About Theatre and Stuff: Beyond the Classroom

Story by Layli Brown, Staff Reporter.

CNM Instructor Jason Witter, Artist/Director/Writer/Actor/

Jason Witter teaches Theatre appreciation and Acting 1, “I love the academic part of art, and I also love to feel that I’m participating in what I’m teaching outside the classroom” said Witter, CNM instructor since 2008.

What CNM has to offer, is arguably just as strong as a four-year university, in the sense that the college might not have as many classes but, the classes that CNM does offer are taught by top notch instructors who encompass many aspects of theatre with very strong acting and performance backgrounds; and strong movement and voice backgrounds, as well, Witter added.


The Coal Avenue Theatre, (CAT), gives students the possibility of creating shows in an on campus theatre that is open to the public. Witter says, it is a fantastic opportunity for students to have a theatre that produces shows.


“Theatre becomes a real sense of community and family; I fell in love with it from the beginning, due to that sense of belonging”, said Witter.


After receiving his master’s in theatre in dramatic writing, Witter started a sketch comedy troop called Eat Drink and be Larry with some people from UNM.  He says, we’d do parodies; horror classical comedies of the plays theatres were putting on in town. All the acting, directing, writing and producing shows in the community was a great learning experience that started at the Reptilian Lounge, part of Tricklock Theatre Company. 


Witter’s got into theatre after going to Wales for an exchange program, upon his return to New Mexico he found auditions going on at the Vortex and got a small part, then another small part, then got cast in Hamlet at UNM, “that was super exciting, I really fell in love with theatre, the people, the atmosphere the comradery of it, everything about it was so vibrant and exciting”, said Witter.


Witter did a lot with children’s theatre in grad school. He found a lot of freedom writing for a younger audience. He said, you can create worlds and characters because expectations and barriers don’t exist in kids, you can express anything that comes to mind.


A couple years ago Jason Witter started writing silly little poems and doing drawings for them, he said, they’re geared towards kids with a lot of stuff that adults understand and kids still dig it. I always loved Shel Silverstein, he added.


Witter loves monsters, he’s a horror movie fan and his take on it is to create silly poems about monsters and making them silly because it takes the fear out of them. “I love being scared but I also love being able to laugh at it, so that’s what I try to do with the poems”, Said Witter.


He gave himself a challenge a couple years ago, to do a poem and a drawing every day and post them on Facebook starting sept 1st until October 31st; Witter added that although he doesn’t really like social media, it worked for this. He did 60 poems and got through it.


By Halloween he had a rough draft for his book, friends suggested that he do a Kickstarter for it as a way to get it out to people and it blew up. The Tiniest Vampire and Other Silly Things ended up being supported and shipped out to people in Ireland, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Australia, “it was super cool!”, said Witter.


The following year he did the same thing and put out the Monsters Eating Ice Cream and Other Silly Things. As part of the “Silly Things” series of books, Witter plans to do one more this fall for the trilogy and then focus on something else, he said. The seed from it was loving children’s theatre.


Witter drew comic books growing up, his father and brothers were artists; his mother was a writer, and this is something that he wanted to revisit. He said, he feels fortunate to have been supported with that.


He added, “I love the arts in general and I love dabbling, they’re all an important part of our existence. I’m fascinated by every aspect of it and all the arts go hand in hand. They work together to create the humanities”.


Witter is working on a series of short books called Classics Kind of, where it retells the story taking the classics and putting them in very simple terms, “Kind of” geared for kids. He said, his goal with these little books is that they be fun for everybody, that’s the way he learned Shakespeare, by understanding the basic story and going from there.


He is doing Hamlet, The Raven, The Odyssey, Dracula, and Moby Dick in a series of 5 books he called tiny versions of the classics with silly illustrations. Witter’s undergraduate degree was in literature and naturally he’s a huge literature fan. His love for the classics and putting them in simple terms has led him to basically doing hamlet in 16 pages with drawings to go along, he said.


Some people might disagree with this, but according to Witter, most of Shakespeare can be summarized in a few pages. They’re fairly simple stories brilliantly written, “there’s so much meat to them” he said. It’s the language that is so broad and immense that it can be intimidating.  But when you understand the basic story you start to understand the text, he added.


In his off time Witter is reading and researching plays that have been around for 500 years, yet people keep doing them because they’re great stories that we like as human beings, he said he loves seeing what people do with it, Theatre being an ephemeral thing, you do it and its gone.


Witter added a classical quote by William Shakespeare,

 “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players: they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” – As you like it, Act II Scene VII


Witter’s is also directing a parody of Macbeth that he wrote for his Theatre Appreciation class to perform at the Reptilian Lounge Saturday June 24th

Jason Witter will be on stage at the South Broadway Cultural Center in Peter and The Star Catcher. “there are no small parts only small actors”


Next week About Theatre and Stuff interviews Heather Ashley CNM graduate, Actor & Stage Manager of this summer’s play Tragedy Plus Time at the Coal Avenue Theatre (CAT) 


CNM’s Theatre Program

Between plays he’s producing or directing, classes he’s teaching, and books he’s writing and illustrating, CNM instructor Jason Witten sits down with The Chronicle. (Wade Faast/CNM Chronicle)


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