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When Robert Jason Isn't on Stage, He Teaches Theater to Children


When Robert Jason isn't acting or singing, he's working with foster children, teaching them drama and theater.

"These young people are wards of the state--some of them have never really lived with their parents," said the 31-year-old, who is currently appearing in the role of Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) in the Mark Taper Forum production of Shakespeare's "Richard II."

"I basically try to teach them how to become independent and how to make it in the world on their own."

Jason, who hails from Cincinnati but is in the process of moving to Los Angeles from New York, originally planned to be an opera singer. He entered the voice program at Northwestern University, but soon switched to acting.

Inspired by the work of classically trained black actors like Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones, Jason studied Shakespeare and the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance.

In that vein, he recently portrayed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in Kathleen McGhee- Anderson's play, "Oak and Ivy," at the Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick, N.J.

"I think we may be growing into somewhat of a renaissance of black (theatrical) work," says Jason, who himself has co-written a play based on the life of blues legend Robert Johnson, called "Hellhound on My Trail."

"I have a passion for the blues," Jason said. "I also write songs, mostly ballad love songs, love lost, love that's gone bad kind of songs."

He's a little worried that his small role as a Muslim minister in Spike Lee's film "Malcolm X" will wind up on the cutting room floor. But he says he has learned so much from the experience that it doesn't matter.

"I played a member of a corps of young men called the Fruit of Islam," Jason says. "We had military training, we had military drill, we had religious training. My knowledge and respect for the Nation of Islam is just incredible."

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