Tampa’s Jobsite Theater is celebrating their 20th anniversary as a theater company with another year of stellar programming. CL talked to Jobsite cast members David Jenkins, Spencer Meyers, Katrina Stevenson, and Paul Potenza about their favorite performances, their best memories, and what they're most looking forward to this season.
Part one in a series.
Jobsite Theater’s David Jenkins has spent years pondering the question of how performances function in society. It’s a common academic question for those in the Performance Studies field, something in which Jenkins holds a Ph.D.
“Performance is not just something that occurs. It does something,” says Jenkins. We have all sorts of performances in society, he tells me, from baptisms and weddings to marches and protests. You can even look at the Super Bowl as “a giant, weird performance,” he says.
Considering that he has spent so much of his academic career contemplating the meaning of society’s performances, it should come as no surprise that Jenkins has given a lot of thought to the purpose and meaning of Jobsite’s performances.
With each performance, “Jobsite hopes to inspire audiences to become not just consumers, but true citizens.” It’s written into their mission statement — literally.
The company came into being in 1998. Jenkins had just completed his MFA in acting from the University of Florida, and had decided to come back to Tampa to take a year off.
“I really didn’t know what to do with my life,” he says, “That year — it really only lasted a couple of months. I moved down to Tampa in July, and by November we’d already done our first shows with Jobsite.”
The company assembled quite naturally. They were all friends long before they were coworkers. Four of the five founding members met while in the University of South Florida’s theater program.
There were already three theater companies operating out of Tampa at the time — American Stage and Stageworks, which are still going strong, and Gorilla Theater, which is no longer around. After surveying the local theater, “we all got to talking,” says Jenkins.
“We didn’t see the kind of work we were interested in on stages here,” he says. “Very often, we didn’t see things that really challenged people.”
Eventually, they asked themselves the question, “What happens if we try to put on some shows ourselves, and kind of do the things we’re into?”
“The only place that would really take a chance on us, at that time, was the Silver Meteor Gallery in Ybor,” says Jenkins, “Everyone else we talked to, trying to rent a space, either outright refused or they wanted so much money up front that it was just impossible. But the Meteor, they really took a chance on us.”
Jobsite’s first performances were two one-act plays — Christie in Love by Howard Breton and One for the Road by Harold Pinter.
“They’re both kind of dark, dystopic pieces,” says Jenkins, “Christie in Love is based on a real story, of John Reginald Christie, who was a serial killer in England. They found 18 prostitutes buried under his house. And then One for the Road was also inspired by a real story, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet, in South America, basically brutally disappeared all these people, and there were all these crazy interrogations, and just some really dark stuff going on.”
“We literally walked the streets of Ybor and were sticking fliers in people’s hands” to get people to come to these first shows, says Jenkins.
One of the biggest challenges the company faced, early on, was scheduling around the train.
“The reason why the Silver Meteor Gallery is called the Silver Meteor Gallery is because 15 feet in front of the doors are train tracks, and the train that goes by is called the Silver Meteor,” says Jenkins, “and it’s loud as hell.”
The other big challenge was “figuring out how to do things with nothing.”
“We didn’t have loans. We barely had credit cards,” says Jenkins, “When we began, we knew we didn’t have money for crazy sets or realistic costumes, or anything like that. So we focused on what we could do, which was tell really good stories in a very intimate way with not a whole lot of bells and whistles.”
It may not have been ideal, but it worked for Jobsite.
“We started getting a little bit of success in those first couple years. We were getting really well-reviewed by the papers, and so we started attracting people to come down,” says Jenkins, “But I would watch people drive past the Meteor, slowing down, like, ‘Oh this must be. Where? Oh God. This is like a weird crack place isn’t it? I’m driving away.’” If you’ve ever been to the Silver Meteor Gallery, then you know exactly what Jenkins is talking about — it just doesn’t look like a theater venue.
“We were always just one flop away from catastrophe,” says Jenkins, “None of us were really sure how long this was going to last.”
In 2001, they started knocking on the Straz’s door. After two years of late-night shows, splitting themselves between the two venues, the Straz finally offered Jobsite residency in their Shimberg Playhouse in 2003. Jenkins marks this as the moment when they started to get serious as a theater company. After years of wondering if it was going to work out or not, Jobsite was finally seeing their dream become a reality.
Twenty years after that first show, Jobsite remains true to its mission. We’re excited about Jobsite’s 20th anniversary season programming, and so are the folks at Jobsite.
“I look at the season, and I know this is a beautiful arc that has something for everyone,” says actor Spencer Meyers, “but it is also every aspect of who we are as a company, and that is really enjoyable. When you can go out into public and say, ‘yeah, well let me tell you about all six of these shows, because I love all six of these shows. I don’t think any of them are weak.’ That’s a very nice thing to be able to do.”
Read part two here.