published Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Curtain Call: Versatility keeps Jason Ross busy

Jason Ross is known for his portrayals of the Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe in the Sanders Family plays.
Jason Ross is known for his portrayals of the Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe in the Sanders Family plays.
Photo by Contributed Photo.

JASON ROSS

Age: 39.

Hometown: Chattanooga.

Education: Lakeview Junior High, Cartersville (Ga.) High School, Chattanooga State.

Vocation: Actor in residence Cumberland County Playhouse.

Finding work is often the toughest part of being a professional actor.

Back in 1995, Jason Ross was living in Chattanooga and doing plays at the Chattanooga Little Theatre (now the Chattanooga Theatre Centre) and Backstage Playhouse.

Friend and director Terry Snead suggested he travel with him to Crossville, Tenn., to audition for Jim Crabtree at the Cumberland County Playhouse.

"Jim had just had a car accident, so I auditioned for this guy in a wheelchair up on the balcony," Ross said. "I couldn't even see who it was."

The two have seen a lot of each other in the years since. A versatile and talented actor, Ross is in most of the Playhouse productions.

"It's very repertory, so when you are not in a show, you are rehearsing," Ross said.

His day can include a 10 a.m. rehearsal and then back to the theater for makeup, followed by an evening performance. Some days the afternoon includes a matinee. Since the Playhouse runs shows concurrently, he might be in more than one show in a day.

Saturday, for example, he did "Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge" at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., and he did "Backwards in High Heels" at 2:30 p.m.

In "Golden Boy," he plays an Appalachian father who is conked over the head with a shovel by his son and left for dead. He spends much of the show covered in blood searching for his son to get even.

"It's kind of crazy," Ross said. "It's a cross between 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and 'Slingblade.' With bluegrass music."

In the "High Heels" show, Ross dresses in drag and plays famous women -- Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, among others -- who Ginger Rogers encountered during her life.

"I have to shave my chest and my armpits," Ross said.

His most famous role, without a doubt, is Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe, which he has done in "Smoke on the Mountain," "A Sanders Family Christmas" and "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming."

He's played the role every year since joining the Playhouse and he even did all three productions on one memorable Saturday in 2008.

"I am quite burned out on it, to be honest," Ross said. "It's a constant challenge to keep it fresh. I owe a lot to that show, but it is a challenge to keep doing something for so long."

Ross said he has worked in other parts of the country and for a time was doing voice work and commercials in Knoxville and Nashville, but his schedule precludes him from doing more.

He'd like to eventually work in New York or London, but he's not sure when he might be able to get away from Crossville.

The Cumberland County Playhouse players hold celebrity status in Crossville, he said, and that a number of seniors retire and move there because of the theater.

"There is nothing like being up there and connecting with the people and telling a story," Ross said. "It feels like you are reaching out to strangers and you get to make people happy. It's kind of a blessing."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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