Actor, director, designer, administrator and a really good judge of talent, David M. Jenkins wears all the badges necessary to serve as producing artistic director of a regional professional theater.
And that he does. Jenkins, a Jacksonville native, co-founded Tampa’s Jobsite Theatre 21 years ago, and has been its visionary – and cheerleader, and chief bottle-washer – ever since.
He’s also an artist who cares passionately about the important stuff, like knowing his audience and programming Jobsite’s seasons accordingly. Like how Jobsite fits, from one year to the next, within the jigsaw puzzle of Tampa Bay professional theater. He moves through his work with both eyes open.
With a Ph.D. in Communication (Performance Studies) from the University of South Florida, an M.F.A. in Acting from the University of Florida, and a B.A. in Theater Performance (also from USF) he makes only carefully-considered moves.
In this audio podcast, Jenkins discusses his vision for Jobsite, the resident theater company of the David A. Straz Center Center, and the January production (which he’s directing) of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 100-seat Shimberg Black Box Theatre.
He also talks about the two-actor comedy A Tuna Christmas, which he’s helming this month at the Jaeb Theatre (300 seats), a neighboring venue in the Straz complex (info and tickets here). It’s the opening salvo in a new production deal Jobsite has with the Straz Center – three additional Jaeb shows per year.
On the origins of Jobsite:
We spent our first two seasons in the Silver Meteor Gallery in Ybor City. As much as we loved the Meteor, we realized, probably by our second show, that it wasn’t a sustainable space for us. It wasn’t going to be a long-term solution.
We did our first show at the Straz Center purely as a rental company. We got on their radar, and they asked us if we would be interested in maybe co-producing some shows together. And working together. And that relationship basically grew naturally over the course of three years, until we became resident theater company.
On what he’s learned after 21 years:
I question whether or not I would even look to start a theater company today, if I came to Tampa. Because when we began, really, you had American Stage – they’ve been here for a good, long time -there was Stageworks, with Anna Brennan at the helm, and there was a company called Gorilla Theatre out of Drew Park. And that was basically it. That was pretty much all the theater.
When a couple of friends of mine and I – the guys that started Jobsite with me – looked around, American Stage was doing relatively traditional, 20th Century modern American theater fare, Gorilla Theatre was doing mostly brand-new original plays, primarily written by the two people who ran that company. And Stageworks had their own niche that they were running in.
We looked around, and we went ‘Where’s the theater for people like us?’ We were interested in work that maybe was a little bit younger, more adventurous, more off the beaten path.
Now clearly, in 21 years we’ve grayed along with that. We’re no longer the young people we were. But I still think that we sorta have our lane. We have our niche. And now, there are so many things to choose from when it comes to theater in Tampa Bay.
On the Shimberg Theatre, Jobsite’s regular home:
It’s difficult to sell 300 tickets a play in Tampa. I mean, it is what it is. A hundred seats is really the sweet spot. We do very well in a 100-seat theater. I’d rather have a 100-seat theater sold out every night than have a 300-seat theater one-third of the way full.
On programming his season:
So much of what happens in theater doesn’t happen in the theater. It happens on the drive home, the conversation that you have. Encountering something the next day, the next week or the next month that draws you back to the experience you had in that little room, surrounded by all those people you didn’t know. And that, to me, is exciting about theater. So that’s the kind of stuff I look for.
On moving from acting to administration:
I just found that I’m good at facilitating it. I guess. I care about it. I know it’s not for everybody. I’m still able to flex my artistic muscles, which is great. But I’ve definitely taken a huge step back. It’s better than living out of a suitcase, which if you’re a professional actor, so much of a time that’s what you do.
One of the things I’m really trying to do here, and one of the things I love about this opportunity with the Jaeb, is that there are now three more long-running shows that are going to happen every year, that will employ that many more regional artists. We’ve got two more shows lined up this season, and we hope to continue it because the more opportunity we can afford regional artists here, the less they have to live out of a suitcase.
Click the Play button for the full audio interview with David M. Jenkins: