Around The Town

Zina Jasper (1939-2023)

OCC Award winning actor, director, playwright, teacher & coach, dies at 84.  

June 19, 2023:  Zina Jasper, an acclaimed award-winning actor, director, playwright, teacher, and coach died peacefully on June 8, at her home on the Upper West Side after a brief illness. Born in Bronx, NY on January 29, 1939, Zina was the daughter of Anna and Jack Jasper, Russian emigrants. A cheerleader in high school, Zina would become a highly praised actor and studied with Harold Clurman, who became her friend. He suggested she could be good as Rochelle in Jerome Kass’ Saturday Night. Playing that role at the Sheridan Square Playhouse in the West Village, she won the 1968 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Leading Actress in a Off-Broadway play.

Terry Kiser & Zina Jasper in the 1970 Broadway production of “Paris is Out!”.

OCC Award winning actor, director, playwright, teacher & coach, dies at 84.  

June 19, 2023:  Zina Jasper, an acclaimed award-winning actor, director, playwright, teacher, and coach died peacefully on June 8, at her home on the Upper West Side after a brief illness. Born in Bronx, NY on January 29, 1939, Zina was the daughter of Anna and Jack Jasper, Russian emigrants. A cheerleader in high school, Zina would become a highly praised actor and studied with Harold Clurman, who became her friend. He suggested she could be good as Rochelle in Jerome Kass’ Saturday Night. Playing that role at the Sheridan Square Playhouse in the West Village, she won the 1968 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Leading Actress in a Off-Broadway play.

Luminaries that also won that year included Helen Hayes, Pearl Bailey, Joel Grey, and Tom Stoppard. A heady atmosphere for a young actress of 29. Inspired by the award, Zina embarked on a journey to prove she deserved to be in such an illustrious group.  Along the way, she was grateful for the many opportunities that presented themselves and especially for the artists she had the chance to work with, who nourished her gifts. Critics described her performances as luminous and radiant. 

Some other Off-Broadway credits include Strawberry in Leonard Malfi’s Raven Rock at La MaMa; Mimi in Julie Brovasso’s  Moon Dreamers at La MaMa (1969); Cybil in A Dream Out of Time at the Promenade (1970); created Chelsea in On Golden Pond at Hudson Guild; Bananas in House of Blue Leaves directed by James Nicola; Virginia in Quail Southwest at MTC (1977); Margaret in Artichoke at MTC; Rona in Lillian Hellman’s My Mother, My Father and Me at the WPA (1980); Ruth in A Different Moon by Ira Watson at WPA (1983).

Regional credits include the Arena Stage in Washington D.C., where she was Olivia in Twelfth Night directed by Jeff Bleckner, and where she originated the role of Iris in Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign In Sidney Burstein’s Window.  At Trinity Rep she was Regina in Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest, played in repertory, under the direction of Adrian Hall. 

Although she worked in film and television, theater is what inspired her.  She had to be prodded to audition for film and TV roles and was reluctant to audition for an Oil of Olay commercial, which she booked and ran for four years.

Directing credits include The Alto Part by Barbara Gilstrapat at the WPA (1983), I’m Here (co-writer) at The Passage Theater Company, Jesus in the Rock Garden & Singing Solos On Sundays by Edward Napier at the Trocadero Café Starting Monday by Anne Commire starring Ellen Greene at the WPA (1990), Pinter & Williams at The Blue Heron (2003), and The Owl and The Pussycat at The Abingdon (2005).

Zina began teaching in 1983 and quickly discovered this was her calling. She moved away from acting gradually and began teaching more as well as doing private coaching.  In demand, she turned down many opportunities to travel with celebrities as their private acting coach, because it would interfere with her classes.  She taught two ongoing scene study workshops until approximately 2015.  Informed by her extensive work experiences and her studies with Harold Clurman and Stella Adler, Zina brought wisdom and a wealth of knowledge to her acting workshops. Her patience enabled her students to develop their craft and find work, while often making artistic breakthroughs in the process. 

Biologically incapable of having children, her students became the children she had longed for and were the recipients of the kindness she would have bestowed on her own children had she been able to conceive. 

Zina was a great animal lover with an independent and eccentric spirit. She rescued over 124 stray or abandoned dogs by fostering them and finding them loving homes. Throughout the years she always had at least one dog in residence, often two, along with numerous birds. She was notorious for feeding the birds in Riverside Park and it is said they could see her silver mane from a distance and would swoop down as she walked on Westend Avenue. 

A terrific cook and a generous humanitarian, she sponsored many children over the decades and believed in virtuous deeds. Her generosity included the children of her students. And although there were always requests for her to return to acting, she gracefully declined, modest about not needing to be visible once she discovered the joy of teaching. A special delight for her was that she shared a birthday with Anton Chekov, her favorite playwright.

A treasured quote from Henry David Thoreau was framed in her home and sums up her philosophy on life. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours…If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundation under them.”

She is survived by her devoted friends and students and her cherished poodle, Misha. 

Donations can be made in her name to the following: The Humane Society, Best Friends Animal Society, ASPC, Save The Children, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Southern Poverty Law Center, Alzheimer Association NYC.