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Will the show go on? Jobsite Theater facing unprecedented new drama

Bill DeYoung

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Jobsite executive and artistic director David Jenkins, with Amy E. Gray in "Cloud Nine," 2017.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and the voluntary closures of public gathering places, are being felt at every level. Jobsite Theater, the professional nonprofit company housed in Tampa’s David A. Straz Center complex, was just hours away from opening a new play when the entire Straz operation was temporarily shut down.

“We’re on the hook for at least $25,000 in hard money because of this closure,” said Jobsite executive and artistic director David M. Jenkins. “That’s money that we’ve already put out that we cannot get back if the show is not produced.”

Jenkins himself was a member of the four-person cast of Doubt: A Parable, which was to premiere last Friday. Two of the other actors – Roxanne Fay and Andresia Moseley – are full-time performers, with no other source of income.

“We’ve already paid designers for fully-executed designs,” said Jenkins. “We’ve paid for the rights to the show. We’ve paid for rent of the theater. We’ve already paid all of the artists to rehearse it and get it ready for opening. That money is non-recoupable.”

Jobsite’s shows are produced in the Shimberg Theatre, the smallest of the five performances spaces in the Straz Center. Because of its adjustable seating, the Shimberg can accommodate between 75 and 130 people at a time.

For Doubt, according to Jenkins, the configuration had been adjusted to 100 – including all the performers, technicians, staff and ushers. That put Jobsite well within the recommended limits for public gatherings. Ticket sales for the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama were strong.

But capacity for the larger Straz theaters: Carol Morsani Hall (2,610) and Ferguson Hall (1,042) meant closing the entire complex was prudent for Straz administration.

Jobsite, Jenkins said, is “shackled to ticket sales. We cannot take a $25,000 minus at this point right now. We would not survive it.”

With crisis news changing hourly, the only certainty is that nothing is certain. Although the Straz Center is officially shuttered through April 19, Jenkins knows the situation could change as events unfold.

Thus far, he’s taking a “glass half full” approach. “I’m sure someone smarter than me has figured out why that date of April 19 seems to be lingering around for a lot of places,” he said. “I’ve seen numerous performing arts places list that date. Of course, a lot of other places are saying they’re going to be closed through the end of March or whatever.

“We’re just going to have to play it by ear. I know that if God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as they say, that if the Straz Center resumes normal operations on April 20, or maybe in some limited capacity for the smaller halls, we can re-open.”

The 2019-2020 season brought a watershed moment for Jobsite. The Jenkins-directed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in January and February, was the best-attended show in the company’s 21-year history, and broke all box office records.

Midsummer arrived at exactly the right time. “We spent the past two years trying to recover from Hurricane Irma,” Jenkins explained. “It really obliterated the run of The Flick; we lost tens of thousands of dollars. FEMA and the other entities that were handing out money at a time like that referred to our tickets as ‘non-tangible inventory.’

“Between that and a couple of other things that happened that season – some audiences didn’t respond to shows we thought they were going to come out for, and some other unforeseen expenses – we’ve spent the past two years trying to make that up.”

Should the ready-to-go Doubt finally see the light of day – and fingers are crossed – it will certainly have some impact on the season’s remaining two productions, originally scheduled for May through August.

Jenkins is trying to work things out, albeit with a fluid set of circumstances. “I don’t know what that change looks like yet,” he said. “There are shows we have not put out any money for yet. The smartest business decision might be to cancel those performances.”

In the meantime, Jenkins has announced Jobsite’s 2020-2021 season. Here are the theater’s official descriptions:

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House. By Liza Birkenmeier. Sep. 11-Oct. 4, previews Sep. 9-10. It’s 1983 – the evening before Dr. Sally Ride’s historic space flight. A group of women friends gather on a sweltering St. Louis rooftop, each caught in their own failure-to-launch. This enticing juxtaposition thrusts the women into the space of their uncharted desires where they bump against American norms of sex and power in this intimate snapshot of queer anti-heroines.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. Oct. 23 – Nov. 15, previews Oct. 21-22. On the fog-bound streets of Victorian-era London, Henry Jekyll’s experiments with exotic “powders and tinctures” have brought forth his other self: Edward Hyde, a sensualist and villain free to commit the sins Jekyll is too civilized to comprehend. When the dastardly Hyde meets a woman who stirs his interest, Jekyll fears for her life and decides to end his experiments-but Hyde has other ideas. The two sides battle each other in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse to determine who shall be the master and who his slave. This play presents a new and shocking version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of depravity, lust, love and horror.

Henry V. By William Shakespeare. Jan. 15 – Feb. 7, 2021, previews Jan. 13-14. England’s in tumult and who ascends the throne but playboy Prince Hal -an untested royal who spent his youth slumming around London. Now crowned King Henry V, he must win the respect of a nation and lead his country to greatness in an epic battle with archnemesis France. Henry gathers his troops and marches abroad only to find himself outmanned, outgunned and outmatched. In the face of death, Henry must also face himself. Can he become the king his country needs? In the annual season tradition, Jobsite reboots Shakespeare for modern times, taking Henry’s timeless tale and setting it to an original, blistering industrial score. High-def video transforms Shakespeare’s work into a modern, mesmerizing spectacle of tension, nationalism and excitement.

A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music. By Anthony Burgess, adapted from his novel. March 12 – April 4, 2021, previews March 10-11. A Clockwork Orange lures audiences into a glass-edged, testosterone-filled underworld of a dystopian future. In 1962, the explosive tale of little Alex and his band of Droogs was a ground-breaking insta-classic teeming with sexuality and “a bit of the old ultra-violence.” A Clockwork Orange remains an unapologetic celebration of the human condition and individual freedoms.

Shockheaded Peter. Created for the stage by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermottoriginal music by The Tiger Lillies. April 30 – May 23, 2021, previews April 28-29. A little bit Edward Gorey, a little bit Nightmare Before Christmas, Shockheaded Peter is the phantasmagorical musical staging of Heinrich Hoffman’s dark, mildly-terrifying 19th-century German children’s book Struwwelpeter. The show illuminates graphic cautionary tales about a cast of disobedient children like Young Harriett and her pyrotechnic tendencies, little Conrad and his insatiable thumb-sucking and a handful of other misbehaving youngsters who come to untimely and hilariously horrific ends. This production will be of a special, devilishly dark delight to fans of Jobsite’s much-beloved production of Gorey Stories.

Hand to God. By Robert Askins. July 9 – Aug. 1, 2021, previews July 7-8. Meek and mild Jason takes solace in the Christian Puppet Ministry after the death of his father. When his originally soft-spoken puppet Tyrone takes on a shocking personality then possesses his arm, Jason unwittingly throws the town of Cypress, Texas into a tizzy. Jason’s complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door and-most especially-his mother weather further turbulence at the hands of Tyrone’s dangerously irreverent personality. Hand to God explores the fragile nature of faith, morality and the ties that bind us.

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