Great Shakes: New grants help Jobsite Theater bring Shakespeare to the schools

With $20,000 from two local foundations, the theater can expand its educational outreach.

click to enlarge Katrina Stevenson and Giles Davies in 2015's "Twelfth Night," one of the Shakespeare plays Jobsite has shared with students. - Crawford Long
Crawford Long
Katrina Stevenson and Giles Davies in 2015's "Twelfth Night," one of the Shakespeare plays Jobsite has shared with students.

For David Jenkins, these will be happy holidays.

Jobsite Theater, which Jenkins has helmed since its inception in 1998, has just received a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. The grant will allow Jobsite’s artists to bring Shakespeare to middle- and high-school students, most of whom will be experiencing the Bard live for the first time in their lives. Add another $5,000 recently donated by the Saunders Foundation, and suddenly Jenkins will have enough to pay actors and designers who in the past received little or no compensation for their contributions to the Shakespeare workshops. With As You Like It currently in rehearsal for a January opening, the good news is instantly relevant.

I met the visibly pleased Jenkins over coffee at the Jet City cafe in Seminole Heights. He got right to the point: The two grants will allow Jobsite “to do a whole lot more educational outreach than we’ve ever been able to do before. Even what we have been doing up to this point, we’ve largely been doing on the backs of our artists. Because schools don’t have any money, they can’t pay for these full matinees. Even when they do, what they’re paying is nowhere near what it actually requires to professionally produce a performance... And so up to this point we’ve done this largely out of the kindness of our hearts.” 

Jenkins said that As You Like It will be the fourth Shakespeare play Jobsite will bring to local students, the previous ones being Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and Macbeth. Like regular programming, the shows will appear at the Shimberg Playhouse of the Straz Center; since that theater seats only 99, multiple matinees will be used to reach all relevant students. Further, Jenkins will provide teachers with study guides about Shakespeare. And “we’re offering people both pre-visits and post-visits. So we can come out to the school prior to them attending the theater, and basically do a workshop or a master class on whatever they want. If it’s just a primer on the Shakespeare, fine. And if they have another know, [actor] Giles [Davies] and I can get out to a school and talk about the beauty of reading Shakespeare...Or maybe the workshop is on stage combat, how to put together a rapier fight. We will literally do anything.” In the past, Jenkins said, these workshops went unpaid or were met with a small honorarium. Now, with the new grants, all those involved — including actors who have taken an afternoon off from their day jobs — will be remunerated.

I asked Jenkins if he can reasonably expect the two new grants to be renewed. “What’s on us this first year is to fulfill what we said we were going to do,” he told me, “and do it to the best of our ability. And I have complete faith that if we do that, you know, these funds do come back up every year." What about school censorship? Shakespeare, it’s well-known, can get bawdy. “I think that we’re smart enough for that,” said Jenkins. “Certain schools might use a sanitized version of Shakespeare, but at the same time, I think a lot of innuendo in Shakespeare is what people refer to as Simpsons humor: If you get it, you get it, but if not, you’re probably not old enough to get it. And then of course there’ll be slight adjustments that we make for those daytime matinees where certain things might be pushing an envelope too far for a seventh-grade audience.”  

Finally, I reminded Jenkins of his desire, expressed to me in past interviews, to give all his attention to Jobsite without having to worry about a day job. Now, he told me, his salary as artistic director has improved to the point where his only other commitment is teaching one course a semester at the USF Honors College (he not long ago received his Ph.D. from USF). The only other salaried persons at Jobsite, he told me, are being paid for part-time work: Matthew Ray, company stage manager, Brian Smallheer, “our tech guy,” and Shawn Paonessa, who handles everything online from the website to email and internet. Jenkins would clearly like to see all three become full-time workers.

But that too is about money – as is so much in the world of theater. Now Jobsite has $20,000 it never had before, and the real beneficiaries will be local public school students, who’ll have a better chance than ever to see Shakespeare as it was intended. Kudos to Jobsite for committing to yearly productions of Willy’s plays. And to the two wise local foundations that have recognized Jobsite’s work as worthy — and important.