For more than a decade, Nicole Jeannine Smith was one of Jobsite Theater’s most prolific and watchable actors, appearing in drama after comedy after freaky weird show (all Jobsite hallmarks). Then, after the company’s breathtakingly good take on Dancing at Lughnasa in 2018, Nicole Jeannine Smith seemingly vanished.
She re-appeared in 2021 and hasn’t slowed down, appearing in the ensemble casts of Jobsite’s Jekyll and Hyde, along with Murder on the Orient Express (Stageworks) and Into the Night (Studio Grand Central).
Animals Out of Paper, opening tonight at Jobsite, is a poignant dramedy in which Smith plays a celebrity origamist (she folds paper into interesting shapes – like animals, duh).
She knows when to hold ’em, and yes, when to fold ’em.
The bay area native spent those missing years at West Virginia University, where she earned an MFA in Acting. Although she already had a BFA in Theatre Arts from the University of South Florida, “I was really craving that strict actor training that I never really had, so I went to grad school.”
Her co-stars in Animals Out of Paper are Cornelio “Coky” Aguilera and Faizan Basheer (their characters both practice the art of origami, too). “It’s such a cool experience to do a small show like this, with just three people,” Smith enthuses. “Because you can really dig in and develop those relationships.”
Jobsite, her unofficial home, produces the sort of theater she particularly likes. Smith enjoys a challenge (in the unflinchingly bizarre Jekyll and Hyde, for example, her character was a man).
“I like weird shows,” she says. “I’m not a musical theater person. I just really jive on more modern, quirky plays.”
Jobsite, Smith explains, is like a family. Sort of. “Once an actor does a show with Jobsite, they’re kind of in the family, right? Obviously they’re always looking for new people. And that’s pretty clear – there’s been so many new faces, different gender identities, always looking for diversity, but with that said you do have a slight leg up if you have done a show with them before.”
She’d like to do more work across the bay in St. Petersburg, at freeFall and/or American Stage, but she knows the role has to be just right for her.
Into the Night, which was onstage at Studio Grand Central in May, was a collaboration with Theatre eXceptional, the Pinellas-based organization that produces theater with disabled adults.
Smith played a woman whose son, with Down’s syndrome, was learning how to make it in a confusing world.
“That show really fed my soul,” she recalls. “At Theatre eXceptional they’re doing great work, but it can be very insular for them – so this was really cool for our Down’s syndrome actors. That was their first stepping out professional show. And they were amazing. They’re better workers than a lot of other actors.
“I just thought it was so important, and the story was so beautiful.”
Into the Night will be performed (with the original cast) at the 2022 Tampa Fringe Festival, beginning July 30. Find info here.
Directed by Tatiana Baccari, Animals Out of Paper runs through Aug. 7 at the Shimberg Playhouse, in the David A. Straz Center.
“Tatiana has been an amazing guide throughout the process,” says Smith. “And these fellas I’m working with, they’ve brought so much. These characters have weird reactions to things – but they’re not weird, they’re very human. It’s been a beautiful journey.”
Find tickets here.