TREMBLAY, JASON NATHANIEL (1977 – 2017) Jason Nathaniel Tremblay was born in Texarkana, Texas on April 28, 1977 to Rick and Judy Owens Tremblay. He lived his first five years in Nashville, Arkansas before the family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas where Jason attended Trinity Episcopal School and Pine Bluff High School. Jason was an imaginative and creative child and was seldom seen without a book in his hand. He married the love of his life, Sheila Doyle Tremblay from Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012. They welcomed their son, Oliver Jason to the world on May 11, 2015.
The Paramount Theatre marquee in downtown Austin read, “JASON TREMBLAY OUR THEATRE HERO,” the day he passed away. How did a boy from Texarkana become a hero to the city of Austin and the state of Texas, a nationally renowned playwright and a contributor to international cancer research?
Service seems to be ingrained in Jason, part of his character from his youth, when Jason at thirteen worked with his United Methodist youth group over the next seven summers to clean rat infested spaces, scrape flaking paint, and replace rotting boards on indigent housing while getting to know the would be tenant of these houses by listening to their stories. Little did Jason know that these encounters would form the well from which he would draw the characters and experiences that would populate his plays.
After high school, Jason worked for the National Center for Toxicological Research at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, years before doctors would discover cancer raging inside him.
At nineteen he was a social worker assistant in Pine Bluff Arkansas which found him in daily contact with drug addicts and others living in the margins of society. Often this placed him in harm’s way. This probably had the most profound influence on Jason’s view of life for those who by birth or just bad luck found themselves living a life without hope or the courage to seek help. Jason did not approach these people judgmentally but with empathy that allowed him to understand the complexities of poverty and misfortune, understandings that would years later infuse his work as a playwright.
This is the background that led Jason; to receive his undergraduate degree in Philosophy and English from Arkansas State University (magna cum laude, 1999), and a Master’s in Fine Arts in playwriting from the University of Texas in 2007. Jason was a James Michener Fellow and upon graduation, his play Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back, was the first student play to ever be presented on the University of Texas campus. In 2008, Jason received the Access to Artistic Excellence award from the National Endowment for the Arts and also the New Vision/New Voices Award from the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., for the Best New Play for Young Audiences. He received a Marilyn Hall Award from the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild. Other theater accomplishments included multiple nominations from the Austin Critics Table and the National Youth Theatre. He received commissions from Austin ScriptWorks, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, and East Valley Children’s Theatre. He was a member of Austin’s B. Iden Payne Award Committee.
These events became the springboard for Jason to become a well-known playwright nationally, leading to his works being published by PlayScripts and YouthPlays. Jason never left Austin. He felt Austin was becoming not only the city of live music but also a live theatre center where artists, musicians, and writers could come together in a single cause. Within a span of ten years, Jason produced two screenplays, nine full-length plays and nine short plays. Jason directed nine plays and collaborated on four others. He continued to write and direct plays including his last play, The Call of the Wild that was performed at the State Theatre in Austin in January 2017. Jason believed that his work should not only benefit the community, but also become a necessary part of its life. His plays focused mainly on children and youth. He believed that “children must be taught to survive in order to thrive”. Some have said he was a “champion of the underdog.” This theme was evident in his writing.
Jason founded Theatre Heroes, a touring company for presenting his plays to schools and local theatres throughout Texas and as far away as Vermont. A main goal of Theatre Heroes is to reach under populated communities. This company continues to be devoted to encouraging and inspiring children and youth to read and enjoy theatre as a creative art form in Austin, the state of Texas and beyond. In the fall of 2016 Austin Community College expanded its theatre program by inviting area school children to see Call of the Wild for free. Jason encouraged ACC to try this approach as a way to motivate high school students to consider enrolling in ACC’s Drama classes. The Drama Department was delighted with the feedback from nearby schools and communities. Jason believed “our age is one of new needs. As writers, we are responsible for discovering new techniques of creation to satisfy these needs. We must understand all that have come before us to find those paths not yet traversed. Our work must not only benefit the community, but become a necessary part of our lives.”
Jason worked as a screenwriter and producer for Blue Paper Films, an Austin company, in the creation of In the Shadow (2009), What’s The Use (2011) and Curse of the Bambino (2012). In support of this company, Jason led many successful fundraising campaigns including charity auctions, corporate sponsorships, city and state arts funding, and grant awards.
Jason worked as an adjunct professor (2013 – 2017) at Austin Community College creating, developing and teaching theatre classes. In 2013, he approached the Drama Department with a hybrid course he named Austin Theatre: Let’s Go. Jason was a natural teacher and his passion for theatre excited his students. He was surprised to learn how many of his students had never seen a play much less critiqued one. This was the beginning of his work developing six more theatre classes at ACC. In Jason’s memory, the college has established a scholarship fund,The Jason Tremblay Performing Arts Scholarship Fund.
In addition to his theatre work, Jason played a central role in the Austin community. From 2012 until his death, he served as director of the Moontower Comedy Festival. He was stage manager of South by Southwest (SXSW) from 2012 - 2016. From 2009 – 2016, he managed all day of show stage activities for events such as Pachanga Fest, Texas Monthly BBQ festival, The Switchyard Festival, and Austin Food and Wine Fest. He was production assistant for corporate product launches with Disney, Allen Ware, Dell, and Conduit. Jason managed stages and events for President Obama in New York City and Vice President Joe Biden in Austin, artists such as Kanye West, The Flaming Lips and others (X-Games in Texas and Colorado), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and HDTV.
The Department Chair of Playwriting/Theatre for Youth for the University of Texas’s Department of Theatre and Dance, upon hearing of Jason’s illness, wrote:
“Dear Jason, two words come to me, Gratitude and Grace. Gratitude is for me and Grace is for you. I am so deeply grateful that I have known you, that you have given me the greatest gift a student can ever give a teacher: your own excellence as a playwright, a teacher, and a human being. I am grateful for all my memories of you sitting in my office at UT as we worked on play after play. I am grateful for the gift you have left all of us in Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted Her Name Back.
…Which brings me to my word for you…Grace! For as long as I have known you, you have embodied that word. I remember you as teacher of undergraduate playwriting, how your students always knew you were their champion. I remember your integrity when faced with political challenges in the Department, how you always responded with care and compassion. I remember your quiet humor and your subtle wit. …You have left many legacies Jason…the plays, the memories, the indelible imprint of your being…”
Jason was trained as a classical cellist beginning at age ten. In high school he was a songwriter and bass guitarist for the Oxymorons. He played in the Pine Bluff Orchestra and String Quartet at Hendrix College. In Austin, Jason played the French horn, cello, and bass guitar in various local bands in the community. He loved the variety of music Austin offered.
Jason gave of himself as an experimental subject four times in the pursuit of a cure for the rare, incurable cancer he suffered. One of those experiments was conducted by the man considered the “father of cancer research,” Dr. Steven Rosenberg, at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Jason was the first patient to try Dr. Rosenberg’s immunotherapy trial for Jason’s interheptic cholongiocarcinoma. While ultimately these trials failed, Jason’s willingness to undergo radical trials has benefitted cancer research and brought scientists and doctors one step closer to finding a cure. There are soldiers that have given their lives for their country and then there are soldiers that have given of themselves to save the lives of others fighting a different kind of enemy. This was truly the person Jason wanted to be - a person who fought bravely for the underdog.
Jason Tremblay Scholarship Fund