Theater is ‘to be’ as Jobsite opens Shakespeare (abridged) on Riverwalk Stage

Over the loud lightning strikes from our seemingly daily thunderstorms we’ve heard your cries: “Break’s OVER.”

The Straz Center and its resident theater company, Jobsite Theater, have worked during our COVID-19 intermission, with intermittent pauses to lounge on our chaises of course, to bring performances back to our stages with appropriate social distancing and cleaning and safety protocols.

Hit the spotlight, the shows are ready to begin.

Jobsite’s Bad Boys of Abridgement are back!

Jobsite will perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], running Oct. 2-10 on the Riverwalk Stage.

Tickets also are on sale for a slate of performances that include Opera Tampa holiday productions, one-performer dramas and a tribute to a country legend on the Riverwalk Stage or in the Jaeb Theater:

The eagerness to be back in front an audience is palpable in this Q&A with Jobsite’s Producing Artistic Director David M. Jenkins, who also is one of three players in the raucous comedy showcasing The Bard.

So, how does it feel to be the first sanctioned production back on a stage at The Straz?

DAVID: FANTASTIC!  We began talking about this in May and are so happy that we can finally do it. The three of us could all stand a good excuse to try to work off the COVID-19 pounds we’ve picked up in quarantine.

Why was “Shakespeare Abridged” THE choice for the return?

DAVID: First, it’s a show that we can literally do anywhere without worrying about a big set or complicated lighting. It’s also is a huge crowd-pleaser. We’ve been selling this show out for 19 years now and people keep coming back — so we thought it would be a great celebration for the campus re-opening. It also should work perfectly in an outdoor setting, though this will be our first time.

Can we expect some topical pandemic or political jokes to find their way into the dialogue? If so, can you give us a hint? Or will this all be improvised depending on the players and mood of the audience? For example, could libations help?

DAVID: The more people drink, the funnier we get, that’s for sure. The show is always topical and is always different on any given night depending on current events or the audience. There is a hefty dose of improv, but of course you have to guess there will be mask jokes and maybe even some gentle ribbing of our local officials and those guys running for president.

This show has audience participation, will that still occur even though social distancing will be employed during the performances?

DAVID: Yes, absolutely. We’re just not letting anyone on stage — it can all happen from the safety of their tables.

Speaking of which, what COVID precautions should patrons expect to see when they arrive at The Straz? And how will your players be protected?

DAVID: The three of us have been in quarantine since March and have created a “quaran-team” pact out of respect for each other and our own health and safety. That has to come first. We will be at least 10 feet, if not more, from the live audience outside, and The Straz has done a great job to make this a safe experience for everyone: limited capacity and tables distanced from one another, mandatory masks, paperless transactions, sanitizer everywhere and so on.

Left to right: Shawn Paonessa, Spencer Meyers, and David M. Jenkins in Jobsite Theater’s 2019 production.

Tell us about the cast … and what they bring to their roles.

DAVID: At this point, we’re just three aging doughy white guys who people keep paying to show up and do this thing. It’s me, Shawn Paonessa and Spencer Meyers. We’re being ourselves, you know, like with our own names up there, but we do take on dozens and dozens of Shakespeare characters each over the course of the show. I’ve been at this the longest — 19 years now. So, I guess I am sort of the “stage manager” helping keep it all on track. I set up most of the sketches for the audience and work to keep us on time, so that may mean we shorten or lengthen sketches in real time. Shawn Paonessa came in a year after me, and he’s sort of “the professor.” He has some pretty impressive creds you’ll hear about in the show, and he gets a real showcase in our second act as the Prince of Denmark himself, Hamlet. Spencer Meyers is the newest, he’s only been with the show a year — and, no offense to him, it kinda shows. He usually has the most problems with knowing what is next or getting his costumes and wigs on or off. So, you might call him “the man-child.” Oh, and he also plays all of the women. Hairy dudes in a bad wig and dress are always funny!

Obviously, the last six months have been stressful for, well, everyone. Is the fact the audience may be apprehensive or relieved about being “out and about” offer any challenges?

DAVID: Sure, we’re prepared for either scenario. The old saying is, “They laugh, we get paid. They don’t laugh, we get paid.” Seriously, though, we are ready to have to warm folks up or help cool folks down depending on where we go. We believe that there are folks out there who are hungry for this kind of experience — we know we are — and are thrilled to be able to offer it. After almost 20 years years of doing this show I know one thing for a fact — it’s basically impossible for people not to have a good time.

If you’ve completely forgotten the Shakespeare lessons from 10th grade AP English class, will you “get” this show or does it not freaking matter? i.e. Do i need to dig up my Cliff Notes?

DAVID: It does not matter. Honestly. We haven’t even read all these plays. One of us may not have ever read any of them. There’s room for everyone: from 8 years old to 80, Shakespeare lover or hater, whether you know every single iamb or just “To be or not to be.”

Was your 10th grade AP English teacher a Shakesperean tragedy? Ours was.

DAVID: Thankfully, I went to a performing arts high school and so my AP English teacher also was a theater professional. That really helped. Algebra, on the other hand, was very tragic for me.

What are your expectations for the show, it being the first one out of the box?

DAVID: A good time. For us, and for them. We are all going to have a blast. Promise.

So, what have been the highs and lows of quarantine for you? Anything you’d like to share?

DAVID: Highs – fixing up the house, cooking more, eating (almost) vegetarian, gardening. Lows – not creating, not feeling useful/value/”essential,” feeling like it is hard to get away from the news, getting fat.

What’s the future look like for Jobsite? … Tell us what you see in the crystal ball.

DAVID: We’ve got Shakespeare (abridged), Frankenstein, and Twilight Los Angeles which we’re all thankful and excited for. We’re hoping to get Doubt up in December or January and then after that hope our regular season can resume — even if only with the 26 distanced seats — and we can get back to what we do. We are trying to get as many of the shows streamed as possible for folks who can’t or don’t want to return yet, but that’s difficult because of union and publisher rules. We’ll continue to adapt. We’ve also started a fully digital programming strand, Jobsite Digital Shorts, with ALL proceeds going directly back to the artists who made them. It is important to get these artists safely back to work and some kind of income. Ninety-eight percent of American artists have reported a loss of work during this time and two-thirds of us are still completely unemployed. They’ve really been shafted in terms of relief and it’s kind of unconscionable. We want to do anything we can to help get these folks back on their feet, even as we as a company also are suffering greatly. We are less than nothing without our artists.

Tickets for all these fall 2020 events are on sale now. Purchase your tickets online at www.strazcenter.org or by calling 813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay.

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