If you’ve been to The MUNY this year, you’ve seen this guy!! Jay Shastri is a summer constant at the gate- let’s learn a little more about him!
Jay works during the day at Ross and Baruzzini Engineers in Webster Groves, and at the Backstage Gate at The Muny during the summer. He will be working as the Props Master for Variety Children’s Theatre’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” this fall.
Q: What was your first experience in theatre?
A: It was back in the mid 70’s, when my tap teacher Betty Jean Kofron from the Betty Jean’s Dance Studio in Crestwood, MO., told me that the Marquee Players were doing “Gypsy”, and that I should audition to be a Newsboy. I auditioned, made it, and that was it, I was hooked. Since that day, and from that production, I have met some stalwart theatre people who are still in the business and to this day have taught me so much.
Q: What is the best piece of career advice anyone has ever given you?
A: Well, let’s see, if it is theatre related, that is real easy. Back in 1980, Ed Greenberg (Exec. Producer) and Sharon Halley (resident choreographer) at The Muny, told me as a young man of 17 trying to get a start and make it in the business, that being a dancer/singer was not my profession, that those were my tools to succeeding in show business. My profession/job was going on auditions, and that when I got hired, I should use my tools to complete the project that I was hired for. Also, to never forget a face or name, because in this business, you don’t have a product or service that you are selling, but that YOU are the what YOU are selling, and as a good salesperson, you always look the buyer straight in the eyes and make them remember YOU, as you never know when you might run into them again, and that you want to make them a return buyer of YOU. In addition, something else I use to this day and I tell all those younger than me, as it was told to me when I was just getting started in the job world……”Go to work each day for the Company you work for, not the paycheck. Because if there is Company for you to go to work for each day, there will always be a paycheck to go along with that Company. Think loyalty. That goes a long way.” I believe that is something that is missing today, and if we make that change in mentality, there is a better chance of success.
Q: Tell us about a backstage or onstage mishap you lived through.
A: Onstage happened back in 1981, while I was doing “West Side Story” at Westport Playhouse here in St. Louis, and yes….wait for it…wait for it…..wait for it…..yep, I was playing a Shark! It was the prologue, and I am being chased by one Jet, as the other is coming at me from the opposite side, and he is to slide under me as I fly over him, and tuck and roll, and then jump up and keep going. Well that did not happen, as all I remember is flying through the air, getting hit in the face, and waking up a few minutes later on the sofa in the actor’s lounge. Shook it off, and ended up making it to the Dance at the Gym, all set to Mambo.
Offstage happened back in 1987 at The Muny during the run of “Fiddler on the Roof” where I was the Fiddler to Theodore Bikel as Tevye. While waiting in downstage left Wing 1, waiting to go on for the Fruma Sarah/Grandma Tzeitel dream sequence, I was standing next to a small truck unit/wagon which had a fellow cast mate sitting on a small stool that was on it. As we were getting ready to enter, she stood up, and the truck moved forward over my ankle. As I was in pain, and also in the wings, I could not talk to loud, and kept whispering over and over for her to sit back down, but she kept telling me over and over that she couldn’t as she had to go on. I finally blurted out, the wagon unit is on my foot, and she jumped right off. Needless to say, the Fiddler was not part of the Dream that evening, but I did return shortly, and made it to the wedding on time. To this day, as she is one of my very good friends, we still laugh about the night this happened.
Q: What is your dream role?
A: It was Bernardo in “West Side Story”, which I have played. So now I would love to play Cosmo in “Singin’ in the Rain.
Q: What is your current guilty T.V. pleasure?
A: All the Chicago “X” series on NBC. “Chicago Fire”, “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.” No, I have not seen “Game of Thrones.”
Thank you, Jay- see you at the gate!!!
Grace Austin is an STL area educator and director.
See her work at gracemaustin.com