportunities for young queer individuals to receive experience professionals and hone skills to build their craft for the future.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

It’s important to have diverse representation so the diverse audience have enough individuals to relate and connect to. We watch various films or shows for many reasons but one that always exists is how does this relate to me? To see and be inspired by someone of your culture succeeding to feel success is available is what the industry should thrive for. To make sure all shades of color are present within this industry. With education of other cultures we can further decrease the discrimination and injustice towards a culture.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

To always be humble. Practicing being humble preps you to think before you act with every interaction, action and decision within your daily frame. It allows you time and power to assess what’s going on.

Be adaptive. To stay available to new experiences, knowledge and ideas. We tend to stay stuck on one road but there may be many roads to reach your victory.

Education is key. I feel as a kid I wasn’t really explained how valuable education and information was. This didn’t hit me until college where I chose to let information stick and see how it empowered me for the future.

Be in culture. I wish I was educated more on my culture to draw upon it more artistically and within sculpting my identity. By learning more upon your roots, events and locations it hones who you will become and strengthen the reflection others in your culture see in you.

Dance. I didn’t find dance until 19. I wish someone told me that I should dance. That I could have intake all of this information early rather than rushed into my body because I felt I was playing a game of catch up. I forced myself and my body to figure out how to move like the dancers with 8 years or more of training under their belt.

It’s going to be okay. I felt I had many dark moments and moments alone growing up and even as a young adult. I gravitated and was attracted to mimicking things in hopes of being filled with confidence and validation. But I needed someone in my corner at times to hold me and just say it’s going to be okay.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find ways to expand yourself. In 25 years I don’t see myself performing but teaching the youth in my community on the world of dance, acting, modeling etc. To be part of someone’s story and guide them through these artistic realms to find success and most importantly themselves.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement to protect your community. I would call it the Zenith Movement. Creating a zenith institution of the arts to help decrease gentrification by expanding, lifting and adapting your community with the arts.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Kevin Wynn. This man has given me so much of what I am today. He taught me to dance, to teach, to be humble, to lead and to laugh. He has given me jobs in assisting/demonstrating for him and being my key to being on “Pose,” he has impacted and cultivated my entire being. I owe him the world and more.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Family First. I’ve learned at 29 to be adaptable on friends and loving coming and going through your life. But my family has allowed me to be here. To be able to do what I love, know how to love and receive it. My mother has done it all for me and for her to seeing me shine is all the reward she needs. Keeping family strong in love and close is my life lesson quote on surviving life. That can mean biological and chosen.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them!

Not a breakfast or a lunch, but I would love to have a fun brunch with Angelina Jolie. I’m a huge fan of her work and her activism. She has helped fuel my mastery of femininity by seeing her conquer hers in these powerful roles in film.

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