Finding a "wonderful life" in art and theater

Posted Online: June 05, 2013, 10:32 am
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By Jonathan Turner,
Jason Platt is a true artist, in more ways than one.

The 39-year-old Taylor Ridge native is an illustrator, graphic designer, cartoonist, actor, playwright and director. He shows a couple of these kaleidoscopic skills in a new District Theatre production of"Doubt: A Parable," in which he plays a leading role and created its promotional poster.

"I think doing theater has helped my illustration -- in both, you're telling a story," Mr. Platt said this week, noting his boundless creativity emerges from the same source of self-expression.

"It's much like with acting -- you're not yourself, you're a character," he said of illustrating. "With doing posters, there's a personal touch in me somewhere. I get to create and design and act through what the story is. What I love about doing the poster work, you get a sense of what the story is without giving too much away."

In "Doubt," thePulitzer Prize-winning 2004 play by John Patrick Shanley, Mr. Platt is the compassionate Father Flynn, set at a Catholic school in the Bronx, 1964.The taut, tense, 90-minute drama centers on the strict Sister Aloysius' suspicions that the progressive priest has an improper relationship with the school's first African-American student, Donald Muller.

Mr. Platt first created the poster (of himself as the priest) for the Q-C premiere in 2009, when theGreen Room Theatre performed it at the former Harrison Hilltop in Davenport.

When he couldn't get a photo of lead Jeremy Mahr, then-director Tyson Danner gave Mr. Platt leeway for the poster. "That's what makes the thing ironic. I had no idea I would be playing the part," Mr. Platt said.

"I was blown away by the story, the chance to do that role. It's a great role," he said. "It's definitely a challenging one. You can't play it too innocent, or too guilty."

"It's a delicate balance," Mr. Platt said, noting Father Flynn knows in his mind what happened, but that's not clear to the audience. "It's brilliantly written." He's known veteran actress Susan Perrin-Sallak (who plays Sister Aloysius) for years, but this is the first time they've performed together.

"Her delivery is so natural, much like Pat Flaherty," he said of another Q-C acting pro. "One of the things I just love, I love working with great actors and great actresses. You're constantly being challenged. I've been very fortunate with a lot of productions I've been in."

An artistic flair at an early age

A Q-C resident until age 13 (when his family moved to North Carolina), Mr. Platt has loved drawing since he was 4, and his mother recognized a talent.

"I always had a huge interest in poster work," he said. During his youth he was an admirer of Drew Struzan, who created iconic posters for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter films. "From an early age, probably 5th grade, I was studying not just illustration, but design as well."

Mr. Platt began making theater posters (over 20-plus years, he's done well over 100) during his senior year in high school. "It wasn't until senior year, I took a theater class, and the theater instructor noticed, I like to think, both talents. He asked me if I'd like to do the poster work for 'You Can't Take It With You.'"

The first stage production he did was the high school's musical, "Tintypes," for a regional competition. He's been hooked ever since.

"It was just, I felt like there was throughout high school, a struggle -- as we all do -- of who we are. When I got into the theater, I saw all these people are like me," Mr. Platt said. "It was like a sense of belonging."

After moving back to the Q-C, he changed his major at Black Hawk College from psychology to art, and he earned his degree in Georgia from theSavannah College of Art and Design. While there, Mr. Platt found work acting and illustrating for the city and area theaters.

Of his many acting roles, he played the classic Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls" in Savannah in 1999 -- one of five different productions of the 1950 show he's done, including his first stage directing gig, in 2010 at Music Guild in Moline.

"People ask why I didn't pursue acting. I knew as a performer, it was going to be hard if I wanted to have a family," Mr. Platt said. "I thought visual art would actually be better. There is community theater everywhere."

He has worked for the photography and art firm, Boyd Fitzgerald in Bettendorf, and 10 years doing animation, illustration and graphic design for LinguiSystems, based in East Moline, before being laid off 10 months ago; Mr. Platt continues to freelance for the publisher of materials for speech language pathologists and people with learning disabilities.

"It's a great company," he said. "The company is helping children grow; I felt so lucky to be part of that."

His passion for art led Mr. Platt to name his 9-year-old son Wyeth -- after the artist N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) whose first name was Newell. Newell is the name of the boy in Mr. Platt's four-year-old comic strip, "Mister and Me," loosely based on his own life (archived at Much of his art work can be seen at

Balancing art and life

Since he was 12, Mr. Platt also has loved writing, and over the years he's penned several one-act plays -- many done at New Ground Theatre, including this past April -- and three unpublished novels, as well as his comic strip.

"I find it very similar to illustrating and acting. As a writer, you get to play all the characters, direct the mind of all the readers," he said. "It's one of those things. It's just, I love seeing something you've written, giving it to someone else, saying 'Have at it.' It's neat to see what they did to it. ...It's like leaving your child with family or a friend."

Of his varied disciplines, "I lovethem all," Mr. Platt said. "They all fill an artistic need to create. With the comic strip, I have ideas, but it's hard for me to get back to it. I really want to focus on getting employment. I love doing 'Mister and Me,' I get to draw, write. In a weird sense, I get to act."

Acostumer at Western Illinois University (who acted with Mr. Platt in Hilltop's "Long Day's Journey Into Night") adapted the strip for a class and toured it, starting in early 2011, including in Rock Island. "That was a real flattering experience," Mr. Platt said. "It was one of those situations, where like the one-acts, seeing it come alive was surreal."

Because he has primary custody of his son, he is selective of shows in which he acts or directs; for Hilltop, Mr. Platt was able to co-direct "Sweeney Todd" and "Spelling Bee," and had a flexible schedule acting in last year's "The Pillowman" at The District. Other Q-C roles include "Angels in America," "August: Osage County" and "God of Carnage."

"Being a single dad, one of the great things, too, a lot of theaters here have been really great with understanding my schedule," he said. "I've been really blessed with the people I've worked with."

Director James Fairchild, who's worked with Mr. Platt on "Pillowman" and "Doubt" said: "He has so many talents. He is just a joy to work with -- he always comes prepared, always knows what he can bring to the table. He's never afraid to try new things."

"Theneed to create is definitely something that drives him," Mr. Fairchild said. "He brings the eye of an artist -- when explaining blocking, things you want to achieve, he's able to visualize it a lot better."

Mr. Platt made the poster for the director's "Death of a Salesman" at Richmond Hill, and Mr. Fairchild said: "He's just a phenomenal artist."

Writing a happy ending

Last November, Mr. Platt acted several parts in a radio play version of "It's A Wonderful Life" at Augustana College, and found a new love in an old friend -- Erin Lounsberry, another divorced actor he's known for 17 years.

"We've both been single the same amount of time. What made it so great was, we discovered it ourselves," he said of their romance. He hadn't acted before with Ms. Lounsberry, who was assistant director when Mr. Platt was in "Anything Goes" at Music Guild.

Shewill play Audrey opposite his Seymour in the upcoming "Little Shop of Horrors" at District Theatre, and in real life, they will be married on Dec. 20.

"I'm a lucky guy," Mr. Platt said. It's a wonderful life, indeed.

If you go

-- What: "Doubt: A Parable."
-- When: Tonight through Saturday (plus June 13-15) at 8 p.m., and Sunday (plus June 16) at 2 p.m.
-- Where: The District Theatre, 1611 2nd Ave., Rock Island.
-- Tickets: $20 (except $10 preview tonight), available by calling 309-235-1654.


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 274th day of 2014. There are 91 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: It is rumored in the streets that the 13 negroes sent to Quincy on the Moline quota were refused. We think this must be a mistake.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Harvey McKenna, of Detroit, billiard player matched to play Wizard Schafer in New York in January for the world championship, was a professional friend and manager, Billy Catton in Rock Island.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Rehearsals for the 84th season of the Handel Oratorio Society chorus will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the stage of Centennial Hall, Augustana College.
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Rock Island City Council's plan announced this week to have the federal government vacate Valley Homes public housing and move residents to Arsenal Courts to reduce density may not be feasible.

(More History)