CHATHAM - Singer, composer and dancer Lisa Sullivan Jason has refashioned her life in middle age by moving from Chatham to New York City to pursue her dreams as a performer on a larger stage than Chatham Bars Inn and the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club provided.
“It was cool to go back to New York as an older person,” Jason said during a telephone interview last week. “I look back on life at the Cape – I have gratitude for my business and raising my kids there. It gave me the floor and grounding to give it another go.” A few years ago Jason sold her Salon Fabulous on Main Street to a co-worker.
“My kids got to see it’s never too late to do what you love,” she adds. “It could end tomorrow because that’s show biz, but if you don’t do it, you’re missing out.”
For the past three years Jason has been performing a one-woman cabaret show in New York City called “Bullied to Beautiful” that has its roots in Chatham.
As a child, Jason was bullied. The Sullivan family moved to Chatham from Long Island in 1972 when her father, Richard Sullivan, was named the dean of student services at Cape Cod Community College. Jason was in the second grade then and she says, “I was very different, or I felt so. It was constant.” She was “teased and tormented,” punched in the stomach and pursued by a boy on a bicycle. Even worse than punches were “the words that people called you, the names – the impact was debilitating at times. It sticks with you.”
She emphasizes that her show is not retaliatory and is not actually about bullies. The show is “how it feels to go through something like that,” she says. “To feel less than, to feel different, to not know how to navigate that.”
And she has sympathy for the bullies, too. “Everyone is struggling. Sometimes it comes out in other kids,” she says. “How do we teach our children to process these emotions that sometimes allow them to lash out at other kids?”
As a young person Jason found solace in the arts, music, dancing. In dance class she “got accepted by a new community of kids who didn’t see the same things the kids at school did.” She found her singing voice in a junior year production of “Oliver” when she was cast in the starring role of Nancy. And especially, she found “songs that made me feel not so lonely.” By the time she graduated from Chatham High School with the class of 1981 her life had turned around.
She is by now well-integrated in New York’s art scene doing things such as coaching movement for the Infinity Dance Theater. She danced with that group at Lincoln Center last fall in the Table of Silence Project 9/11, a commemorative show performed each year on Sept. 11.
On top of her work in the arts, she graduated in May from Lesley University with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a specialization in dance movement therapy – just three days after her daughter Kayla Rose Jason earned her master’s degree in art education at Columbia University. Jason’s younger daughter, Allie, is a vocalist with the group The Walrus and the Carpenter in Orleans.
Last spring Jason brought the expressive arts to a shelter in New Jersey, where she did a clinical internship. There, she listened to the horrific stories of women and children who were victims of sexual violence. Eventually she hosted an open mic night at the shelter where the people “spoke their truth.”
“It reminded me why we’re here to serve and the power of the arts,” she says. “I love to work with people and help.”
For people who grew up in the 1970s, “Bullied to Beautiful” will provide a nostalgia trip. The songs, from the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” to Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” each have significance in the show. Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” is included because it was played at every school dance in the 1970s. Jason will also sing her own composition “Beautiful Child,” which was adopted as the 2007 official song of the March of Dimes USA. That same year Jason served as the Massachusetts March of Dimes ambassador. All of the familiar songs are “arranged beautifully with a different sort of twist on the original arrangement,” she says.
“There are definitely fun moments in the show that celebrate the evolution of my growth,” she says. “We even have a little disco movement in there.”
And the show has been resonating with her audience. “Some come out in tears, some thank me,” she says.
“For me, it’s very, very vulnerable. It’s one thing to stand up and entertain. It’s another to say, ‘Hi, my name is Lisa Jason and I’m a survivor of bullying.’”
Jason will perform “Bullied to Beautiful” at the Cotuit Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Aug. 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through www.artsonthecape.org. For more information on Jason visit www.lisajason.com.