Jenkins and Jobsite: Tenth anniversary season wraps with Pericles

I love this show. I love what it represents. I love what it says. I love what it makes me feel.  Roughly 18 artists between Tampa and New York spent two years pumping their souls into this thing, and it shows.

I've really enjoyed our friends, patrons and ensemble members coming in and rocking out to maybe the highest-energy song in the show ("After All These Years") and taking a three-minute stroll through 10 years of hard work. There are laughs and elbow nudges and points and oohs and ahhs in the house every night.  There've even been some tears.

I leave this show with an actor's energy every night.  That buzzy, post-show high that usually drives performers out on the town for a few hours after the show to bask, decompress and wind down after a job well done.  Again, a first for me (much to the chagrin of my liver).  As a director I usually see preview and opening night, and then tend to come back once, maybe twice, per weekend to just check on the show.  I can even feel like an awkward guest sometimes, as I really have no function once we get into a run.  My work ends opening night when I release a show into a run and the hands of my stage manager. I like to get out of the way.  This time, I've never wanted to be up there with them more.

A few things to reaffirm from my first blog on this topic:

Surround yourself with good people, and treat them right. I trusted Joe Popp (pictured) to bring us a quality show.  Joe trusted me to guide him to playwrights Neil Gobioff and Shawn Paonessa.  Shawn and Neil trusted me and Joe.  We trusted them.  This was a ridiculously smooth collaboration. If I said all of us [image-1]independently weren't worried about conflict between so many strong personalities, we'd be big, fat liars.  We're all fans of each other's work, though, and that appreciation not only showed but made a world of difference in the final product.  The same goes for our cast and crew. I've never had a group around me I've trusted more implicitly, and from whom I've felt so much reciprocal trust.

Be yourself. Yeah, what we're doing here with this show is honestly pretty fucked up.  This book was based on one of Shakespeare's least popular and deals with, among other difficult plot points, incest and the some of the seedier undercurrents of society.  So we're going to take it and set it in a modern mafia setting using all modern language and punk rock music, stage it like a rock concert but still keep Shakespeare's title just to keep people confused -- is it a new play, the Bard's version in modern dress or some combination thereof? We stuck to what we wanted to do without bowing to what we think people can handle or what would sell more tickets and the results are that everyone working on this show couldn't be happier because not only is this thing truly fucking awesome, it's pure.

You can never raise enough money. Remember what I said above about making choices you know won't maximize how many tickets you can sell?  Well, if you're not comfortable selling out who you are as an artist you have to be okay sometimes with not selling out a theater, either.  Pericles has had four great reviews, and people love it - trick is that, from the outside, it looks weird and has an old Greek title with Shakespeare's name attached and ... *honk-shu honk-shu honk-shu* ... see, that just almost put me to sleep.  Add that it's the summer, in a really shitty economy, in an area many say is prone to apathy (or, as a friend said to me the other day, "Tampa enjoys getting over things quickly"), and it's not a complete surprise the theater hasn't been sold out every night, despite how rad the show might be. That doesn't shake our commitment, though.

So what else comes to mind after all these years?

I wouldn't trade this in for the world. This process, this show and these artists — this is exactly what this art form is about and exactly what I want to do. There's a reason I see the show every night. There's a reason it takes me hours to come down afterward — because this is it.  It's rare, it's elusive — but it's what you work for.  It's why I'm in it and why I continue to do it.

If you're going to be at the top, you have to accept you're the easiest of targets. I spent a lot of time, the first several years actually, not wanting to really be in charge. We had a co-chair and co-artistic director situation going on.  After that changed and I was solo in those positions I spent a lot of time trying to not step on toes. That backfired on me a lot.  I also crossed a few lines out of anger and frustration when I'd sit on things too long until I exploded and went too far the other way.  I try to be much more even-keeled about things now, and I've accepted that when things go wrong — whether or not they're actually my fault — it will come down on me.  Despite my best intentions (and sometimes even complete lack of involvement) with a situation, it'll end up in my lap.  Sorta comes with the territory.  Not everyone's going to like me or say nice things about me or agree with my decisions.  I have to live with me, though, and as long as I feel I'm doing what's right and have the support of a majority of my artistic associates, I'm good with that. Jobsite's also no longer the scruffy underdog we once were, even if most of us still view ourselves that way. Ten years is no joke, and we've had our share of successes.  That also lends itself to us being an easy target in terms of gossip or generalities.  So be it. As my friend Paul says, we move on.

We're here. The chorus to "After All These Years" is effectively "After all these years — I'm here. After all these years."  And yes, indeed we are.  Things like money — be it donations, ticket sales or the nest egg — are always going to be the biggest worry with what we do, but we always find a way.  I think we will always find a way. I have faith in that.

It's not been the easiest of years.  The economy finally caught up with our sales the second half of this season.  Even though it looks like we'll match or top last year's attendance record, we're going to fall under our previous year's grosses for the first time in our history.  So we're not getting fewer people in the theater, we're just finding we have to get them in with more specials and discounts than we've ever used in the past. We've had to reduce our budgets for next year so that we don't get too behind, because even though our shows have been critical successes, they sometimes fail to capture the audience we hope for.

We've lost a few good people, but have thankfully also brought on a few new good people — I think Jobsite will always roll that way, and I'm okay with that.  We'll provide a home until it's no longer home, or someone gets opportunity, or wanderlust. We'll still be here, though, and they always know where to find us.

I've certainly had a rough year personally. For the most part, 2009 can suck my ass, frankly. Apart from worrying money and sales when we've had first-class work on stage and the interpersonal challenges that


arise when you're in charge, I lost my father and my day job. I'm not sure I've had a worse year since coming to Tampa.

I am proud of all of our artistic accomplishments this season — from the challenging debate in Blackbird through the beauty and pain of Rabbit Hole. This show is different, though, and it's not about choosing between my children.  Pericles is a reminder of why I'm doing this, of why Jobsite is Jobsite and not any other theater.  Of why I have spent the past 10 years here, and why I'm determined as I've ever been. Of what we're capable of. Of the tremendous talent around us.

Pericles may not have sold out every single show (which you could help with, you know — we still have four performances left this weekend) or set any other kinds of attendance records, but for me in this most difficult of years it's precisely what I needed.

I thank Tampa for the opportunity. For all of these opportunities. Genuinely, and from the bottom of my heart. I've loved this area since I was in high school in Jacksonville, coming down here every year for State Thespian Festival. I've always felt a kinship here, way more so than my own home town.

Thanks also to people like Joe Popp, Shawn and Neil and this bad to the bone ensemble working on Pericles right now.  This is how we should roll.  This is what we should be doing every damn day.  This is what theater should be about. I love you all.

Last December, just a few months into Jobsite's 10th anniversary season, I wrote this blog for Creative Loafing about lessons learned trying to run a theater for an entire decade.

We're now just a few days away from the end of this 10th season, and I've had time for further reflection.

We finish the final show of our season, a rousing and hilarious punk rock mob reimagining of the Pericles story, with a video tribute to 10 awesome years in Tampa Bay.  From the genesis of the company, represented by a photo of five awkward and rebellious 20-somethings on the loading dock of USF's Theater I, cycling through all of our productions and major milestones, to a staged promotional shot of our dead-sexy board in one of the Carol Morsani Hall dressing rooms, photographed by Steve Widoff.

It moves me every night.  Oh, yeah, I've watched every single performance of Pericles — from lights up to lights down — something I've never done before.

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