UCF Alumna Bright As Broadway

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2016) – Three weeks after earning her degree a semester early in December 2014, Abby Jaros sat on her bed alongside her parents in a packed up apartment.

All at once, Jaros realized the leap she was about to take in moving to New York City to pursue a career in theater. She questioned herself: Is this really what I should do?

“My dad said, ‘You know what Abby? If not you, who?’” Jaros recalled. “And that is a confidence that I have to take with me everywhere that I go.”

Since then, Jaros has appeared in several regional theater productions and is fresh off her first national tour for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. The tour spanned nine months and included a trip to Japan.

Recently, she returned to UCF’s School of Performing Arts to conduct an informational workshop with current students. As someone who has navigated the ins and outs of making it in the city on her own, Jaros wanted to provide some guidance to the school that became like a family to her.

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Abby Jaros’ workshop at UCF School of Performing Arts

“From the second I stepped foot on this campus, it felt like home. The people here were so welcoming,” she said. “In life, you really have to thank the people who put themselves out there for you. And this was the only school that did. I am forever thankful to people who go out on a limb for me. I’m thankful to represent UCF.”

Jaros grew up as a dancer. She always viewed it as a hobby until she started musical theater in high school as a creative outlet.

She intended to study marine biology in college. Her parents were supportive of her passion for theater, but also erred on the side of practicality when it came to her future career path.

That all changed when Jaros attended Broadway Theater Project, a three-week intensive learning experience under the direction of Broadway directors, choreographers, casting directors and producers.

Before her final showcase of the Project, with her parents sitting in the audience, Jaros was given the Gregory Hines Scholarship, presented to students who show artistic merit. The scholarship offers training and performance opportunities and encourages pre-professional level students to continue with their studies with on-stage performing experience.

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AbbyJaros.com/Dancers Of New York

She’ll never forget the date, Aug. 1, 2010, when her parents encouraged her to follow her dreams.

“They said they were 100 percent behind me because of getting the scholarship that day,” she said. “They said, ‘We will accompany you to any audition you want to go to. Whatever you want, we will do whatever it takes.’”

Since moving to New York City, the musical theater alumna is constantly on the move. She has been seen for commercial work, television and film roles and of course, theater work.

She is helping a fellow UCF alumnus work on his script for a feature film. She has been featured on the Dancers of New York blog and had a personal project video go viral on YouTube.

When her friends invited her on a weekend getaway to Disney this fall, she booked her trip with some extra days set aside to visit UCF.

“I wanted to come and see my alma mater and really give back because they gave me so much. I think that’s the most important thing – remembering your roots and where you came from,” she said. “A lot of alums from here help me up in New York. It’s such a great community.”

Jaros covered the basics – who photographs good headshots, social media tricks to finding an affordable place to live and where to attend worthwhile classes.

She also offered up words of encouragement, motivating the students to put themselves out there and connect with people.

When she recounted her story of the insecurity she felt before making the leap to New York, senior Amanda Hornberger wiped away tears from her seat in the crowd. Hornberger said it was comforting and helpful to learn from someone who understands the journey that she herself is trying to pursue.

“What I loved that she kept saying was: ‘Find your people. We are a community.’ That’s why I do theater and performing to begin with because I found a community of people here,” Hornberger said. “There is something special about people in the arts. They understand how to be there for each other.”

Strumming in the Spotlight

Alumnus brings six characters to life with just his voice and a guitar

ChasePadgett

Chase Padgett, ’07 | Actor and Musician

By Angie Lewis, ’03

While it may appear he’s having an identity crisis during his 90 minutes on stage, Chase Padgett, ’07, is actually just doing what he loves: performing.

For more than five years, from Orlando to British Columbia, and Scotland to South Korea, he’s been bringing six distinct characters to life in his one-man show, titled “6 Guitars.”

Each of his six characters play songs from their genres — blues, jazz, rock, classical, folk and country — while telling the stories of how they fell in love with their music, what they think of other styles of music and what music means to us all. Padgett also incorporates his improv comedy background into the act.

The show premiered in 2010 at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, where it became a breakout hit, winning multiple awards including Best in Venue, Best Musician and Best Solo Show, among several others. It also won awards at fringe festivals in Canada and Scotland.

Before his successful solo career, he performed various roles at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and the SAK Comedy Lab in downtown Orlando, as an actor, improviser and musician.

Padgett says his UCF degree gives him authority when he speaks about music, and sharpened his musicianship, which is a key component of his livelihood.

In 2014, Padgett became the artist-in-residence at the Curious Comedy Theatre in Portland, Ore., which is now the place he calls home — that is, when he’s not on the road, which is where he’ll remain for at least the next couple of years, as he’s touring Canada for “6 Guitars” through 2016. While that will take up much of his next two years, he’s already preparing for his next career move.

“[I want to] develop more material that would make sense as a TV special,” he says. “Also, [I want to have] a legitimate run with one of my solo shows. Over time, I want to transition into more film and television. I just wrapped my first role in a feature film and I’d love to keep doing that. It was a blast!”

Hitting the Notes Q&A

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. Doing anything else would not nearly be as fulfilling.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. I think the choir performances I did were my favorite memory. Singing in a group like that is a truly intoxicating experience.

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF music majors?
A. Being able to promote yourself in the artistic marketplace is crucial. Putting together a good online resume with videos and graphic design is so important. It could be the difference between really making it in your field and just scraping by. Also, talent has never been, nor will ever be, a substitute for character.

Q. Most memorable work experience so far?
A. Lots of highlights to choose from. I got to workshop a new musical improv show for Wayne Brady recently. Last fall, I did a sketch comedy showcase for the executives of NBC. But, honestly, the feeling I get during the final blackout of one of my live shows is probably the best thing. It’s the moment right after the performance and right before the audience’s applause. Therein lays an accomplished stillness that I still chase to this day.

Q. Who/what inspires your music?
A. Ray Charles is my single greatest inspiration both musically and entrepreneurially. Also, the guitar player Tommy Emmanuel is an enormous inspiration.

Q. First concert you attended?
A. B.B. King at the Naples Philharmonic

Q. Do you play any other instruments besides guitar?
A. Piano. I also beatbox a fair bit.

Q. What instrument do you wish you could play?
A. Chapman Stick!

Q. Who/what inspires your comedy?
A. There’s no better source for comedy than the truth in one’s own life.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” in terms of a career in entertainment. Also, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s easy to get down on one’s self for not being where you’d like to be, but you’ve got to combat that with gratitude. I’m a successful full-time performing artist making a living doing the material I created for myself. That’s certainly good enough to be grateful for.

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“Six Guitars”

Destined for the Stage

Alumnus’ love of musical theater leads him to a “shady” role

RobStack

Rob Stack, ’07 | Actor/Performer

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Thanks to having three sisters who liked watching musicals, Rob Stack, ’07, grew up watching them too. As a kid, he found himself drawn to “Grease 2.”

“I know. It’s a horrible movie with a campy, cliché depiction of high school,” he says. “But, I loved every minute of it. I sang all of the songs, and even tried to turn my bike into a motorcycle.”

After that, he was bitten by the musical theater bug, and, in sixth grade, he started acting and enrolled in his first drama class.

“When you perform a show, it becomes a living, breathing thing,” he says. “It’s always changing — the cast, the audience, content, state-of-mind, etc. It’s very exciting and kind of a high. I love challenges and roles that stretch me beyond what I know and am comfortable with.”

And, his latest role has definitely stretched him out of his comfort zone. In addition to the usual acting and singing, Stack also has to play guitar and perform a striptease for the audience as Hugh in “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody,” which runs through March 23 at The Abbey in Orlando.

Much closer to his comfort zone is his day gig, playing a crab in the “Finding Nemo: The Musical” live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Performing in two different shows each day has been challenging, but Stack has figured out how to balance his busy schedule.

“I only do five things on my work days: ‘Nemo’ in the morning, gym in the afternoon, ‘Spank’ in the evening, family in the evening and then sleep!” he explains. “On my days off, I’m spending time with my family and keeping up on ‘The Walking Dead.’ Love that show.”

Stack says he chose to attend UCF for many reasons — a big one being that it offered a B.F.A. in musical theater.

“The UCF musical theater program was such an amazing experience for me,” he explains. “First of all, I met my wife there. But, I also met a crucial network of very talented friends and colleagues who I still keep in touch with today. I enjoyed it so much because it’s such a well-put-together program. They have excellent professors, a great curriculum, and they mount fantastic productions every semester.”

As a student, Stack performed in many of those productions, including “Pippin,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Visit,” and “The Boyfriend.”

In addition, he and his wife, Andrea (Dunn), ’07, performed together as love interests Brad and Janet in the UCF’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“It was the most fun I have ever had on stage,” he says. “It was such a wonderful team of people, from the production team to the cast. We all felt like rock stars! I’m sure you heard about it… It was legendary.”

Behind the Curtain Q&A

Q. What’s your current job title?
A. Performer/carpenter/husband/dad/badass

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I’ve been performing in productions since sixth grade. This is the life I know. This is what I love. This is what I feel I’m good at. Performing has been the logical choice for me since I began. While others dreamed of careers in medicine or business, I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing.

Q. How did you find/get the role for “Spank?”
A. Actually, a couple of my friends read the role breakdowns that were posted and sent it to me. The role required me to play guitar, look good in a suit and possess great comic timing. Me, me and me! I knew what the books were about, so I could only imagine how much fun it would be to parody the story. So, I auditioned and got the role.

Q. Have you read the “Fifty Shades” books?
A. I’m still trying to read the first one. Ugh.

Q. What’s it like performing the show every night? Does it ever get boring?
A. Never. The content is so crazy and outrageous, I don’t think I could ever get bored with it. The show is also so non-stop, that I don’t have a free second once I walk on stage. My time backstage is consumed with costume changes, getting props and making sure my hair looks good. The audience plays a huge factor in this show. They are the fourth character. They laugh at something different every night. Therefore, it’s always changing the energy, pace and feel of the whole show.

Q. What’s been the best part of playing Hugh so far?
A. The free bar tab. Just kidding! I love performing the show. We have a fantastic team of people behind us who make it a wonderful experience. The cast is fantastic. So good, in fact, I have a hard time not breaking character and laughing on stage. Sometimes I just have to, though. Andrea (Canny) [above, left] and Alice (Rix) [above, right] are so funny, and the circumstances we’re in are just so absurd! I love it. And the audiences have been very appreciative. VERY.

Q. What’s been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
A. I have a lot. Falling during a tap solo in “The Boyfriend,” and dancing in a dance recital when I was 18 while the rest of the class was 5-year-olds. The most embarrassing, I think, was when I fell out of the crab at “Finding Nemo” during a live show. The crab is a huge shell on wheels where the performer sits inside while wearing a red crab costume complete with claws and a facemask. Well, I fell out of it one day and couldn’t stand up because my hands were in giant claws. So, I literally had to roll off the stage while guiding the shell back into the wing. So embarrassing.

Q. What’s your favorite musical to watch?
A. No one in particular. I’m a sucker for Sondheim. His stuff is always very moving and poignant to life. His music is so beautiful, I can’t take it sometimes.

Q. What’s your dream job/role?
A. My wife and I would love to own a theatre company one day in a thriving town somewhere in the New England area. We daydream a lot. Owning a furniture business would be great too! (We like to build furniture as a hobby.) Or, building custom acoustic guitars. (I do that too. I actually started doing that at UCF as an independent study.)

Q. Anything else we should know?
A. I have $42 in overdue library charges at UCF. I still get emails from them.

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Rob Stack, ’07, took the stage with his wife, Andrea (Dunn), ’07, in UCF’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
PHOTO: Tony Firriolo