Tampa’s Jobsite Theater turns 20 with ‘Hedwig’ and more

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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“In a lot of ways we’ve been the little theater company that could,” Tampa’s Jobsite Theater co-founder and Producing Artistic Director David M. Jenkins says. “We started in 1998 with nothing, as five friends who weren’t seeing the kind of theater in town that we were interested in, as far as being artists. We decided to take it into our own hands.”

They did exactly that, forming the professional nonprofit 501(c)(3) theater company Jobsite, a collective of like-minded artists dedicated to the creation of socially- and politically-relevant theater.

Now in its 20th season, the company produces six shows each year—ranging from experimental new plays to contemporary and classic masterpieces.

It does so as the official company in residence of the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, a partnership that was solidified in 2003 when Jobsite took over the Shimberg Playhouse. Jenkins recalls the year as monumental, noting that “even though we’d been around since 1998, in 2003 we knew we’d better put our big kid pants on.”

“Our development has been really slow but at the same time I think that’s why we’ve made it 20 years,” Jenkins adds. “We haven’t always had the money to do things that other people can do but that’s forced us to be a lot smarter and find more creative solutions to things.”

A nonprofit theater company, he jokes, runs “on WD-40 and duct tape.” For a company like Jobsite, Jenkins continues, “it all begins and ends with money … so we’ve managed to weather 20 years with very little in terms of financial resources.”

That’s evident with Florida’s 2018-19 budgetary cuts, unveiled by Governor Rick Scott in March. Of the state’s $88.7 billion budget, arts and cultural grants dropped to just 0.003 percent. Jobsite, which had been recommended to receive $37,500, received only $2,400.

“That is a significant loss,” Jenkins says. “They did this in a year where the state is spending more money than they’ve ever spent … it just doesn’t make sense. I really don’t understand why the state legislature did it.”

With staggering cuts from the state, foundational grants and private donors are more essential than ever for the nonprofit to thrive. “People value the work that we’re doing and appreciate the fact that we’re tackling the subjects we do,” Jenkins says. “Only about 40 percent of our revenue and overall income last year came from ticket sales. The remaining 60 percent was about 50-50 private donors and grants that we had gone after.”

Donations come from those who appreciate each season’s content, but also from those who back the company’s support of education. Jobsite regularly partners with community organizations to offer public forums and provides weekday matinees and in-class outreach to local middle and high schools.

“We’re a place looking to give back and help a future generation,” Jenkins says. “If we want people in seats in another five, 10 or 15 years, they need to be exposed to theater. In developing a theater audience we’ve got to give young people a reason to want to go.”

It’s a philosophy Jenkins applies to theater audiences of all ages, particularly amidst “Netflix and chill” mentalities. “It’s hard to make people go to a specific place on a specific day and time,” he says, “to have them show up, park and worry about what to wear, while putting their gadgets in their pockets for two and a half hours … especially if you don’t already have a cultural connection to that.”

Still, he recognizes that people love going to live entertainment, be it a stand-up comic or a “band at a beer garden.” The key to successful theater, Jenkins notes, is “first and foremost providing them something interesting that they care about. That’s just as important to people in their thirties or forties as people in their teens. I like to believe our work is reflective of that.”

With finances tense and that ideology in mind, Jobsite opened its 20th season Aug. 17 with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The company first produced the rock musical’s tale of queer glamor and the quest for identity in 2013, prior to New York’s revival—selling out their entire run in the process.

“We wanted the overall 20th season to celebrate our past while looking to the future,” Jenkins says. “I think that ‘Hedwig’ challenges the ideas of theater. We wanted to do something that honored the spirit of this company and it’s been one of the more successful shows we’ve done in our 20 years.”

The season opener reunites Jobsite’s original cast of Spencer Meyers as Hedwig, Amy Gray as Yitzhak and one original drummer, while introducing three additional musicians that are relatively new to Jobsite.

“It’s a nice blending of the old and the new and we’ve done that all around,” Jenkins says. “This time the costumes are all new and handmade and the musical director, who’s also playing the keyboard, is different. Our video and tech capability are also much stronger than it was five years ago, so even for people who saw the show in 2013, there’s quite a bit that’s new.”

“‘Hedwig’ was developed in nightclubs, not in a theater,” Jenkins says of the hit show, “and developed with a real rock band, not composers. It was gay men who put this together … all the things that at the time were pretty groundbreaking. For us, we look at the show and say ‘yes, we’re defying all the rules, we’re taking chances and we’re challenging what people’s idea of theater is.’ From that level, that’s really appealing.”

Rounding out the company’s 20th season will be Jobsite’s take on “Edgar & Emily,” “Othello,” “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised],” “Hedda” and “Constellations.”
“We’ve had a lot of financial challenges that we have to get past this year,” Jenkins says, “and we’re hoping that this season can be seen as reaching a hand out to the community. I don’t know that we’ve ever been in a more uncertain moment.”

Jenkins says he means that in a myriad of ways. “Florida is an uncertain place right now,” he says. “The United States is an uncertain place right now … but I believe that we can be a part of the solution in terms of being a place for people to come heal and experience joy.”

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is now playing until Sep. 9 at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center in Tampa. Tickets start at $29.50 and a pass to Jobsite’s 20th Anniversary Season is $147.60. For more information about Jobsite, visit their website www.jobsitetheater.org

20th Tidbits

Jobsite Theater Producing Artistic Director David M. Jenkins tells us why you should see these shows

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH

“We sold the entire run of this out five years ago,” Jenkins says. “We wanted the overall 20th season to celebrate our past while looking to the future. I think that ‘Hedwig’ challenges the ideas of theater.”

EDGAR & EMILY

“We’re only the second production of this piece,” Jenkins says. “It’s a hoot. We grabbed onto it because it will be super accessible even if you don’t know Edgar Allan Poe or Emily Dickinson.”

OTHELLO

“It’s still a timely story,” Jenkins says. “I think all the political intrigue and issues of race, marriage, marriage roles and bureaucracy drew us to this, a post-Obama Othello.”

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) [REVISED]

“This is another of the more successful shows we’ve done before,” Jenkins says. “If you’re into Shakespeare you’ll laugh more, but if you’re not then you’ll laugh at it because we make fun of it.”

HEDDA

“We’re the North American premiere,” Jenkins says. “Hedda is an anti-heroine… depending on who you are, you walk out thinking she was totally right and ‘F the patriarchy’ or that she was out of her mind.”

CONSTELLATIONS

“This is really looking toward the future,” Jenkins says. “This will challenge what theater is, is capable of and what it’s supposed to be; it’s genius. If you’ve ever been in love, you’re going to follow it.

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