The career journey of Taylor graduate and actor
By Gracie Fairfax | Echo
His first role was in a musical version of “Little House on the Prairie” in a community theatre. He joined to talk to cute girls. Despite his primary motives, Jason Burkey’s (’07) interests shifted to include a love for acting when he first performed a goofy solo in the musical in front of an audience.
“It was the first time I experienced a room full of people laughing at something that I did, and it was such a rush,” Burkey said. “I was like, ‘I want to do this.’”
Originally a communications studies major at Taylor, Burkey transitioned into the film production program when Jon and Kathy Bruner joined Taylor’s media communication faculty during his junior year.
During his time at Taylor, he created a film that made it into the Trojan Film Festival, now called Envision.
“It then won an award at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis,” Burkey said. “That was my first real taste of doing any type of film . . . I was just like ‘I’d love to be on set; I would love to be a part of production.’”
Alongside some of his serious Taylor achievements, Burkey looks back proudly on his days as an Airband champion, when his wing, Second East Wengatz, took first place for its rendition of the musical “Newsies.”
“That was a rush; we loved it,” Burkey said. “We got to be little minor celebrities for the semester,” Burkey said.
As a film major, Burkey spent his last semester at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. After pursuing videography and other aspects of film, Burkey made the transition into acting, which he largely credits to Kathy Bruner.
He came across an encouraging email Kathy Bruner sent him shortly after his final theater production at Taylor in 2006, “Flowers for Algernon.”
“When I read that it gave me that extra push to be like ‘You know what, I do love this; I should just drop everything and go for it,’” Burkey said.
Burkey finally left the production side of entertainment and transitioned into acting in 2008. He began his career by seeking roles as extras in films, which had previously just been a bucket list item for him. He participated in shoots for music videos and commercials before making a valuable connection with the Erwin Brothers, a director duo based out of Birmingham. The brothers cast Burkey in a television pilot that failed to get picked up. However, the group knew they wanted to work together again.
The Erwin Brothers later approached Burkey with a script, including a role they had written specifically for him. The movie’s title was “October Baby.” The film, released in theaters in 2012, became Burkey’s first big break, in which he played the male lead, Jason.
The movie opened the same weekend as the first Hunger Games and did well in the box office, despite being a low-budget film. Burkey was amazed by the audience response.
“That too was when I fully experienced the power of storytelling, specifically through film,” Burkey said.
When he attended screenings of “October Baby,” Burkey was able to sit in an audience, watch a story he was a part of and hear how those watching the film were moved. Many people came up to him afterwards and shared the level of impact the film had on their lives. In these moments, he realized the film was much bigger than himself.
His role in “October Baby” opened up more opportunities for roles in features.
Burkey never thought acting could be a full-time career.
“To be able to say that I’ve done it full-time now for four years is really kind of baffling,” Burkey said. “I know that there’s a very small percentage of actors that can say that, and it’s just a lot of God’s favor on the direction of my life.”
Burkey has no plans of giving up on his dreams any time soon and is preparing to make his first return to the stage in 10 years. He is excited for the live audience feedback, which he missed while doing TV and film.
“It’s something I hope I will do until I’m as old as Betty White . . . doing it at her age would be amazing,” Burkey said. “That’s the great thing about that career, you can just keep doing it until you die.”