Someone Rapping at the Chamber Door

Caught in the Act catches up with Jobsite Theater during rehearsals of their next exciting production, Edgar and Emily.

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Katrina Stevenson and Paul Potenza star in Jobsite Theater’s production of Edgar and Emily. (Photo: Pritchard Photography)

Edgar as in Allan Poe. Emily as in Dickinson.

Yes, the granddaddy of Southern Gothic literature winds up in the bedroom of the emdash enthusiastic belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson. Confined to this space, made all the more close and macabre thanks to his own gently-used coffin that Poe must tote around as part of his pact for being rescued from death by an otherworldly specter, the two writers square off in a tete-a-tete that is truly a remarkable work of theater.

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Penned by Ohio-based playwright Joseph McDonough, Edgar and Emily is both an American Lit wonk’s fantasy and a nuanced, complex examination of two people famed for their obsession with death. Combining an expletive-free Mamet-esque repartee with elements of slapstick (sight gags galore), unexpected vulnerabilities and moments of old-school horror tactics worthy of Vincent Price, Edgar and Emily accomplishes much in a relatively short script. Expect to be taken on a fun house ride with this offering—there are creepy parts, funny parts, and, of course, a very subtle trip through the hall of mirrors where you see Dickinson and Poe as distorted reflections of the stories we’ve been told about them; you may see yourself reflected therein as well.

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Katrina “Kat” Stevenson plays Emily against Paul Potenza’s Edgar. David Jenkins directs. This trio began working together in Jobsite in 1999, lauded for their record-breaking 2001 production of Dracula. Stevenson, a diminutive, sharp-eyed redhead, taught English for three years and, as Potenza notes admiringly, comes by her poetic delivery naturally. To prepare for the role, she immersed herself in Dickinson’s poems, reading hundreds of them to absorb the language, to glean what she could to deliver what she feels like is an honest portrayal of a giant in American literature about whom very little is known. Potenza traveled to Poe’s home in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx via a trip to Yankee Stadium. He stood in the rooms where the bedeviled genius worked and lived, himself absorbing something of the writer’s real life to bring to the role. Jenkins sent him a list of Poe’s physicalities based on accounts of Poe at the time (no such list exists for Dickinson who was famously reclusive), and over the course of rehearsals, Potenza has morphed into the writer who changed our notion of ravens forever.

Last week, Caught in the Act joined David, Kat and Paul at the top of rehearsal to chat about the play and bringing these literary figures to life. To hear them talk about the play, their process and the challenges and surprises along the way, listen to Rapping at the Chamber Door on our podcast, Act2.

Edgar and Emily opens Oct. 12 in the Shimberg Playhouse with previews Oct. 10 and 11.

All That Glitters is Gold for Jobsite Theater

Jobsite Theater opens its 2018-2019 season with a return of Spencer Meyers in the lead role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Spencer, who by day plays our unflappable group sales associate at The Straz, debuted as Hedwig in Jobsite’s 2013 production. Says Jobsite Artistic Director David Jenkins, “I always knew the prodigious talent inside of him, but it was amazing to watch Spencer blossom through the process to fully bloom during the run. His Hedwig is delicate, self-effacing, vulnerable, a true underdog. I think Spencer is even more prepared, more in his prime, than perhaps he was before. So, I’m very excited to get back in the rehearsal room with him to see how she’s [Hedwig’s] grown in this time.” Here’s what Spencer has to say about being Hedwig and returning to the show.

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Spencer Meyers as Hedwig, backed by The Angry Inch, during a technical rehearsal. (Photo: Brian Smallheer)

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: Many people know you from your work with Jobsite and saw you in the first run as Hedwig in 2013. Are you nervous about coming back to the role? In what ways are you approaching your performance differently this time around?

SPENCER MEYERS: Tampa Famous! Of all the roles, it’s my favorite. Hedwig’s first preview was the first time I ever had stage fright, seconds before making my entrance; I literally was wondering how I could get to my car the fastest without being seen. We had a birthday in the audience that night of a long-time Jobsite supporter. I went out there, sang the birthday song like Marilyn Monroe’s JFK version and then, Hedwig took over. Now, I have a new set of nerves. Whereas the first time was, “can I do this?” This time, I know I can but I wonder – “can I live up to the hype of the last time? Or the hype that this show has had since its Broadway run/success?”

Preparation? Wait, I’m supposed to prepare? Memorizing those lines ahead of time, is the smartest thing I can do to prepare. Sections start coming back more than others. Although, I’m five years older, and it’s interesting how some moments have more meaning to me than others because of new life events.

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The 2013 band is pictured in the top photo (L to R: Woody Bond, Amy Gray, Spencer Meyers, Jonathan Cho, and Jana Jones). The bottom photo shows the 2018 band (L to R: Nader Issa, Jeremy Douglas, Woody Bond, Spencer Meyers, Mark Warren and Amy Gray).

CITA: We heard through the grapevine that your acting has been strongly influenced by the style of Miss Piggy. True? If so, is there anything you’re bringing to the role of Hedwig that has a little Piggy in it?

SM: Okay, this grapevine has been on my Instagram (I have a side by side comparison photo of me and Piggy–we could be related). My favorite Muppet has always been Miss Piggy. She’s loud, she’s funny and always manages to steal the scene. She’s the number one reason I love The Great Muppet Caper. Haven’t seen it yet? Watch it and see Hedwig, who shares the same diva-like qualities as Miss Piggy and some physical traits like the big smile and head tilt–as well as some aggression towards those who try to steal her light. It’s Hedwig’s show, she’s the star–never forget that.

CITA: It’s a tough, demanding role. Hedwig is always onstage, talking or singing, and swinging through a million emotions. How do you keep your energy up throughout an entire run?

SM: It’s exhausting–I’m barely a human being for the first 20 minutes after the show closes. My preparation before each show consists of a series of events the second I arrive to the dressing room. First, I shave my face, then paint my nails, wipe my face with alcohol wipes and start putting on the many layers of garments (pantyhose, fishnet stockings, Spanx slip, fishnet top).

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First step to get ready for the show: shave and glue down the eyebrows.

Then it’s time to warm up with the band (“Origin of Love”), then back to the dressing room for makeup. The makeup will usually take until close to showtime (that’s right, I’m still putting on my face as you enter the theater and get comfortable). At about 10 minutes to places, I put on both layers of my costume, the cape and then finally, the wig.

It’s a 90-minute show of Hedwig singing and telling a beautifully tragic and cheeky story of her life. As you said, a million emotions. The wonderful thing about this character as an actor is the mask you wear with the makeup. I can’t see any resemblance of myself once the makeup is completed. I’m able to let her take over, and it’s an adrenaline rush all the way until the end. The moment after I take my bow, I dash to the bathroom to take everything off and throw on comfortable clothing. So, if you are waiting for me to come out, I will–just give me a quick minute.

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Lindsay MacConnell (L) designed the makeup for the 2013 production of Hedwig and is back again for this production.

CITA: Favorite part of playing this character?

SM: Everything except the Spanx and glitter. Seriously, I love everything about her. Her story is tragic, funny and relatable. We’ve all experienced the moments of her life. We’ve had the first loves that didn’t work, distance from family members at times, heartache and that moment that we search for our place in the world. The music is what made me fall in love with the show. Honestly, I think the songs connect us all in the human experience. We cry and laugh for and with her, she’s human–like us.

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A behind-the-scenes look at Spencer getting glitter-ized for the promotional photo shoot.

CITA: Hedwig makes plenty of inappropriate remarks to audience members as a part of the show—most of which is ad libbed during the performance. How do you know who to target and how far to push the envelope?

SM: Don’t bring the kids unless you want to explain a lot of things on the drive back. I’ll admit that the inappropriate lines are some of my favorite things in this show. As I mentioned before, she likes to take over and I gladly let her. She’s like the alter ego of mine that I never knew existed. So completely different than me in my every day. Those ad libs shock me sometimes. If you get offended by something I say in the show; it wasn’t me, it was her. The first run, my biggest fear was having to ad lib and have no fourth wall because every audience will react differently.

So, you want to know my secrets on how I choose my audience participants, huh? Well, it took the first preview to know who to target. It’s a tricky game. A lot of the ad libs happen by the third song of the show, “Sugar Daddy” (prepare yourselves, I will leave the stage and come to you if chosen). By this time in the show, I know who’s into it and who isn’t. I look for the laughers. There are a lot of inappropriate jokes and funny bits early on in the script, so I take note of those who are living for it. Eye contact is important as well. If they are having a good time and not looking away when I make eye contact, then they are potentially going to get more attention throughout the show.

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience by making them feel uncomfortable. Some people do not like having audience interaction while watching a show. I can understand that. If you are one of those people, sit at least three rows back in the main seating bank (I’m not going to crawl over people, CenterBills and drinks just to get to you).

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Spencer, in all of Hedwig’s glory, during a technical rehearsal. (Photo: Brian Smallheer)

I’m Uncomfortable

Gabbing about the importance of facing the awkward, the awful, the upending and the just plain weird in the theater with special guest Paul Potenza, artistic associate with Jobsite Theater.

This week Caught in the Act caught up with Paul Potenza, 30-plus-year stage veteran in the Tampa Bay area and artistic associate with our resident theater company, Jobsite Theater, to address a delicate issue: a trend in audiences finding subject matter “objectionable” that didn’t used to bother folks. What’s going on? The conversation led to the bigger topic of theater’s role in provoking audiences towards some greater understanding, some bigger revelation, and why being uncomfortable can be very beneficial despite living in a world dominated by traumatic and uncomfortable content on social media.

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Paul J. Potenza in Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, the first play ever performed in the Off-Center Theater (now the Shimberg Playhouse). Circa 1994. (Photo: Steve Widoff)

PAUL POTENZA: I have this vivid memory of working with my friend and director at the time, Jeff Norton … I was battling with a scene, and, at a certain point in the rehearsal I said, “I’m not really comfortable with how this is going.” Jeff simply replied, “I’m not overly concerned with how comfortable you are right now.” It was fantastic! We worked our way through it, and we moved the play forward. There was progress. It’s important to me to be challenged, whether it be onstage or as an audience member. It’s how we can grow, how we can get better. Better at listening, better at learning and simply sitting next to one another.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: This title of this blog is “I’m Uncomfortable.” The topic came up after a national conversation about certain theater customers complaining, asking for money back, boycotting shows or writing nasty grams on social media because they didn’t “want to pay good money for [that kind of language], [that political view], [those kinds of characters],” etc. Jobsite typically goes for a least a few of these types of shows on their season, with 1984 being next in line. Will you share your thoughts about why socially and politically challenging theater upsets people so much and why you think it’s necessary (or not) as a part of Jobsite’s mission?

PP: I suppose, historically, arts patrons have, at times, had their way or their “$ay” with what is being done artistically, based on their comfort level, at their venue of choice. People not showing up for shows because of content … well, that’s also been going on since the beginning of time as has being part of something “you just must see”—something trendy and fashionable. If you’re uncomfortable, truly uncomfortable, then I respect that as an individual, but to make it corporate policy? Not so much. I love hands on, open palms, open ears and eyes, face to face. “Those kinds of characters” the anti-heroes, are at the nucleus of the greatest stories ever told onstage. Jobsite, the company, has obligations to its mission statement. Jobsite shares and surveys so many plays among its associates – it’s amazing and exhausting. We’re trying to find great plays. Period. As much of a fan I am about holding hands and happy endings, there is a whole lot more to do onstage. Theater that challenges and upsets might just move you to think, to feel something or see a person or situation or idea in another way. It’s absolutely necessary.

CITA: Over your span of time with Jobsite, what would you rank as the Top 5 “most uncomfortable” works—works that pushed the envelope for audiences’ social, political, and moral assumptions? What value did these pieces have for Tampa audiences and the company itself? Where does 1984 fit compared to these?

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PP: So, the play Blackbird by David Harrower immediately comes to mind. It’s the story of a shocking visit between 27-year-old Una and 55-year-old Ray at his workplace. Fifteen years earlier, he sexually abused her when she was twelve. They had unsuccessfully attempted to run off together. Ray was arrested, found guilty and jailed for three years for statutory rape. After serving his time, he tries to establish a new life for himself with a new career and a new name. Una discovers his whereabouts and tracks him down at this workplace in the break room. And this is where we find the two characters at the top of the play. Very uncomfortable. Why the hell would anyone want to do this play or see this play? It would be much easier to stay at home and watch comfort programing on Netflix. But where is the payoff? The conflict, the energy, the insight into these two people “involved” seems like an insurmountable situation. There’s a door in the room—but why doesn’t either just leave? Because that isn’t what this story is about. It is very easy to simply decide that one person here is the guilty one (and he is), but what would make this now young woman come back to confront him, to experience … god knows what?

Does he deserve a chance at a new life? He served his time. Why does she seek him out now? What is she searching for? Redemption? Revenge? A relationship? We don’t know. The characters don’t even know. The theater, this play, gives you an opportunity to be in that room. It creates a dialogue, and it is UNCOMFORTABLE.

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Topdog/Underdog by Suzi-Lori Parks is a play about two African American brothers struggling to make ends meet. Abandoned by their parents when they were teenagers, Lincoln and Booth, now in their thirties, were forced to learn to survive relying on themselves. Poverty, family relationships and responsibilities, honesty, dishonesty—are just some of the themes in this uncomfortable play. To say that the play does not have a happy ending is an understatement. Life and the cards you’re dealt are sometimes inescapable. You are not going to get the whole story in a 60 second news segment. You don’t get the whole story in a 90-minute play. We do gain some perspective as audience members. We can and do learn in the theater.

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Annapurna by Sharr White is the story of a man and woman who were married twenty years ago and haven’t seen each other since the man, in an alcoholic state, was responsible for a terrible accident with their five-year-old son. Now living alone, off the grid, his ex-wife comes to find him sober and terminally ill. Her mission is to prepare him for a visit from his son. Why? Uncomfortable. As the audience, we have to know: after all this history, did love survive? My god—theater is so beautiful to give us the chance to see and feel inside the hearts of those who hurt, of those who hurt us.

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The Guys by Anne Nelson is based on the true story about a fire captain faced with the responsibility of writing the eulogies for eight of his lost brothers, post 9/11. Uncomfortable. The beauty of this play is the humanity shared with a writer to help the captain capture the truth and personalities of these “regular” guys. A tough swallow, a hard sell … but grace and beauty beyond belief. Uncomfortable on the surface—try telling someone to go see a play about dead firemen. Then, go talk to audience members post-show, and you’ll see people at their best. The play creates so much appreciation for the men, for the shared experience of dealing with 9/11 and for the actors who carry the story.

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Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire is the story of a young husband and wife who tragically and accidentally lost their son while he was innocently chasing the family dog. To witness the near impossible task of how a couple, a family, can or cannot come back from what many would consider the worst loss any human could experience, the loss of a child … that’s uncomfortable.

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In George Orwell’s 1984, the character of Winston Smith is determined to remain human under rather inhuman circumstances. Although I’m drawing up the plot rather simply, there are many parallels to the other plays I’ve mentioned. A human spirit, a well-meaning human spirit, may not always fare well or best in a human world but the difficulties, the divide and the incongruities of them make for great theater and many valuable lessons no matter where you live.

CITA: The play version of 1984 opens April 25. It will hardly be a jolly night at the theater as the audience watches an average citizen interrogated for Thoughtcrimes in a dystopian (read: alarmingly familiar) society. We’re inundated with traumatic stories on an hourly basis, day after day, year after year, thanks to social media, so why continue to use theater as a space to provoke us in ways that social media now does? Why not have each play be a happy escapist fantasy vs. an artistic rendering of a dystopian reality? Tangentially, where do we find hope in 1984? Where do we find hope in being uncomfortable in the theater?

PP: Yes! 1984 opens April 25th, and it will be a jolly night in the theater—if you are open to it. First and foremost, we are absolutely privileged to be in that intimate space. The Shimberg Playhouse is getting better and better technically and aesthetically. Thank you, Straz Center. So, I know that’s not your question but that’s how I feel there … It’s been my theatrical home since the day it opened. I did the first play in that space, then called The Off Center Theater. Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll by Eric Bogosian. Again, I digress. Of course I see all the traumatic stories we are inundated with hour by hour, and it’s easy to say “No way I’m going to go see that play.” I see that horror every day on my phone—yeah, I said phone. You ask why continue to use theater as a space to provoke us in ways that social media now does. Because the theater has a heartbeat, it breathes. At its best, it brings people together to share small magnificent stories. In 1984, the hope is the fact that Winston believes that the human mind must be free. He believed this before he was tortured and forced to let go of that belief, that truth. Don’t let go of live theater—I trust you’ll find truth and perhaps comfort there.

See Winston Smith fight for humanity in Jobsite’s production of 1984, playing April 25-May 20 in The Shimberg Playhouse.

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The Thief and His Thief-Taker General

The unbelievable true crime story behind the swinging jazz standard “Mack the Knife.”

Once upon a time, there was a five-foot-four London folk hero who inspired John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, which inspired Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, which contained the song “Mack the Knife,” which became a snappy lounge tune for jazz bopper Bobby Darin.

This is the true tale of Jack Sheppard, born into poverty in 1702 in Spitalfields, England. Sent to work at six years old after his father died, Sheppard lived with a new master, Jonathan Kneebone, who eventually apprenticed Jack to a carpenter when Jack became a teenager, and life was good. For a time.

As fate would have it, Sheppard fell in with a charismatic, strapping yet morally suspect woman, Elizabeth Lyon, who was known about the neighborhood as Edgworth Bess for her propensity to liberate objects from their owners, including money for carnal knowledge that she possessed.

She introduced Sheppard, a young man of 21, to the vices of the London underbelly at the Black Lion, a local tavern. Quickly, Sheppard discovered he liked the Black Lion and Elizabeth more than carpentry, and in 1724, he made a life-changing (and, as you will discover, dear reader, a life-ending) decision to forego his upstanding path as a carpenter for a life as a petty thief and an escapologist of remarkable talent.

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Sketch of Jack Sheppard in Newgate Prison shortly before his execution, attributed to Sir James Thornhill.

Elizabeth introduced Jack to Joseph “Blueskin” Blake, a well-known thief. With his new associates, Jack began pilfering, earning a reputation as one of the city’s notable housebreakers.

After stealing spoons from Charing Cross, Jack landed in prison in February 1724. Tying strips of his bedsheets together, Jack escaped after breaking a hole in the roof and lowering himself to freedom. This stunt garnered public attention and admiration after people learned that Sheppard got away scot-free by standing amongst them, pointing at a rooftop and shouting “Look! There he is!”

A few months passed, yet Jack was caught pickpocketing in May 1724 and was thrown into a more substantial prison. Elizabeth visited him, was arrested herself and locked in the cell with Jack. As man-and-wife, they were moved to a new prison. Friends sneaked in a few small tools, allowing Jack to saw through the manacles. With a 25-foot drop to the ground, Jack needed more than his bedsheets, so Elizabeth gave her petticoat to the cause. Unfortunately, the 25-foot drop was into another prison yard. Jack drove spikes into the wall, the two climbed over and fled into the city.

If Jack’s exploits sound like make-believe, wait until you read about the next escapes.

A bigger problem for Jack arrived in the form of the self-appointed “Thief-Taker General,” Jonathan Wild. Wild was an utterly contemptible criminal who’d fashioned himself as a champion of the people by configuring an elaborate robbery scheme whereby he magically “found” people’s stolen property and scooped up all of the reward money. He could find all of their goods because his gang of thieves stole them in the first place. Wild ran the London thieves’ underground from the police station, and he pretty much ran the police department. He had the press wrapped around his finger. No one could rat him out or he’d cry “thief” and have the person hanged without trial. It was a good gig for Wild until he decided that nabbing Jack Sheppard would be his coup de grace. But he had to find Jack first.

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A book illustration of Jonathan Wild by Charles Knight.

Wild found Elizabeth, made nice and got her drunk, wherein she divulged Jack’s whereabouts. Wild’s goons apprehended Jack, threw him in Newgate Prison, and the court sentenced him to hang.

By now, everyone knew Jack Sheppard. Public opinion of the law and the upper class turned sour, especially as the disparities in treatment between the rich and poor became glaringly obvious. Jack was low-born, clever, unstoppable, heroically in love and handsome. No one actually wanted him to pay for his crimes. They wanted him to outfox the authorities forever. Suddenly, Jack was the champion of the people, not the smug Thief-Taker General.

Elizabeth, smarting from her betrayal, gathered another one of Jack’s paramours, Poll Maggot, and the two conspired to help Jack from his latest predicament. They smuggled him a nightgown. After loosening a bar on his cell window, Jack squeezed through the bars into a hallway, donned the nightgown, walked unrecognized across the reception area and out the main door. He escaped Newgate Prison with Elizabeth and Poll only hours before his gallows bell tolled. News of this flagrant escape spread like fire. People cheered him as the Hero of London.

Wild hated it. He managed to capture Jack again, this time chaining him to the floor with handcuffs. In October 1724, Sheppard somehow unshackled himself, broke open the padlocks on six separate prison doors and shimmied up the chimney to the rooftop. Once there, he realized he forgot his trademark sheet. So, he returned to his cell, grabbed his sheet, shimmied back to the roof through the chimney, then lowered himself to a neighboring house before spiriting into the night.

Just the day before, in a confounding turn of events, Joseph “Blueskin” Blake found himself against Jonathan Wild in court. Wild, still considered the law, gave damning testimony about Blake, who was sentenced to hang. Enraged, Blake drew a blade, slashing Wild’s throat. Chaos ensued, authorities rushed Wild to the hospital.

Jack burgled a final time and was apprehended, drunk, in a tavern wearing the clothes he’d purloined. Carted to the maximum-security room in Newgate Prison, Jack was chained to the floor under 300 pounds of irons. Prison guards charged four shillings for a glimpse of the great Jack Sheppard, raking in mountains of money.

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“The Last Scene” engraved by George Cruikshank in 1839 to illustrate William Harrison Ainsworth’s serialised novel, Jack Sheppard.

In November, Blueskin Blake hanged, and five days later, the gallows cart trundled to Tyburn Hill for the execution of Jack Sheppard. Reports say 200,000 people followed Jack to his hanging, with women throwing flowers and men fighting for the chance to shake his hand. Jack Sheppard died, well-admired, on November 16, 1724, nine months after the start of his life of crime.

And Wild? Well, he recovered physically, but his reputation was never the same. Despised, Wild fell from favor, his gang of thieves turning evidence on him one by one. Tried, convicted and sentenced to death, Wild met the gallows at Tyburn Hill six months after Jack Sheppard. There was also a large crowd that day, but no one clamored to shake Wild’s hand.

The courts banished Elizabeth Lyon to America, a fitting place for prostitutes and moral degenerates, though her story is lost after she arrived in Annapolis, Maryland, shortly after Jack’s death.

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Portrayal of Macheath and Peachum in Jobsite Theater’s upcoming version of The Threepenny Opera.

The impassioned tale of Jack Sheppard, Jonathan Wild and Elizabeth Lyon captured the public’s imagination. Only four years after Jack hanged, John Gay composed The Beggar’s Opera, with the main characters of Macheath and Peachum inspired by Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild respectively.

In 1928, Brecht and Weill remade Gay’s work into the ribald THE THREEPENNY OPERA, adding, at the very last minute, an intro number for Macheath called “Mack the Knife.”

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Original poster for The Threepenny Opera from Berlin, 1928.

Though Macheath is a psychopathic interpretation of the Jack Sheppard legend, “Mack the Knife,” took on a life of its own, becoming a hit for Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and most memorably in its lounge-worthy Bobby Darin rendition.

If you want to hear “Mack the Knife” and see what Macheath and Peachum are up to, catch up with Jobsite Theater as they perform The Threepenny Opera, Oct. 18 – Nov. 12, in the Jaeb Theater.

 

Celluloid Dreams

An in-depth convo with Straz Center Senior Director of Marketing, Summer Bohnenkamp, who directs her fifth production with Jobsite Theater – this season’s opener, The Flick.

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Summer Bohnenkamp directs Jobsite Theater’s season opener, The Flick. (Photo by Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

Jobsite Theater, almost 19 years into its illustrious reputation as one of the strongest regional theater companies in Florida and beginning their 13th as resident theater company of the Straz Center, earned their reputation by putting up challenging, edgy, sometimes cerebral, often hysterical, intermittently campy theater works designed to be politically and socially relevant. The company keeps the definitions of “political” and “social” loose on purpose: Jobsite prides itself on its blue-collar work ethic while keeping a watchful eye on the systems of power and relationships, always ready to mount the kind of winning assessment of both that good theater dramatizes.

This season opens with Annie Baker’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Flick, a play that captures quintessential Jobsite at its best: a simple set, a small cast of exquisitely drawn workaday characters, and a tiny little premise that symbolizes the entire degradation of moral authenticity that has become our modern life. It’s a play about people cleaning an old movie house.

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A peek at the set for The Flick during tech rehearsal.

“The story is about three people who are lost,” says The Flick’s director, Summer Bohnenkamp. “They work in the last indie movie house in Massachusetts that plays real film, not digital. It has a projector you have to load and everything. All the action takes place either before or after a film, and there they are in the theater talking, cleaning the theater, figuring out who they are. In a way, it reminds me of [the movie] Empire Records. It’s the same kind of idea.”

Bohnenkamp herself started similarly, selling tickets in the ticket office at The Straz, then working her way to senior management in marketing. By day, she handles the massive needs of overseeing the marketing of hundreds of performances – everything from networking and buying media to writing institutional marketing plans and providing voice-overs for television ads. Her abiding love of theater keeps her with one foot in the show, one foot in the business as she balances her life between the corporate pressures of arts marketing and the creative outlet of bringing excellent scripts to life as an actor and a director.

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Actor Georgia Mallory Guy, who plays the projectionist Rose in The Flick, posing with the projector used in the play.

“It’s cool to make something,” she says. “When I direct or act, I get to make something, and I don’t really ‘make’ other things. I don’t cook well; I’m not crafty. But, theater is something I can make that is good. It’s lasting. Hopefully, the audience and actors get something out of it, too. There are elements of trust and family that get created through the process of making a play that are very rewarding. Theater is a living, breathing thing that is never the same twice. It’s better than any therapy or exercise I can think of.”

Bohnenkamp’s other directorial achievements with Jobsite most recently includes their award-winning production of Time Stands Still. Prior to that she co-directed Annapurna and served as an associate director for reasons to be pretty and All New People. With The Flick, Bohnenkamp returns to her favorite style of script, a stripped-down, dialogue-driven, naturalistic look at people and motivations in situations we can all recognize.

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These reel cases used in the show were lent to us by Tampa Theatre.

“I like plays that are real people talking. We’ve heard these people, we’ve eavesdropped on people just like the characters in this play. We know them. All the shows I’ve done have been about regular, recognizable people, and it’s interesting to delve into that level of realness when, in actuality, you’re creating something totally false. The three characters in The Flick have some very interesting quirks,” she says. “The dialogue reveals all the major surprises. These people who seem obvious have secrets and important stories. It’s very funny.”

From auditions, Bohnenkamp pulled three actors who can capture the subtle depth of the characters and deliver the complexity of the subtext in Baker’s script. “Brian Shea plays ‘Sam,’ the manager, and he killed it right off the page. He does neuroses so well, which is required for Sam. ‘Rose,’ the projectionist, is played by Georgia Mallory Guy, who can do anything. She came into the audition and gave off exactly what I was envisioning for Rose. We have Thomas Morgan playing ‘Avery,’ the young one of the bunch and the central character. Thomas knows who Avery is, and he had a well-defined character even in the auditions. It’s a good room,” she says, referring to a well-known theater term for having a cast that is positive and hard-working. “This is going to be a fantastic show.”

IMG_4845

Actor Georgia Mallory Guy pictured with director Summer Bohnenkamp (top left), stage manager Vivian Rodriguez (top right), actor Thomas Morgan (bottom left), and actor Brian Shea (bottom right).

The Flick runs in the Shimberg Playhouse from Aug. 30 until Sept. 24. Get your tickets at strazcenter.org.

Gender Bender

By David Jenkins, guest blogger

Roxanne Fay (Feste) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario) in a rehearsal for Jobsite Theater's production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Roxanne Fay (Feste) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario) in a rehearsal for Jobsite Theater’s production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Part of life in the performing arts includes the many international scholars who study theater, music and dance, writing on these topics and delving into impressive intellectual inquiry into the art forms and why they matter. One area of interest naturally includes the examination of sexuality and gender identity in many famous plays. In fact, one of the most well-known playwrights to consistently incorporate switched gender roles was William Shakespeare, particularly in his comedies. Jobsite Theater, our resident theater company, opened Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night this week, which includes the character Viola, a woman-pretending-to-be-a-man-who-is-in-love-with-a-man-while-a-woman-who-believes-she-is-a-man-loves-her. Typical Shakespeare! To discuss the context of these gender switcheroos, Caught in the Act enlisted the help of David Jenkins, Jobsite’s Artistic Director and PhD candidate in Communication, specializing in performance studies.

When originally staged, Twelfth Night might have been more believable to a general audience than it is today in terms of all the characters on stage believing that female Viola was male Cesario, the young man she pretends to be. In Shakespeare’s day, women were not allowed on stage, so those famous female roles, from Juliet to Lady Macbeth, would have been played by boys.

So, follow me here: we would have had a boy actor playing a woman who was pretending to be a young man. Not too hard to buy, right?

But, we might also take this circumstance a step further in terms of gender confusion in that the male actor playing Orsino, the object of Viola’s affection, is in love with Olivia, who would have been played by a boy, and the boy-acting-like-the-girl-pretending-to-be-the-boy in Viola. Then we have a boy playing Olivia who is also in love with boy/girl/boy Viola.

Whew.

Katrina Stevenson (Olivia) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario) in a rehearsal for Jobsite Theater's production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Katrina Stevenson as Olivia and Maggie Mularz as Viola, a woman-pretending-to-be-a-man-who-is-in-love-with-a-man-while-a-woman-who-believes-she-is-a-man-loves-her, in Jobsite Theater’s production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Twelfth Night becomes a fascinating site of study when we consider both the fluidity of gender as a social construction and the continuum of human sexuality.

I should offer a few definitions so we’re on the same page:

Sex refers to the parts a person is born with and though most people are born with male or female genitals around 10% of the human population is somewhere between these poles, not to mention those who surgically alter themselves, and so we should view biological sex not in terms of two or even three positions but as a whole continuum (Fausto-Sterling 2000).

Gender is social construction, something we (individuals and/or society) place on a body. Judith Butler (1988) offers that gender is “a stylized repetition of acts through time” making it a performance unto itself. Simone de Beauvoir is often quoted as saying that one is not born but rather becomes a woman. Gender has historically been used as a way to set the norms of behavior for men and women in any moment in time as a method of social control.

Sexuality then refers to whom any of us are attracted to. These three concepts are mutually exclusive of one another. Gayle Rubin (1984) argues that we must separate them when we discuss human behavior to gain a better understanding of ourselves.

Roxanne Fay plays the role of Feste, a man, in Jobsite Theater's production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Roxanne Fay plays the role of Feste, a man, in Jobsite Theater’s production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Drawing these definitions back to Twelfth Night, we can see how the confusion in terms of who is actually what and who is really into whom might provoke thought and discussion among audience members. What is “normal” for a man or woman, what really defines masculine or feminine, what do these designations even mean and who do they serve? Can we control how or why we fall in love with another, and what is it that drives us to even love at all?

Shakespeare in performance has the opportunity to reinforce gender roles, as we can do with Lady Macbeth’s femme fatale machinations to the virginal and helpless Ophelia who Hamlet casts aside. But, in a case like Twelfth Night, it can challenge and subvert those same roles. I try to avoid what Penny Gay (1993) calls “radical chic” in making choices on stage that are done just in the name of being non-traditional (“Oooh, let’s do Troilus and Cressida dressed as panda bears!”), but, in our production, I’ve cast the part of Olivia’s fool Feste as a woman dressed as a man. I purposefully left all references to Feste as “he,” “him,” and “sir” specifically to the end of creating an ambiguous space that destabilizes what terms like man or woman really even mean. It has also given us a really interesting moment to play on stage as Feste, at one point, is able to show the audience (and Viola) that s/he sees through “Cesario’s” disguise. That moment is not set in Shakespeare’s text, but is possible for us to communicate through the actors’ delivery and interaction.

Chris Holcom as Orsino and and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario). Photo by Crawford Long.

Chris Holcom (Orsino, the object of Viola’s affection) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario). Photo by Crawford Long.

When presented with two options: male or female, gay or straight, masculine or feminine, we cannot but help uphold that very binary which always privileges one term over the other. In fact “male” is only truly defined by what it is not: “female.” We can similarly apply that to any binary: the one thing only has meaning in that it is not the other. When we begin to look for those third terms such as androgynous, bisexual, intersex we disrupt binary and place things in continuum which is necessarily ambiguous terrain. Kenneth Burke (1945) notes that in this ambiguous territory, true transformation takes place. And, yes, it’s also what often freaks people out about someone who defies categorization or passes as one thing when they are in fact another. It freaks us out because in that moment we’re forced to reckon with what we think we know.

Judith Butler (2004) observed we need to resist the urge to resolve those tensions that create these kinds of spaces. I’ve tried to do that with Twelfth Night. Perhaps people will get it, and if they don’t, to be perfectly honest, it won’t get in the way of them simply enjoying themselves in the theater for a few hours with a first-rate performance.

As a director, I believe what we do on stage is part of a conversation, a dialogue, even if the audience doesn’t always speak back. It’s an exchange: as artists we get immediate feedback from what we’re offering them which can come in the shape of anything from laughter and sighs to bored shuffling of feet and people uncomfortably leaving the theater. In my belief that ambiguous spaces can often be transformative, I try to “resist conclusions” as Dwight Conquergood (1985) says so that the conversations can continue among people or even just in the individual mind as people go back to their lives outside of the Shimberg Playhouse.

In other words, I don’t need to put a pretty bow on the end all the time. Let the work speak for itself and let people think.

When presented with questions by students (even audiences or critics) as to why Shakespeare matters, Twelfth Night’s tensions about gender, sexuality, and our ability and urge to love is one of the first things I point to. We still struggle with these concepts. I can point to teenagers committing suicide over not being understood, people of all ages facing violence over how they choose to live their life, even our own state and local governments fighting the people over who gets to count when it comes to marriage.

— David M. Jenkins is the Producing Artistic Director of Jobsite Theater. He is a doctoral candidate and teaching associate in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida, where he also teaches as an instructor in the Department of Theater.

Find this stuff interesting? You might like these books:

As She Likes It: Shakespeare’s Unruly Women, Penny Gay

Upstaging Big Daddy: Directing Theater as if Gender and Race Matter, Ellen Donkin and Susan Clement

Theatre and Sexuality, Jill Dolan

The History of Sexuality pt. I, Michel Foucault

Undoing Gender, Judith Butler

Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

 

Works referenced:

Burke, K. (1945). A Grammar of Motives. London, University of California Press.

Cima, G. G. (1993). Strategies for Subverting the Canon. Upstaging Big Daddy: directing theater as if gender and race matter. E. Donkin and S. Clement. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press: 91-105.

Conquergood, D. (1985). “Performing as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of the Ethnography of Performance.” Literature in Performance 5: 1-13.

Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Sexing the Body. New York, NY, Basic Books.

Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. PLEASURE and DANGER: exploring female sexuality. C. S. Vance. London, Pandora.