First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes … an Audition?

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 welcomes back guest blogger Alex Stewart, Straz Center public relations manager, who was brave enough to do a deep-dive into the working-life-partners relationship of Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins. She sat down with the pair to talk 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 March 11.

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.

David M. Jenkins (Father Flynn). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.

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.”

Co-directors David Jenkins and Summer Bohnenkamp, Paul Potenza (Ulysses) and Angela Bond (Emma). Jobsite Theater’s production of Annapurna. Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.

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.”

Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins.

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.

David M. Jenkins (Father Flynn) and Roxanne Fay (Sister Aloysius). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography.

Doubt: A Parable plays the Shimberg Playhouse March 11 – April 5.

Mean Girls 101

The essential guide to cult classic catch phrases

This week, Caught in the Act welcomes guest blogger Alex Stewart, media relations manager for The Straz and a big fan of the Mean Girls movie. Our resident subject matter expert on the most memorable lines from the film, Alex agreed to take us through this Mean Girls primer to get us ready for the upcoming musical adaptation.

By Alex Stewart

Get ready to leave the real world and enter Girl World when Mean Girls comes to the Morsani stage February 18-23. The Broadway musical is based on the 2004 film, both written by Tina Fey. The film, now almost 16 years old, has become a modern cult classic and one of the most quotable movies of our time. In honor of the upcoming burn fest, we wanted to share some of the most fetch phrases from the film – because when it comes to quoting Mean Girls, the limit does not exist.

 “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” – Karen Smith

Arguably one of the most recognized and quoted lines from the movie, Karen excitedly tells Cady Heron what to wear in order to sit with the Plastics (the most popular girls in school) the next day at lunch. This line has inspired an insane amount of merch, as well as countless women across the internet documenting a week they spent living by the Plastics’ rules, which are as follows:

  1. You can’t wear tank tops two days in a row.
  2. You can only wear your hair in a ponytail once a week.
  3. You can only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays.

Don’t forget that hoop earrings are Regina’s thing, and you wouldn’t buy a skirt without asking your friends first if it looks good on you, right? And in the Plastics’ world, if you don’t follow the rules …

“YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!” – Gretchen Wieners 

The ultimate representation of girl-on-girl crime and bullying, Gretchen shouts this line at Regina when she walks up to the table wearing sweatpants on a Friday, which is against the rules of the Plastics. We’d bet that most people have jokingly shouted this line at someone, many without even knowing it’s from Mean Girls.

“On October 3rd, he asked me what day it was. It’s October 3rd.”

Thanks to this iconic line, October 3rd has unofficially become Mean Girls Day. Cady Heron is so into Aaron Samuels that she notes the exact day that he asked her what day it was, obviously making it one of the most important days of the year.

“She doesn’t even go here!” – Damian Leigh

One of the most well-known references in the film, Damian shouts this at an all-girls assembly wearing a hoodie and sunglasses in reference to a girl who doesn’t go to their school but won’t stop talking. The best part about this line? There are so many ways to integrate it into daily life:

Did someone give an opinion no one asked for? SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!

Is there a rando interrupting your conversation? SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!

Now, you try.

“That is so fetch!” – Gretchen Wieners

Even though Regina told Gretchen to “stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen!”, fetch did happen, despite the odds. Now it’s part of our vernacular, thanks to the film.

“Four for you, Glen Coco. You go Glen Coco! …And none for Gretchen Wieners.” – Damian Leigh

In the film, Damian, dressed as Santa, is handing out candy cane grams to students in class. Glen Coco receives four candy cane grams from someone, while Cady receives one from Regina and Gretchen receives none. This is part of the plan to take down the Plastics – and while Glen Coco has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the delivery of this line has made him live in infamy.

Fun fact: Glen Coco was played by David Reale, who was uncredited in the film. Reale was not cast; he walked onto to the set to watch the filming and get free lunch. You go, David Reale!

“Get in, loser. We’re going shopping.” – Regina George

This iconic phrase has inspired endless memes. From dogs and llamas in cars (our favorites) to Dr. Who and the TARDIS to so many more. The possibilities for using this phrase are endless.

“Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.” – Regina George

One of the most relatable quotes from the film for pretty much anyone, Regina declares this after she says she’s only eating foods with less than 30% calories from fat. We’ll take cheese fries over math any day.   

“I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.” – Mrs. George, Regina’s mom

Regina’s mom says this line to Cady after the Plastics are invited to Regina’s house. A suburban housewife, Mrs. George tries to maintain her youth by wearing hip clothes, partaking in plastic surgery and offering to allow the girls to drink alcohol—if they do so in the house.

One of the most quoted phrases by moms of humans and pets alike, this line has cemented itself in modern culture. There are currently over 20,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #ImNotaRegularMomImaCoolMom.

“It’s like I have ESPN or something.” – Karen Smith

This phrase is solely responsible for making ESPN grool. Karen, described as “one of the dumbest girls you’ll ever meet,” explains to Cady that she has a fifth sense. Mixing up the psychic ability ESP with the sports channel ESPN, this is one of the most obvious and ridiculous jokes, making it one of the most quotable phrases in the film.

“That’s why her hair is so big, it’s full of secrets.” – Damian Leigh

Used today by beauty influencers everywhere, this phrase is another brilliant line delivered by Damian. He uses it to describe Gretchen, whose dad invented the Toaster Strudel.

There you have it. Now that you’ve brushed up on the most fetch Mean Girls quotes, don’t forget to grab tickets for the show.

Silver Linings

Opera Tampa, the resident opera company of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, celebrates its 25th anniversary season with three electrifying main stage performances.

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Tampa Bay Magazine. We are happy to have permission to reprint it for our blog, in honor of the upcoming performances of Opera Tampa’s  Carmen Feb. 7-9.

Carmen. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

A 25th anniversary is symbolized by silver, a lustrous metal that carries the highest capacity to conduct heat and electricity. Such characteristic seem fitting for the current Opera Tampa season, the grand opera company’s 25th, which boasts productions of Carmen, The Pirates of Penzance and Aida for this hallmark occasion.

“We wanted this season to make a statement since we know how important opera is to this community,” says Straz Center President and Opera Tampa General Director Judy Lisi. “There are so many people who live here who grew up listening to great opera around a radio or record player with their parents and grandparents. We also have a new generation of young opera fans who know the music from movie scores, cartoons and popular remakes and are discovering the excitement of the original material. We are putting up an epic season to honor the best of what everyone loves about great opera.”

Lisi, a Puccini aficionado and classically trained singer, launched her first successful opera company in Connecticut with Maestro Anton Coppola acting as artistic director. The pair ushered in a revival of great opera for the Shubert Theater in New Haven, building a loyal following and stellar reputation for excellence in programming and production. The duo reprised this success in Tampa, when Lisi and Coppola created Opera Tampa, producing Madama Butterfly to complement a Broadway tour of Miss Saigon, a musical adapted from the opera’s story.

“When we introduced grand opera at The Straz, we knew we wanted to work with what audiences who may not be familiar with opera already knew and loved, which was Broadway,” says Lisi. “The first year we started with Madama Butterfly; the second year RENT was on our Broadway season so, naturally, we staged La Boheme, the inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s hit musical. Our original plan was to put up one opera a season, but we quickly found out we had a strong audience for the art form here. Before we knew it, we were staging three huge productions per season.”

Pirate King, Pirates of Penzance. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

Over the years, Opera Tampa has drawn internationally-renowned singers to Morsani Hall in the Straz Center to portray the towering characters that populate the opera canon. For the past quarter of a century, the company breathed life into the masterworks of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, Wager, Bizet and Donizetti with outstanding local talent performing onstage with singers from The Met and La Scala. As the reputation and popularity of Opera Tampa grew, the organization decided to institute an annual recognition to someone in the field. After Maestro Coppola’s retirement, Opera Tampa unveiled The Anton Coppola Excellence in the Arts Award, bestowed each year at the Grand Gala. Recipients include such luminaries as Placido Domingo, Denyce Graves, Sherrill Milnes, Diana Soviero, Carlisle Floyd and Paul Plishka.

In November 2019, Opera Tampa held the inaugural D’Angelo Young Artist Vocal Competition, helping to establish Opera Tampa as an entity that not only produces great opera but also cultivates the next generation of opera performers. Through their extensive arts education program, Opera Tampa has also cultivated the next generation of audiences by bringing professional singers into school classrooms to get kids excited about opera music and stories. “When I look back over the past 25 years and assess the ways Opera Tampa has impacted this area culturally, educationally and artistically, I almost can’t believe how much has happened,” says Lisi. “What started as a hope that people would like this art form has grown into a full-fledged cultural institution. We have a solid name in the professional opera world; our successes in one of the most acoustically gorgeous theaters in America has people sitting up and taking notice of what’s happening in Tampa. We couldn’t be happier to have reached our 25th anniversary season with such momentum and excitement about what’s to come.”

Aida. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

Under the baton of newly-appointed artistic director Robin Stamper, who has been with Opera Tampa as a director, choral master and pianist for several years, the future of the company looks rosy. “I have seen so much incredible talent appear with Opera Tampa in my 4 1/2 years with the company, not just onstage but with our extraordinary production crew and musicians,” says Stamper. “I am deeply honored to steward this magnificent company and to direct us into an exciting future.”

The 25th anniversary season promises to be lustrous with plenty of heat and electricity, starting with George Bizet’s Carmen in February, continuing with Gilbert and Sullivan’s madcap genius The Pirates of Penzance in March and concluding with Guiseppe Verdi’s iconic Aida in April. “We’re so grateful for the support and enthusiasm we’ve seen over the past two-and-a-half decades,” Lisi says. “We’re honored to be able to give such exemplary artistic works to everyone in this community.”

Arts Legacy REMIX

What started as a conversation about celebrating the Tampa area’s rich artistic heritage turned into a free concert series drawing unexpectedly large crowds. The Straz Center’s Arts Legacy REMIX was a long time in the making and looks like it’s here to stay.

After a brutal warrior’s stint in Vietnam that gave him an ultimatum to become brutal himself or take a higher calling, Fred Johnson chose love.

A longtime jazz musician who’d played with Aretha Franklin and Lionel Hampton and opened for Miles Davis, Fred immersed himself in studying Sufi wisdom and musical-spiritual cultures around the world. He wove this knowledge into his streetwise philosophy of caring for the neighborhood through the sharing of talents.

Fred Johnson

Fred eventually left The Straz to take this philosophy on the road, traveling around the world working with artists and community organizations to find paths of common ground and opportunities to teach. “I always kept in touch with The Straz and felt connected to the work here. I always felt, on some level, no matter where I was, I was an ambassador for Tampa. My journey out into the world was an extension of the work we did here, looking into how profoundly arts and artists can serve as catalysts for real transcendence and transformation,” he says.

Judy and Fred reconnected in 2016 at a Creative Forces forum, an organization dedicated to exploring ways the arts help veterans with PTSD and effects of traumatic brain injury.

“Our conversations were about the fact that society as a whole sees the therapeutic benefits of the arts from re-attaining wholeness with veterans to the growing need to find common ground among people,” Fred says. “We had started that notion with the Community Arts Ensemble, and we are living in times very receptive to this idea now.”

“We wanted to amplify that commitment and make real ways for the public to have greater access to The Straz. That’s what Arts Legacy was born from.”

Fred returned in 2017 to spearhead the Arts Legacy initiative which built on the philosophical foundations of art’s profoundly transformative role in the human experience.

FOTOSET BY JAMES LUEDDE

“Arts Legacy is about celebrating our community’s cultural impact,” says Straz Center President and CEO Judy Lisi. “Our community artists belong here, creating and having a place to be seen and appreciated. It’s very important that, as a community arts center, we represent the powerful sectors of culture right here. Fred took that notion and brought it to life; he’s always been great at working withdifferent members of the community to communicate and realize our commitment to all.”

Fred assembled a team of diverse community members to give input on what this Arts Legacy initiative would be. “The Straz has a responsibility to be an active community member, to have a voice at the table when decisions are being made that affect people.”

”Our legacy is redefining the role of art — that understanding art and creativity are the foundations to manifest change, to make the world a better place,” says Fred. Through a network of community members, the Arts Legacy team built a series of performances highlighting certain cultures that themselves are foundations to the Tampa Bay area.

FOTOSET BY JAMES LUEDDE

In essence, they got to the work of building bridges.

They got to the business of calling out to the heart and soul.

People answered.

The team took suggestions, made contacts, networked, organized and, in the end, produced six free concerts on the Riverwalk, drawing crowds of up to 500 people. They needed a name for the series and the Straz Center marketing team came up with Arts Legacy REMIX. “It’s hip, it’s inclusive,” says Fred, “and the success of Arts Legacy REMIX events was the outgrowth of reaching into the community and saying ‘hey, not only do we have one of the finest institutions in the world to present art, we also have this amazingly culturally and ethnically rich community that we can learn about from each other.’”

Last year, Arts Legacy REMIX hosted song, dance and drum performances around Hispanic heritage, Indian Diwali, Dr. King, Asian culture and global storytelling. Arts Legacy REMIX also hosted the Black Artists Film Series in the TECO Theater.

“It’s been really great just to see how excited people are about these performances and how much they look forward to it,” Fred says. “People are having an expanded relationship with The Straz and realizing how much we want to celebrate the arts and artistic traditions we have around us. It’s exciting to know we’re becoming more a part of people’s everyday lives by creating more opportunities for them to be on our grounds.”

FOTOSET BY JAMES LUEDDE

“We’re open to suggestions and ideas. We have the line-up for the 2019-2020 season and six more performances, but we are excited to engage as many members of the community as we possibly can,” Fred says. “Now more than ever, the artist is really important in putting a different kind of stamp on the human experience. We welcome community theater companies, community organizations — any folk out there who love what we’re doing and who want to support what we do; they can email communityprograms@strazcenter.org

The next Arts Legacy REMIX performance will be an MLK Commemoration: Power of Storytelling on Jan 17.  performances take place on the Riverwalk Stage, free of charge.

The Two Best Reasons to See A Tuna Christmas Right Now

There are two stars in this Christmas story, and they’re actors Spencer Meyers and Derrick Phillips.

Derrick Phillips as Arles Struvie and Spencer Meyers as Thurston Wheelis. Photo by Rob Harris Productions

The first wave of the Tuna, Texas two-man laugh-a-thons roared through theaters in the 90s, drawing tons of attention to the original actors, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. The guys concocted a series of stage plays about a fictional town and its deliciously eccentric inhabitants, traveling the country with Greater Tuna; Red, White and Tuna and the Straz Center’s current holiday gift to you, A Tuna Christmas. Two of the Tampa-area’s own comic geniuses—Spencer Meyers and Derrick Phillips—tackle the daunting script of 20+ characters. Caught in the Act grabbed a few minutes of their time to gab about the show.

Caught in the Act: What in the world made you audition for a show that has more than 20 characters but only two actors?

Spencer Myers: I love playing multiple characters in a comedy. I get such an adrenaline rush.

Derrick Phillips: These types of shows are dreams for actors. It is a wonderful challenge to take your training and apply so much of it into one show. Each character has a different physical, vocal and mental space. To be able to showcase that into one show is amazing. And who doesn’t like to do a show like this that is filled with so much fun and laughter as well as heart?

CITA: How many total characters do you play in the show, and which are your top two faves to play? What is it about those two characters that make them your favorite to perform?

SM:  I love all my characters in some way. My favorites are Bertha Bumiller and Inita Goodwin. Bertha’s storyline is wonderful and fully fleshed out. It’s nice to have one of my characters have a story arc and hit all the emotions. Sometimes I just want to give Bertha a big hug.

DP: I play 11 characters in the show. As the play has progressed, my favorites seem to change on a daily basis. They all have a special place in my heart. If I had to pick two … I think they would be Vera Carp and Petey Fisk. Vera is a favorite to perform because of the multiple layers of her personality. I have met this lady, not in Texas, but I have met her. She has sharp edges and interacts with not only the other actor on stage but the people who live in her house whom the audience does not see. Once you see the show, I think you will understand why Vera is fun to perform.

SM: Inita is just plain fun—a fantastic and energetic way to start Act Two. She’s mentioned in the first scene of Act One and not actually seen until the top of Act Two. Act Two is a whirlwind of quick changes for both me and Derrick. Fun and fast comedy in the beginning to then settle into some of the more heartfelt storyline conclusions of the characters of Act One.

DP: Petey Fisk is a pure and loving soul that has a lot of heart in this show. I enjoy performing as this character because he is different than the rest of the town (other characters even say that). He has a lot of hilarious lines, but they come from such an honest place. He’s quirky and will not only fill the audience with laughter but also warm their hearts. He is like an adult Tiny Tim.

I have to also mention how enjoyable it is to play Helen Bedd. She is one of the waitresses in the Tastee Cream and she is just a delight to play. Her demeanor and physicality are so fun to step into and live out.

CITA: Seems like this would be an easy show to blunder … have you ever gotten your characters’ lines confused, accidentally saying Helen Bedd’s line while you were playing Didi Snavely type of thing? Have any identity crisis stories or funny mix-up moments you’d like to share with our readers?

SM: Oh, now you just want me to give away secrets? Yes. The accents have blurred before. You sometimes have 15 seconds to change your costume completely before barreling onstage as another character. Bertha and her Aunt Pearl are very similar, and sometimes I have started the scene as the other. If it happens it’s usually a word or two. This has also happened in the rehearsal process with one scene where two of my characters fight with each other off stage. You can also imagine the looks people gave me while I was rehearsing this scene quietly to myself in public.

Spencer Myers as Bertha Bumiller and Derrick Phillips as Arles Struvie. Photo by Rob Harris Productions

DP: This is a show that if you didn’t have your backstage costume changers you could easily get mixed up. Sometimes the character changes are so fast that I have to really think about who am I next, where is my physical and vocal placement, what mental state am I at this moment. These are all considerations that the actor ha to make in 10-15 seconds. Most plays you have a moment off stage, not this one.

DP: There have been times as Vera, where I have meant to talk to Virgil (son not seen) and shouted at Lupe (the maid, also not seen). The dynamic of backstage and onstage really help not having any mix-up moments. There is a choreography on and off the stage that is necessary for a show like this.

CITA: What’s your favorite line in the show?

SM: This is too hard because I have so many. Bertha’s lines are some of my favorites. They have that Mama’s Family cadence to them. Okay, let’s see if I can choose one.

Bertha: “Oh Didi, it’s so hard to hold up when the entire town knows my husband is as useless as an ice tray in Hell.”

DP: This is a tough one – and I am sure it will change as the play continues.

Charlene: “I don’t want to waste my artistic integrity on a pathetic little shrub” … but to be honest, this is a very hard question. There are so many.

CITA: Let’s say you have to move to Tuna, Texas. Who are you going to get along with best? Who are you going to steer clear of?

SM:  I think I’d get along with Thurston and Arles. I WANT to be friends with Aunt Pearl and Dixie! There’s no way I could be friends with Vera Carp. We all know a Vera, bless her heart.

DP:  I would absolutely hang out with Helen Bedd. I would probably steer clear of Vera Carp at all costs [laughs].

Spencer Myers as Bertha Bumiller and Derrick Phillips as Arles Struvie. Photo by Rob Harris Productions

CITA: Finally, the major drama in A Tuna Christmas happens around the unholy desecration of the annual Yard Display Contest.  If, since you’re imagining living in Tuna, you had to create a yard display for this esteemed event, what would yours be?

SM: Let me tell you, there is some stiff competition in Tuna. I would love to see some of the displays that are mentioned in the show, especially Aunt Pearl’s display from the previous year.

I wonder if I could pull off a Christmas Haunted House? I wonder if that would stop the Christmas Phantom.

DP: Think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but with sound synching to the lights. I also would want it to be as inclusive as possible. Maybe even a snow machine.

See Spencer and Derrick don the many faces—and accents—of Tuna, Texas from now until Dec. 22.

 

Guess What? We Made Our Own Custom Fabric Design for Nutcracker

A first for The Straz, the new fabric designs represent a wild collaboration between dance costuming and graphic design.

When people think of the graphic design department in a performing arts non-profit, they may imagine program layouts, banners, signage, logos and the like. They may not consider a couture collaboration to produce custom costumes specifically for dance.

The Straz Center houses an extraordinary ballet training program headed by Philip Neal, a retired principal dancer from New York City Ballet. Our pre-professional ballet company, Next Generation Ballet, stages a knockout production of Nutcracker each season, hosting famous guest artists in the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. (This year we’ve got Maria Kowroski from NYCB—the real dancer for the Barbie ballerina movies—and Aran Bell of American Ballet Theatre, who was featured in the Youth America Grand Prix documentary First Position).

Next Generation Ballet students rehearsing for Nutcracker

If you’ve attended NGB’s production of Nutcracker, you already know it is lavish, sumptuous, magical and full of exquisite classical ballet technique. The production’s costumes star as some of the most fun eye candy in this Land of the Sweets, with their detailed faux fur trims, delicate embellishments and delightful array of bold colors. If you haven’t been to Nutcracker yet, then get your tickets for the show this weekend  because you’re in for a treat.

This past summer, NGB costumer Camille McClellan brainstormed with Philip about the possibility of producing designed fabrics that she could customize for NGB dancers. If they could find a local company to print directly to spandex blend textiles, then we could potentially have bolts of fabric for affordable, sustainable, unique-to-NGB costumes.

Costume Designer Camille reviewing plans for one of the new designs for Nutcracker

Philip and Camille decided to revamp the four leopard and 11 butterfly costumes using print-to-fabric technology, which would allow Camille to hand draw the new look Philip envisioned. What they needed to complete the project was the aid of graphic designers to trace Camille’s pattern in Photoshop, convert it to a digital print file and send it to the printer who could ink the design onto stretchable fabric. Then Camille could cut the patterns and sew the costumes together, add embellishments and have them show-ready by this weekend.

To see their idea become reality, Camille and the dance department partnered with Straz graphic designers Joseph LaCrue and Roderick Taracatac to take her designs into the digitally print-ready world.

Camille and Graphic Designers review samples of the custom printed designs.

“What was fun for me,” says Joseph, who worked with Camille for the new butterfly costumes, “was that Camille has been in the costume industry for years, so she automatically started off the project thinking about what the costume would look like under theater lights, how it would read from the back of the audience. That’s where I was really impressed. She’s thinking of not just the dancer; she’s thinking about the audience member … can they see it? Is it going to read? I thought that was really cool.”

Camille estimates she spent about 200 hours over the summer getting the design and measurements of the costumes perfect then painstakingly calculating the exact positions of where the designs needed to be on the fabric so they would line up properly when she cut out the parts and sewed the costume into one piece. She determined she would need three different-sized costumes to accommodate the diversity among the size of the dancers, which meant that she had to repeat the laborious calculations and draw the costume, in full, on graph paper with tick marks denoting where the pattern was to meet upon sewing.

Camille spends countless hours fine-tuning the details to each costume that will be seen on stage during the Nutcracker performances

Joseph then scanned the three life-sized costume drawings, reduced them to scale, hand-traced over them in Photoshop, colorized them and saved the work to a digital file to send to the printer. The anxiety-producing aspect of this project was that there was no margin for error. The calculations, drawings and tick marks had to be perfect, otherwise the pattern wouldn’t align, ruining the entire costume.

“This project was extremely technical. For me, it was two hours to draw the petite, two hours to draw the medium, two hours to draw the tall. This is about as couture as I think you can get in this day and age,” Joseph says. “We talked about why wouldn’t you do this with just dyed fabric and an applique, but the theory is that if we invested in this technology now, we’ll have these costumes for generations to come. I know this was a labor of love for Camille. I think we all learned a lot on this project. It was fun.”

Butterfly costume design for Nutcracker

“The dance department is thrilled to be using this technology, and the graphic designers have been great to work with,” says Camille, who hand-sewed the 15 new costumes, adding arm sheers to the butterflies and gem embellishments to the leopard unitards. “The butterflies were such a challenge because of the scattered design that wraps around the body and a ribbon element that had to match at the side seams in five different locations. I wanted something fantastical for the leopard print and found the inspiration from a Versace ad I saw in a fashion magazine. I gave that to Roderick and said ‘this!’”

“I have created prints and patterns for projects in the past, but never anything that was used for performing art on stage,” Roderick says. “This collaboration was a blast. Camille is a very detail-oriented artist, who had a strong vision of what she wanted the final piece to look like. That took a lot of the guesswork out of the project and really streamlined the creative process. Once the colors were finally nailed down, there was some back and forth on scale of the print, and before we knew it, we had the final product done and out to the printer. Camille named this print Confetti Leopard.”

Camille’s originally named ‘Confetti Leopard’ custom printed fabric

You can see the debut of these new costumes this weekend when NGB’s Nutcracker  dances onto Morsani Hall stage.

Girl Power

The Straz Center arts education partnerships program with Tampa’s The Centre for Girls

In addition to our many performances, lectures, classes and workshops, the Straz Center hosts a super cool outside-of-the-spotlight arts education partnership program which brings us into fruitful, fun and inspiring relationships with many organizations around the area.

This semester, one of our musical theater teachers extraordinaire—Sarah Berland—traveled to The Centre for Girls each Thursday afternoon to give an afterschool theater workshop on the theme of “soaring to great heights.”

Sarah works with various organizations through the Straz Center partnerships

Sarah built her curriculum around the upcoming Broadway show ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, a calypso retelling of The Little Mermaid story, which features a courageous young heroine, Ti Moune, who risks her soul to save a man’s life. Interweaving Caribbean island history, drum and dance culture and fundamentals of storytelling, Sarah and a few guest artists guided the girls into a tight-knit ensemble who wrote and performed their own stories of personal courage. This Thursday, they’ll all attend ONCE ON THIS ISLAND as the culmination of their work together.

“Our partnership with The Straz has been nothing short of amazing,” says Sartura Shuman-Smith, director of The Centre for Girls. “Our girls are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with professionals in the various areas of performing arts. Through the Straz Center’s program, the girls are not only given an “up close” view of the inner workings of performance, but they are also gaining knowledge in public speaking and confidence building.”

The Centre for Girls exists to create positive change for girls ages 5-14 through innovative programs in fine arts, STEM-based instruction, fashion and ceramics. The center offers a safe place for girls in highly formative developmental years to find empowerment and constructive outlets for self-expression.

Guest artist leading a Caribbean dance class at The Centre for Girls

“Through our arts education partnership program, the participants at The Centre for Girls get a glimpse of all three performing art mediums—music, theater and dance—as well as an unforgettable experience with a mainstage production where Caribbean culture is represented and celebrated,” says Heather Clark, our community partnership coordinator. “We are thrilled to be able to encourage these girls to find expression through the performing arts.”