Jobsite’s ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’ mixes camp, comedy and music through Nov. 23

By : Zach Caruso
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Tampa – The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom have come to town, and they’ll be at the Straz Center until the end of November.

In honor of the nationwide tribute to famed playwright and camp-legend Charles Busch, Jobsite Theater and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts are putting on a production of a Busch favorite, and one of the longest running plays in off-Broadway history—Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, the story of two vampiresses, a virgin sacrifice, and her maker, who first meet in ancient Sodom and spark a rivalry that lasts for nearly 2,000 years.
“Busch has always said that he never intended this one to be performed as a traditional play, that it’s more a cabaret night burlesque type thing,” says director David Jenkins.

“We have these three scenes—ancient Sodom, 1920’s Hollywood, and present day Las Vegas—but there’s not much that ties these three things together so we knew we needed to be able to get people offstage and have costume changes for the next scene, and it’s not really built into the show and so I thought, ‘Why don’t we try to put together some of these torch songs and cabaret bits between the scenes?’”

Jenkins has assembled a show that promises something for everyone—live musicians, a combination of vaudeville and cabaret mixed with modern and contemporary tunes from bands like My Chemical Romance, and a stellar cast of local favorites, including Jobsite Theater veteran Summer Bohnenkamp and Zachary Hines, of Tampa Bay’s own theater duo Coco & Homo.

“With a show like this, you need to make sure you’re putting together a group that looks like they’re all existing within the same hyper-crazy reality, actors that have a fearlessness about them, who aren’t afraid to take chances,” says Jenkins. “I did actually call Zach specifically to come out for this show, I’ve seen him and Colleen [Coco] do several shows in the past, and their Sexxxdreams show was a hit and I really appreciated what they did not only as artists, but that they self-produced that whole thing and willed it to happen. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to get this guy out to read for this project.’”

Jenkins explains that for a project like Vampire Lesbians, it takes a certain kind of performance to land the role.

“The audition was really a go big or go home situation, I was instructing everyone that I’d rather them just go so far over the top that I needed to tell them to dial it down,” he says. “You have to make the big choices that are needed for this play, giving in to the other people they’re playing with, you have to be able to keep batting the ball back and forth, and so I was looking for people who had that capability.”

Jenkins also says that once the players have been picked, the real work begins to make such a demanding show run like a well-oiled machine.

“It looks so effortless, but yet it is so incredibly difficult.,” he says. “Every ounce of the play ends up being like choreography. If your feet aren’t in the right spot, if your face isn’t making the right expression at the exact right beat, things kind of fall apart. So when the audience comes in, it should look effortless, even though it’s an incredibly precise and incredibly technical process. It’s fun to play with people and come up with these things and put it all together and see how you can keep topping each other and keep outdoing each other. I say at rehearsals that if they’re [the actors] not trying to make each other crack up, they’re not trying hard enough.”

While the pieces have finally come together for Jenkins and the cast and crew, he explains that his original ideas for the play were slightly different than the final product.

“Originally I did think about going a little raunchier, showing a bit more skin, maybe having a striptease in there, but the longer I played with those ideas the more I realized they just didn’t fit with what this play is,” explains Jenkins. “It’s a silly camp comedy and if you can stay on the silly side of sexy, then fine. But once you cross into the harder, darker side of it, it becomes jarring because that’s not who Charles Busch is, that’s not who these characters are.

“You have to be open to a process, you spend weeks in a room with people and you set out thinking you’re going to do one thing and by the time all is said and done you realize ‘No, this is what’s right for this show,’ or ‘This is what’s right for this group of people.’”

Now that opening night is upon the Vampire Lesbians team, Jenkins says he can take time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

“For the artist in me, the process is the most fun, but at the same time I’m an artist for a reason and we want people to support the art, so that final product is what we’re able to gift out to the public,” he says. “They’re the ones that are gracious enough to come out and support it and buy tickets, and all that is what makes the process even possible. So opening night is the end cap on the whole thing, I’ll be there but now I won’t be taking notes, it’s like ‘Ok, get rid of the iPad and get a scotch.’ Now I’ll sit and watch the audience watch the show. I enjoy that part, seeing the audience experience the final product.”

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is showing at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and runs through Nov. 23. For ticket information, visit JobsiteTheater.org.

More Info:
WHAT: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
WHEN: Through Nov. 23
WHERE: Straz Center, Tampa
TICKETS: JobsiteTheater.org

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