Jobsite Theater’s latest production, Doubt: A Parable, features wife-and-husband team of Summer Bohnenkamp directing and David Jenkins in a lead role. How do they do it?
This week, Caught in the Act takes a deep-dive into the working-life-partners relationship of Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins. The pair talks about the tricky business of work-life-love balance and how they manage to pull it off so well. Summer and David’s most recent theater production, Doubt: A Parable, opens January 13.
By Alex Stewart
If you’re a part of the theater or arts scene in Tampa Bay, chances are you know the creative couple Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins. Married for almost 20 years, and working together for more, they’ve built a life together while simultaneously building successful theater careers.
Their next collaboration is Jobsite Theater’s upcoming production of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley, with Summer directing and David playing the role of Father Flynn.
Summer, the vice president of marketing and programming at the Straz Center, and David, the producing artistic director and co-founder for Jobsite Theater, met while working on a show at The Straz in 1999.
“Summer was in [The Straz’s] group sales office at the time, and she was enlisted along with a couple of other staff members to play minor characters,” says David. “She wore this crazy Viking outfit, a skimpy thing with big Viking horns. We met doing that show, and we started doing the ‘we’re not dating, we’re just hanging out’ thing.”
Before we go any further, we have to ask, who doesn’t love a female Viking?
As we mentioned earlier, that “just hanging out” thing blossomed into 20 years of marriage. They’ve since worked together on multiple theater productions, both acting and directing, as well as alongside each other in the marketing office at the Straz Center for nearly 10 years before Jenkins moved into his full-time role at Jobsite. They know each other intimately, especially when it comes to theater.
“I don’t think I could ever direct a highly stylized piece or a period piece. That’s all David’s wheelhouse,” explains Summer. “But he’ll hand me scripts that he thinks will suit my sensibilities.”
And David did just that. He knew that Doubt was a favorite of Summer’s, her having seen the show with three different casts, twice on Broadway and once when it came to Tampa on tour. “I think she’s somebody who has an incredible perspective on the show, and she’s a very good director,” said David. As you can imagine, David and Summer talk a lot about theater. David listened to Summer’s thoughts about Doubt each time after she saw it, and she always had thoughts on what was done right or what could have been done differently to leave her with more ambiguities about the characters and the story.
“The structure of the play is one that interests me because it’s really about more than what actually happens in the play, but about this intense conviction versus what may or may not be accurate,” says Summer. “The play doesn’t have a clear conclusion. And oddly, I very much like ambiguity and a situation where people can make up their own mind about what is happening.”
David has directed Summer several times in previous Jobsite productions, but Doubt is only the second time Summer has directed her husband. Having worked together for so long, the actor/director dynamic doesn’t change much for them.
“For the most part, being directed by or directing him is fine,” says Summer. “I probably get more easily frustrated with him as a director. Not always, it’s hard to say, and it depends on the show and the role and everything else.”
While their marriage has had a positive impact on their theater careers, it’s also come with the perception that they play favorites – especially when it comes to casting. But their 20+ year tenure as colleagues has allowed them to treat each other like any other fellow actor or director when they are working in those capacities.
“It’s very normal for us to compartmentalize,” says Summer. “Work is work and personal is personal, and we don’t really mix those two things up. We’ve passed each other up for roles if we thought another actor was better suited.”
For Jenkins, who has a BA in theater performance and an MFA in acting, it’s a treat to have his wife directing. “Because my first love [in theater] is acting and I don’t get the chance to do it that often, I appreciate doing it with a director who knows what she’s doing. And that works out really well with Summer because her style is one that I get.”
Jenkins, who oversees all daily operations for Jobsite and directs many of the shows each season, explained how the trust they’ve built through their relationship allows him to step back from his role as “the boss” and enjoy acting.
“I appreciate working with her and our relationship because it allows me this gift,” he says. “It’s hard for me to be an actor with my own company because if stuff is going wrong, I’m still in charge, right? So, it’s really nice to be in a process where I don’t have to worry. And if something happens and I do need to step outside of being just an actor, I can do that, but I feel like I’m a lot more relaxed knowing she’s the one in the chair.”
“We’re both really big on keeping personal stuff at home,” says Summer. “We are never going to be the people who get into an argument in front of other people. We’re not going to talk about anything personal, ever. If I’m getting the note [as an actor], I’m getting the note like anybody else. If I have a question about the note later, I might ask the question later. But all actors do that all the time, right? I wouldn’t act any different than if anybody else was directing me. And David is the same. He takes the note and moves on.”
No matter what show they’re turning into a success, work is work, play is play, and sometimes work is play—but work is never personal. Trust me, there will be no doubt that these two will make John Patrick Shanley’s script into a very unique Jobsite experience.
Doubt: A Parable plays the Jaeb Theater January 13 – 31.