Come together, theater folk — Jobsite plants seeds of inspiration for new theater guild

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To help squirt some inspirational glue, Jobsite Theater Artistic Director David Jenkins hosted a Town Hall meeting for Tampa Bay area theater artists in the Shimberg Playhouse on Feb. 12. The talk was facilitated by local actor, director and educator David Frankel.

Around a dozen actors, producers and writers in attendance. Several producers were invited but couldn't/didn't make it. Staunch supporter, gallery owner and producer Michael Murphy of Silver Meteor Gallery showed up as did representatives from WMNF-88.5 FM Community Radio. Jenkins said he hopes to host future meetings to elicit more ideas and involvement.

The meeting on Saturday was part of a nationwide initiative by the Theater Communication Group (TCG) -- a national organization for professional theater. TCG has begun field conversations among independent artists and theaters to invite artists and theaters to talk openly about successes and challenges they face in working together.

Jenkins said that he is reporting the results of the conversation on Saturday back to TCG to aid them in their national study.

Here were some of the ideas and concerns voiced during Saturday's TCG town hall meeting:

-- Seek assistance from or create a neutral third-party association that could form a theater guild. Some major cities, such as Philadelphia, benefit from a cultural alliance to pool together information, discounts and publicity for local playhouses.

-- Since actors and other artists are encouraged to be plugged in to the scene, an industry discount card could be offered to people who work in the local arts scene to get into select shows at participating theaters.

-- Like the theater card, an industry night -- perhaps on Mondays when no one is working or in rehearsals -- should be established to increase attendance by "starving artists."

-- Make the planned theater achievement awards event, named in beloved late actor Jeff Norton's honor, a new theater guild event with statewide prestige and cooperation among theaters.

-- Explore corporate sponsorship opportunities -- such as a free night sponsored by a corporate benefactor.

-- Host talent shows with performers across multiple venues performing monologues and musical numbers.

-- Schedule an annual outdoor theater event a la Shakespeare in the Park for Tampa. Ideas for tying it to Guavaween or Gasparilla or other Tampa institution with name-recognition factor were discussed.

-- Offer opportunities for college/university students from USF, UT, HCC, SPC, et al. to stay during the summer and add fresh young blood to theaters year-round.

-- Create a website and monthly playbill highlighting multiple theater offerings. (Added bonus: Both offer more information and a wider reach for advertisers.)

-- Put an end to the theater-groupie mindset and create interest in people attending plays at more than one theater via discounts and improved publicity.

Enlivening the local live theater scene has been an ongoing challenge over the past few decades.

Too many egos get in the way, but we don't need to tell you that, and what we're left with is a fractured scene with insular niches.

One of the biggest hurdles has been getting quality theater companies  — not the corny crowd pleasers for blue hairs, but the artistically engaged and forward thinking companies — to work cooperatively with one another and form some kind of collective or brain trust to create more opportunities, interest and awareness.

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