The Go-to Woman

Katrina Stevenson does it all at Jobsite, and does it quite well

Katrina Stevenson does just about everything for Jobsite Theater: acts, directs, designs most of the costumes and sits on the board of directors that chooses plays for each season. As an actress, she's been one of the most familiar faces in each Jobsite season, performing in everything from Titus Andronicus to suburbia, and she's about to show up again as the ever-available stripper Bonnie in David Rabe's scorching Hurlyburly. As a director, Stevenson has staged plays as diverse as The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) and Bloody Poetry, and as costumer, she has crafted the look of scores of Jobsite characters.

As if all this weren't enough, Stevenson's also responsible for having suggested several of the shows that were produced over the last few seasons, from The Tibetan Book of the Dead to The Serpent. In short, she's a dynamo, and though she's done a little work for the Center Theater Company and Alley Cat Players, her focus, first and foremost, is Tampa's fortunate Jobsite.

I sat down with Stevenson, 31, outside the administrative offices at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, and we talked about the destiny that led her from a childhood in California to her multi-faceted role at Jobsite. While in high school, she moved with her parents to Colorado and eventually enrolled in the theater program at the University of Northern Colorado. (Originally, she wanted to be a classical ballet dancer, but puberty, she said, put an end to that).

The program there was tough: Out of 200 freshman theater majors, she was one of only three who eventually graduated. Her next stop was the MFA-in-acting program at University of Florida. There she met the professor, Dr. David Shelton, who made the greatest impression on her. He was the "grumpiest, bitterest old bastard you have ever met" — and probably the best acting teacher at the school. "I went into his classes with no ego and just said 'Reshape me, make me, and make me a serious actor.'" He gave her the part, coincidentally, of Bonnie in Hurlyburly, and she endured a grueling 10-week rehearsal experience. She still remembers the day when, after the run of the play, Shelton told her, "Stevenson, you're starting not to suck." She was 21 at the time and just learning that she might have a future as a serious theater artist.

It was at UF that her future with Jobsite was quietly forged. During her first year, Stevenson met David Jenkins, who was just about to graduate. They "did a couple of shows together" and then he moved to Tampa, where he told her he was starting a theater company. He invited Stevenson to Ybor City to see the first Jobsite shows — Christie in Love and One for the Road — and asked her back the following season. Since UF required a theater internship for its master's candidates, Stevenson arranged to fulfill hers as general factotum for Jobsite.

It was 1999, and "I was in True West. I worked backstage for Accidental Death of an Anarchist and helped David do some marketing stuff," she said. When Stevenson graduated from UF, she had to choose between New York — where a lot of fine actors, she noticed, were miserable — or coming back to Tampa to perform in Chris Durang's Laughing Wild. Then Jenkins asked her to direct one of the (abridged) shows, then to act in Dracula, then to join the board of directors. "And now I wouldn't leave," she asserted. "I won't leave. Nobody could wish for what I have."

Her colleagues at Jobsite, she said, are "giving, they're supportive, they're fun; a lot of us have grown up, so the egos, a lot of times, are checked at the door. So my friends are the people I work with. And by extension, they're my family. ... When it comes to Thanksgiving, what am I most thankful for? These people and the work that we do together."

Most recently that work has her playing Bonnie in Hurlyburly, a decade after she first essayed the part at UF. The character is a stripper, single mother and "coke addict with a heart of gold." She's called to the apartment of protagonist Eddie to have sex with Eddie's friend Phil, who's just gone through a divorce. "Bonnie's up for anything," said Stevenson. She's "a nice, friendly, bubbly, just warm human being, not the brightest bulb on the strand, but very, very aware of the world she lives in." But when she goes out with Phil, "chaos ensues," and Bonnie, almost alone among the other characters, is moved to tell Eddie some uncomfortable truths about himself.

What's important about Bonnie, Stevenson said, is her desperate need to connect with other humans, by any method and for any duration. "That's all that this play is about: It's about desperation." As for her personal connection to the role, Stevenson said she shares Bonnie's love of attention, as well as her willingness to put ego aside and open up to her friends. As for playing such a shallow woman, she's had practice. "I'm going to be honest," she said. "I've had so many roles where I've played the tarty bimbo, that for me it's fun."

Even with everything Stevenson does for Jobsite, she still can't make a living wage there. So for several years she taught at a private school in Land O' Lakes and just recently has taken a new job at Data Pros for Healthcare, where she works 9 to 5 doing Internet research and editing marketing materials. (Jobsite rehearsals are at night and on weekends.)

Most on her mind, though, is the upcoming year at Jobsite, where she'll direct Tom Stoppard's celebrated Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, will audition for Strindberg's A Dream Play (adapted by Caryl Churchill) and will at least supervise costuming for just about every show.

What she wishes for the coming years is that the Bay area community will "stand up and take notice and realize what they have."

"Because you don't find this everywhere. ... You don't get to see new, exciting, cutting-edge live theater that is done with quality, with experience and with the dedication that you get from everybody who works with us." Nowhere else in the Bay area, she said, is there anything like Jobsite.

And you know, she's right.

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