A&E: South Florida Native Turns Experiences into Compelling Stories on Stage and Life

Playwright Jason Mitchell. Photo Credit: Carina Mask.

(Mirror) Playwright Jason Mitchell was a self-described “theater kid.” The Plantation native attended the magnet performing arts program at Dillard School of the Arts in Fort Lauderdale, spent his summers working in local theaters and went on to major in theater at the New World School of the Arts in Miami. 

It was no surprise that he packed his bags and headed to New York City upon graduation, determined to make his place on Broadway. Life in the Big Apple was exciting for the young gay man and those experiences would eventually make their way into his play, “The Boys Upstairs,” a runaway hit at the 2009 New York Fringe Festival that finally received its South Florida premiere earlier this year. 

“It was inspired by the life I was living,” Mitchell recalled. “I was young and new to New York, navigating new friendships, seeking a career and dating life.”
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His story centers around three roommates living in Hell’s Kitchen: Seth is dating an older man and seeks approval from his single best friends. Ashley is playing the field, enjoying the variety, availability and accessibility of men in Manhattan. Josh finds inspiration from their antics, but focuses instead on developing a new phone app. Then, an incredibly hot neighbor moves in downstairs and they find their worlds upended as they ponder his sexual orientation over craft cocktails.

Village Voice critic Rex Reed called his play, “Sex in the City meets Boys in the Band,” and productions would follow in Los Angeles, London and Chicago.

“It’s definitely a comedy with a lot of heart. I’d even call it a romantic comedy. It’s the second play that I wrote; the first was a historical drama about homosexuals living in the holocaust. I wanted to write something much lighter in tone that reflected the life I was living,” he said.

Mitchell is 10 years older and his characters are still 25. But, he pointed out, they’re not frozen in time, as he always feels free to update the play for each production. 

“The fun thing is that it was always meant to be reflective of being 25 in New York City, but it takes place in 2019. So much has changed in a decade. Oh, my god, I feel so old,” quipped Mitchell. “I’m not living that life anymore.”

There’s so much material, Mitchell has considered adapting his story and characters into a television series, but, in the end, stuck with the theatrical setting, primarily because of the opportunity to collaborate closely with other creatives.

“I love every time this happens—a new director and a new set of actors—seeing what new life we bring to the piece,” he explained. “I, as a writer, can discover (nuances) I’ve never noticed before.”

Mitchell’s storytelling isn’t limited to the stage. As a struggling writer in New York City, he supplanted his income as an event planner and eventually became a celebrity wedding planner. Five years ago, he penned “Getting Groomed,” the first wedding guide for gay grooms and served as the resident wedding planner for a leading international events company overseeing the company’s market in New York, Los Angeles and London. Michell now he splits his time in Los Angeles, planning glitzy ceremonies and receptions for stars of stage and screen, as the president of Jason Mitchell Kahn & Co.

Google searches for Mitchell can sometimes be perplexing.

“People often seem a bit confused about what my real name is, and rightfully so,” he explained. “Growing up I always used my full name, but when I wrote my first play I was encouraged to simplify and just go by Jason Mitchell. I stayed consistent with all of my writing endeavors that followed.  As I joined the work force as an event professional, I went back to using my full name, which is why there can be a discrepancy sometimes. I answer to all of them, and many people simply call me ‘JMK’.” 

Mitchell is currently the “in-house expert” for “Mens Vows” magazine, the “G Life's Grooms Go to Guy,” and well known in the industry. He is regularly asked to contribute ideas and opinions to wedding websites and media outlets.  

“They’re just like shows,” he said. “Each couple brings a new story and then I get to write the script. It’s a wonderful combination.”