What The Heck Is A Spymonkey?

This Q&A from the cast of Hysteria sheds a little light on the renowned British troupe and will hopefully get you even more excited to see this exclusive United States debut at The Straz.

"Cooped", Spymonkey, Liverpool Playhouse, Liverpool, Britain - 05 June 2019

The cast of Spymonkey’s Hysteria. (Photo: Jane Hobson)

How would you describe Spymonkey to a stranger?

Aitor Basauri (joint artistic director, performer): Spymonkey is a unique and original form of funny theatre. You see a theatre play, but you laugh a lot, too.

Toby Park (managing artistic director, performer): A glorious bunch of idiots who like to make seriously ridiculous theatre.

Stephan Kreiss (associate artist, performer): Spymonkey is a highly precise and accurate depiction of what Europe seems to feel like at the moment. Two European countries (Spain and Germany) represented by – two idiots! The U.K. – represented by – two idiots! Three men = three idiots! One woman – also an idiot! But the difference is – we know and have shown to each other on numerous occasions that we are idiots and therefore get along pretty well these past two decades … The world would perhaps be a nicer place if people would admit to their foolishness.

Bill Barberis (performer): Stupid idiots pretending to be wonderful dramatic actors. Or the other way around? Anyway, you’ll laugh your heart out.

Anne Goldmann (performer): Clown, physical comedy, surrealist slapstick, raunch melodramatic Da Da-ism, the-real-edge-of-edgy. Pure delight, a gut-wrenching laugh factory. Everything I always wanted to see a group of people do on stage. World-class brilliantly idiotic performance art theatre group.

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L to R: Aitor Basauri, Toby Park, Stephan Kreiss, Bill Barberis, Anne Goldmann.

Is this Spymonkey’s first time performing in the United States? If not, where could Straz audiences have seen you before?

Toby: Our first visit to the U.S. was in 2001 at the Aspen Comedy Festival (disco dancing with George Lucas anyone?) and at the tiny Theatre LaB in Houston with our show Stiff. We spent two years living in Las Vegas, being the clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s burlesque show Zumanity, for which we created the comedy numbers. And we took our Complete Deaths (four clowns perform all the deaths in Shakespeare in one night) to Chicago Shakes a couple of years ago.

Aitor: I very much enjoyed the time we had in Houston and every time we have played in the U.S.A. So, I am really looking forward to playing in the U.S.A. again as I feel there is a real appetite for comedy at the moment.

Stephan: When I lived in Las Vegas 16 years ago, I did regular late night shopping at Vons at East Tropicana Avenue – so maybe some members of The Straz audience who visited Las Vegas then might have seen me there?

What are you most looking forward to about performing at The Straz and being in Tampa?

Toby: Really looking forward to making Tampa audiences fall out of the seats laughing. Hoping that there aren’t too many hurricanes, as we heard that those are quite impressive, and we couldn’t resist renting a house on a river. Stephan is convinced that we will be fending off alligators every night. There are some big surfing fans in the company, so we anticipate a number of Sunday night dashes across to the Atlantic coast to catch some waves.

Aitor: I am really looking forward to the good weather. It is nice to play where it is hot. I think people laugh more when it is hot. We have been playing Hysteria for many years, and we have never played it in the U.S.A., so I would like to find out how it goes with the new changes.

Stephan: It is just brilliant to play and tour our shows abroad. New audiences, new and fresh audience reactions, new laughter. The excitement when you open somewhere new and you feel the sizzling curiosity of how it will go down. Plus, Florida for me, being German, is such an exotic location. The sun, heat, humidity, palm trees and alligators in kitchens.

Anne: I’m excited to find out what makes the audiences respond and laugh. Every audience is different, and I love to find out what makes each one unique. The best Thai food I ever had was in Florida, so I’m hoping to revisit fine cuisine. And I really love the natural beauty of Florida. I can’t wait to take some walks and enjoy the nature.

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Describe Hysteria in five words.

Anne: Surreal Fantasy Gothic Romance Comedy

Toby: Funniest show you’ll ever see

Aitor: A funny piece of theatre

Stephan: Wet yourself with hysterical laughter

 

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Let’s Do Something Amazing

Take the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and the Straz Center, add an epic effort in community engagement, and you get VetArtSpan. The year-long collaboration culminates this Friday in a free performance event in the TECO Theater featuring veterans, civilians and community leaders.

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When military hospitals began integrating creative arts therapies into treatment for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions, the success caused a double take in the medical establishment. Arts therapies worked, often when traditional talk or drug therapy plateaued.

The National Endowment for the Arts created a nationwide initiative for veteran healing called Creative Forces®: NEA Military Arts Healing Network. In partnership with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs as well as local and state agencies, Creative Forces allowed different stakeholders in the veteran community to come together to implement simple, beneficial strategies to connect vets, their families, arts and the civilian community.

During a Creative Forces forum a few years ago, Straz Center president Judy Lisi and community engagement specialist/artist-in-residence Fred Johnson were inspired to birth the idea of VetArtSpan, a year-long program between The Straz and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

Local veterans performing at The Straz in May. Marquis Diaz (top) and Becky Heissler (right) will perform again at the VetArtSpan Showcase on Aug. 30.

VetArtSpan, launched Nov. 15, 2018, is part of Community Connections, the NEA’s second phase of their Creative Forces program. The basic idea of VetArtSpan was to provide a creative bridge to healing, hence the “span” in “artspan.” VetArtSpan’s scope included creating a military cultural education curriculum, participating in the design of arts engagement programs, contributing to increased arts access and expanding arts providers’ understanding of Tampa Bay’s vast military and veteran populations.

In practical terms, the VetArtSpan project launched a website, hosted a series of podcasts on veteran experiences called Stories from the Field, curated interactive online galleries that linked to other creative resources for veterans. VetArtSpan also published stories surrounding veteran creativity and military experiences. The project hosted three veteran-civilian dialogues, closed-space guided conversations, to open doors of understanding between two segments of the population that often struggle with how to talk to each other about the military experience.

This Friday, Aug. 30, participants and collaborators in VetArtSpan appear in a free performance event in the TECO Theater at the Straz Center to showcase the depth and breadth of this multi-part, multi-disciplinary project. The program includes U.S. Air Force veterans Marvin and Melvin Coleman with spoken word, the Veteran Civilian Dance Ensemble performing their work, I am We, Together as One drummers, and two panel discussions—one concerning veterans and the impact of the arts and the other discussing the bridges built between veterans and civilians through the VetArtSpan project.

This celebration is open to the public, free of charge. We hope to see you there.

Collaborating with the Straz Center on the VetArtSpan project are the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, University of South Florida School of Dance, the Morean Arts Center, The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, the Brain Science Institute of Johns Hopkins University, the ArtThread Foundation and the Military Resilience Foundation

The Straz Center thanks the National Endowment for the Arts’ Creative Forces initiative for their generous $50,000 grant to develop the VetArtSpan Project.

 

Tampa Bay Theatre Festival 2019

The annual festival, founded by Tampa actor, writer and director Rory Lawrence, takes place at The Straz and other locations Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

Rory Lawrence

In 2013, Rory Lawrence stood on the eve of the inaugural Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. After attending similar theater festivals in Atlanta and D.C., Rory thought Tampa needed one. He had no idea if even ten people would show up to the weekend of plays.

To host such an event, Rory and his team, RL Stage, Inc., needed spaces. He approached The Straz, and we were eager to help him at RL Stage make their vision a reality. “Rory is so talented,” says Straz Center programming manager Jeanne Piazza. “He’s a playwright and actor who produced at least three of his shows in the Jaeb Theater here at the Straz Center prior to the festival. We knew how good his work was creatively and professionally. So, when he approached me about creating a theater festival here in Tampa, we were in full support of his efforts.”

That first year, Rory was shocked when actors, playwrights, theater lovers and arts patrons poured into the shows, thanking him for making the TBTF happen for the local community. Workshops, they said—the festival needs actors’ workshops, please. So, the next year, the TBTF had productions and actors’ workshops. Over time, Rory brought in professionals such as The Blacklist star Harry Lennix and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? actress Tasha Smith for acting master classes and boot camps.

This year, The Straz is proud to host several TBTF events including the short play competition; acting, directing and writing workshops; Rory’s full-length play Fighting God and the final night’s awards party. A true community event, TBTF performances take place at several theaters in the area. Catch full-length plays The Consciousness, (RE)UNION and Filthy Gentlemen at Hillsborough Community College. The productions of Filtered, Bobby is Dead and CLAVICO! A Most Peculiar Musical Comedy appear at Carrollwood Players, and Stageworks Theater hosts Paper Walls and Black Women Walking.

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“Our involvement and support of the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival helps foster their vision of uniting artists and theater lovers for an incredible weekend,” Jeanne says. “By opening both our stages and rehearsal spaces for various performances, competitions and workshops over the TBTF weekend, The Straz is able to fulfill our mission of being a place where local performers feel welcome and at home.”

For complete details of workshops, teachers, performances and locations, visit the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival schedule at http://tampabaytheatrefestival.com.

Find Your Perfect Match with The Florida Orchestra

TFO public relations manager Kelly Smith takes over our blog this week with some pro tips for finding your perfect concerts in the new orchestra season. The Straz is a proud partner with The Florida Orchestra, who holds many of its concerts here.

Guest blog by Kelly Smith, public relations manager, The Florida Orchestra

Deciding on an orchestra concert is a lot like dating. You’re looking for similar interests, that special something that makes your skin tingle and your heart race. On the morning after, no one wants to wake up disappointed. Since the Straz Center has more than 20 Florida Orchestra concerts to choose from when the season opens in September, here are five insider tips to help you find concerts you’ll love.

Michael Francis conductor, The Florida Orchestra, Mahaffey Theater, March 23, 2019

If you love, love, love Beethoven
This is your happy place, supersized. Not only is Music Director Michael Francis celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, but he’s doing it with rare performances of the Mahler versions of both Beethoven’s Fifth (May 1) and Eroica Symphony (Oct. 11). What does that mean? Often called “Beethoven on steroids,” the Mahler versions are the original symphonies, with a few tweaks, powered by an orchestra much larger than Beethoven could have ever imagined in his day. It’s the Beethoven you know, just bigger, bolder. What’s not to love? Plus TFO will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (Feb. 21), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Jan. 17), and lots more. All part of the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series.

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If looks matter
This is a visually stunning concert you can see only one weekend in October, only with The Florida Orchestra. That’s when TFO debuts an exclusive art film to tell the story of Strauss’ Don Quixote (Oct. 11), combined with live orchestra and German cello soloist Maximilian Hornung. The film features paintings by local artist Geff Strik, who also illustrated Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night with TFO last season. Michael Francis conducts. Another concert to consider is National Geographic Symphony for Our World (Nov. 2), a full film of breathtaking wildlife scenes with live orchestra.

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If you’re into rock more than classical
Try REVOLUTION: Music of the Beatles – A Symphonic Experience (Oct. 4). If you’re looking for another Beatles tribute show, this isn’t it. This one uses hundreds of rare photos and video, along with top vocalists, to take you through the history of The Beatles as told through their hits, such as “Penny Lane,” “Get Back,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hey Jude.” Big bonus: Grammy winner and TFO Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik did all the orchestra arrangements using the original Abbey Road recordings. Part of the Raymond James Pops series.

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If you’re looking for great sax
Go ahead, name one classical orchestra piece that features saxophone. Yeah, not easy. Philip Glass’ lyrical Concerto for Saxophone Quartet is full of surprises, played by the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, who has performed in all the major concert halls throughout Europe. A little secret to watch for: Members of the Rascher ensemble will join the orchestra ranks for Gershwin’s An American in Paris – another rare orchestra piece that includes sax. All part of TFO’s American Masters concert (Feb. 14), which also features Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Stuart Malina conducts.

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If you need your space
With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year, TFO is focused on the galaxies like everybody else. A stellar concert that might not be on your radar is Deep Field: A Cosmic Experience (Nov. 8) with Grammy winner and superstar composer/conductor Eric Whitacre. It goes deep into the stars with Whitacre’s symphonic Deep Field, featuring a film of Hubble Telescope images. There’s also Out of this World (Feb. 28), a Raymond James Pops concert with music from Star Trek, E.T., Holst’s The Planets and more. And if date night needs to turn into family time, try TFO’s new full-orchestra, interactive Family Concerts (Oct. 27), which kick off with One Giant Leap, featuring NASA video of the lunar surface and space-themed music, along with the Instrument Petting Zoo for kids to try out instruments.

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Make a date with us
Tickets to all Florida Orchestra concerts are on sale now at FloridaOrchestra.org. Some deals to keep in mind: Compose Your Own tickets are only $25 each when you mix and match three or more Masterworks and Pops concerts. Student and military tickets are $10, available 1 hour before the concert. Kids and teens get in free to all Masterworks concerts with a paying adult with Classical Kids & Teen tickets, available in advance through the TFO Ticket Office.

Let’s ROCK

Meet classically-trained Philly pop punk rocker Kevin Sitaras, director of the Patel Conservatory’s super popular Rock School.

Rock School at the Patel Conservatory puts together people who want to be in a rock band. The drummer may be a 65-year-old retiree, the guitarist a seventh-grader, the lead singer a recent transplant working her first professional job at a bank in downtown Tampa. The point is, Rock School is for anyone and everyone who wants to rock.

Caught in the Act is thrilled to introduce you to the director, Kevin Sitaras. You can come see Kevin and his Rock School crew shred at the End-of-Summer Music Blowout this Wed., Aug. 7.

Raised by his classically-trained opera singer mother and classic rock drummer dad, Kevin absorbed the best of both worlds, learning Strauss and Slayer, Giacomo Puccini and Getty Lee. He took to music like a duck to water, playing in metal and rock bands, then having dreams fall through like they do on the artist’s road. He walked away from music, but the move didn’t suit him well. Under the strong encouragement of his girlfriend who was tired of living with a musician not playing music, he looked for another band, hitting up the Philadelphia Craigslist until he found a pop-punk band who needed a drummer. Kevin traded a few emails with one of the members, then heard nothing for a year.

“So, a year later, I got another email from him out of nowhere,” Kevin says. “Their drummer wasn’t going to do a tour they were about to go on, so he asked if I’d tour with them. I said, ‘yeah, absolutely.’ I walk into the audition just as their drummer’s walking out. So, it went from ‘you’re going to be the touring drummer to well, it looks like you’re it.’”

Kevin playing guitar with his students during a Rock School Blowout performance at Skipper’s Smokehouse. (Photo: Soho Images)

The band, Rivers Monroe, had picked up some notice on the Philly circuit, landing a manager of some prominence – in the country music scene (he helped break Taylor Swift). Thus, the hard-drumming, happy anarchists found themselves sponsored by NASCAR, gigging at NASCAR tracks throughout the country. “It was so cool to do because I got to meet race car drivers and be on the track while the race was going on, but that’s a lot of fans to play to who don’t like your kind of music,” Kevin laughs. “In a weird way, we fell in love with it, and we did end up getting some fans from the NASCAR tour and our music on a NASCAR video game.”

Rivers Monroe graduated from NASCAR to what Kevin hails as the best diet in the world – the Warped Tour. In 2015, Rivers Monroe joined the two-week hell-on-earth that is dragging your hundreds of pounds of equipment across miles of parking lots to set up during the summer heat, sit out in the summer heat, then play in the summer heat, then break down your equipment and lug it back to the bus for the next town – in the summer heat.

Photo: Soho Images

“It’s physically demanding,” Kevin says about working the Warped Tour. “You’re outside for 16 hours a day in 100-degree heat. You do that for 10 days straight. You have gear, a merch table. You’re pulling your stuff up and down hills. I lost 15 pounds in two and a half weeks. It makes me think back to when I was a kid and would see guys on the Warped Tour. I’d stick around to talk to them and some of them weren’t that nice, but I get it. I’m not saying that’s okay because when fans came up to me I was always like ‘Thanks so much: I slept three hours last night, have a horrible sunburn, I’ve changed my clothes three times and it’s only four o’clock but thank you so much for coming!’ I’m just saying I got why Warped Tour musicians just wanted to get on the air-conditioned bus after their show.”

After a successful run on the Warped Tour with Rivers Monroe, Kevin returned to his passion for songwriting, going solo and meeting some friends along the way. A good pal moved to St. Petersburg, and Kevin, like any sane person, hates winter. The lure of a singer-songwriter life in the land of sunshine led him to this neck of the woods, and a rather unlikely perfect circumstance brought him to the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.

Kevin with Rock School students during a performance in the Jaeb Courtyard earlier this year. (Photo: Soho Images)

Kevin, who also drives for Uber, picked up a ride one day in 2018 – a certain outgoing raven-haired theater teacher – shortly after he moved to the Tampa Bay area. They struck up a conversation. She mentioned she taught theater for a performing arts school in Tampa; he mentioned he was a musician and had taught at a rock school in Philadelphia. The woman turned out to be the Patel Conservatory’s Sarah Berland. “I told Sarah about working at the rock school in Philly and she was like, ‘oh, yeah, I think we’re looking for a Rock School instructor at The Straz.’ I gave her my email address and said ‘shoot me an email and we’ll talk.’ We went back and forth, she put me in touch with Dr. [Lauren] Murray [head of the music department], and I was hired. I was so happy. The Rock School program here is incredible, so this is a dream opportunity for me.”

Dr. Murray, who gave Kevin full license to shape the program from his scope and expertise, is more than happy to welcome her newest staff member aboard. “Kevin is pleasure to work with and has made a huge impact on our program,” she says. “He’s a terrific teacher, he genuinely cares about making a difference and his rock school students made amazing progress in such a short time. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.”

To study with Kevin Sitaras and experience the face-melting joy of living to rock, go to patelconservatory.org and search under music classes.

Let’s Get in Transformation

The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 29 on Friday. We’re celebrating with a free concert in Maestro’s Restaurant featuring incredibly talented local artists of mixed abilities. Let’s meet a few.

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On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law acknowledging the right of access and inclusion for people with disabilities. That monumental, historic demonstration of America’s commitment to equality turns 29 years old this Friday, and we are rolling out the red carpet with our friends from the Mayor’s Alliance for Persons with Disabilities and the Hillsborough County Alliance for Citizens with Disabilities to throw a party.

Part One: Let the Shameful Walls of Exclusion Finally Come Tumbling Down

In his public remarks that day, President Bush exhorted the world’s governments and directed American citizens to “let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

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President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act on the White House South Lawn on July 26, 1990.

After a brutal history of cloaking disabilities in shame and ostracism, America made a pioneering effort with the ADA to bring citizens with disabilities into the fold both socially and economically. It was supremely successful, driving business and leading to social improvements that benefitted everyone. Today, we have large print, automatic sliding doors, access ramps and beeping crosswalks thanks to the ADA. The notion of “disabilities” is being eclipsed by the understanding of “different abilities.”

Many years ago, as leadership at The Straz searched for ways to expand our own efforts at inclusion, we held a community round table to ensure we were doing our best to make the performing arts accessible for all. We made some great friends and partners during this process, one of whom is Brenda Clark, the project director and employment services coordinator for the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities at the University of South Florida.

If you come to the get-together Friday (the first part of the celebration is at the John F. Germany Library across the street starting at 3:30 p.m.), there’s no doubt you’ll see Brenda. Enthusiastic, excited about ways to implement inclusion and accessibility and a lot of fun to be around, Brenda worked with the Straz Center’s Acting Director of Community Engagement Alice Santana to hold the first-ever performing arts component of the annual ADA celebration.

Part Two: TRANSFORMATIONS: Building a World of Access and Inclusion

This year, the annual ADA anniversary celebration, titled TRANSFORMATIONS: Building a World of Access and Inclusion, takes place in two parts at two locations—The John F. Germany Library and the Straz Center—and features artists from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

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“Our event is also partnered with Arts for All, which is a statewide visual arts competition,” says Brenda. “We’ll announce the awards with a first, second and third prize. The John F. Germany Library offered to host a gallery of the visual art. We thought, ‘This is so great! Let’s see what else we can do.’ It was my wildest dream to showcase our local pool of performing artists, and I wanted the performing arts involved so badly. When we met Alice, everything started falling into place. The Straz is so professional. It’s real. It’s not something that someone is doing as a handout. So, at the concert at The Straz, we’ll have a dance troupe. We have singers. We have a classical pianist. The Straz is providing an accessible stage, lighting, sound and Fred Johnson will emcee. We’re just super, super, super exited about it. I may be more excited than anyone.”

The celebration concert at The Straz starts around 6 p.m. We have a full roster of performers including drummers, spoken word and sign language performance artists. We thought we’d introduce you to a few to give you a taste of the awesomeness that will be this Friday night event. The entire 29th anniversary celebration of the ADA is called TRANSFORMATIONS: Building a World of Access and Inclusion and is entirely free. All are welcomed and encouraged to attend.

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MATT WEIHMULLER, jazz musician

“I will be presenting my ensemble as a jazz quartet, comprised of myself on saxophone, along with a rhythm section which includes, piano, bass, and drums. We will perform music that is representative of traditional straight-ahead jazz. We’ll also play my own modern interpretation of the genre in an original composition titled “Dots On a Page.” It means so much to me to be able to share this musical composition because I get to present it to an audience which the piece was intended for, and this is the ultimate goal of any performer.

I wrote the song “Dots On a Page” as a tribute to learning braille music. As a visually impaired musician, it has always been my goal to continue to champion the cause of braille literacy. Braille is made of a six-dot system, so it seemed appropriate to name my composition “Dots On a Page.” Performing music is freedom to me because playing jazz, which is an improvisational artform, means that there are no barriers for creativity. I hope I can inspire others through performing music to have the same outlook I try to have each day, to be able to turn any disadvantage they may have into an advantage through their disability.”

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STEPHANIE SLAGLE, singer

“I will be presenting two of my favorite musical theatre songs for my performance: “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from The Phantom of the Opera and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

This performance is special to me for many reasons. The Straz Center itself is special to me; I have many beautiful memories of seeing shows at The Straz, and I’ve performed here for an All State conference in the concert choir and participated in a couple of Patel Conservatory’s summer classes. Being here to help celebrate the ADA 29th Anniversary is amazing! The ADA is so important because it gives opportunity and support to people who need it. When I give my performance, I want it to be representative of the amazing things the whole community can do for people—those with disabilities and those that have helped them grow to success beyond their wildest dreams.”

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JOHNATHAN DAVIS, pianist/vocalist

“Johnathan is so grateful for the opportunity to perform at The Straz! Although he is autistic and blind since birth, he has developed his talent and loves to share his gift. His joy in life is making people happy. He does this through his music. Johnathan is an accomplished pianist/vocalist and will hopefully touch the hearts of our guests at this special event.” –Cheryl Worsham, Spokesperson for Johnathan Davis

Make it a Double: Bartenders Extraordinaire Diane Jones and Suzanne Rubin

This interview, the second in a two-part series on non-performing jobs in the performing arts, features two of our extraordinary bartenders: Diane Jones and Suzanne Rubin.

If you’ve been coming to The Straz for a few seasons, chances are you’ve found yourself face-to-face with the Straz Center’s dynamic duo of drink slingers hustling and jiving behind one of the bartending stations. This double act of mix mistresses is well-loved by our guests, so if you haven’t met them yet, seek out their station next time you’re here for a show. With 22 years of service to The Straz between them, they know a lot about what it takes to make guests happy (and it’s not the booze!—though that helps) and how to succeed and have fun in the service industry. We caught up with them to talk shop, which was, of course, a lot of fun.

Meet Diane Jones and Suzanne Rubin.

Diane Jones (left) and Suzanne Rubin (right) working at the bar in Morsani Lobby.

Caught in the Act: This series is about “non-performing jobs in the performing arts,” but would you argue that you are performing as a bartender? Do you feel like you’re a sister act?

Diane Jones: Every guest that walks up to our bar comes to The Straz expecting a show and an experience. That experience should start at the door and all staff, in whatever capacity, should continue that excitement. We just happen to take the guest experience and guest take-away very seriously. It is important to us to engage our guests in the theater ambience, and well, we really really really put in the effort … [laughs]. We certainly are a “sister act” of sorts. I introduce us to every guest I can and invite them back to our bar for a second beverage during the remainder of walkup or a pre-order for intermission—and a little more of The Diane and Suzanne Show. We’ve worked on many bars together for a long time, so we have the schtick and the moves down!

Suzanne Rubin: We definitely have to be “on” and in a good mood to make our guests feel welcome. As for the sister act, we complement each other well. Diane is more outgoing, and I am good with the set up and function of the bar.

CITA: How did you get involved with The Straz, and how long have you been around? What keeps you here?

SR: This is my 13th season. I applied here after a friend and ex co-worker told me about it. I stay because it’s a nice, pleasant, civilized atmosphere.

DJ: I came onboard from a suggestion that I’d love it by Suzanne. This is my ninth season. I started in the coffee bar for a couple seasons, then moved to bartending. I love being involved with the arts and creating experiences for the guests. If folks have fun, they come back … for more drinks and future shows. It’s our contribution to The Straz to perform in such a way that they want to.

CITA: What are your funniest tending-bar-at-The-Straz stories (that we can print)?

DJ: Since we always bar tend together, I’ll combine them. A few situations stand out as pretty funny. One time a gentleman accidentally handed us his medical marijuana card as his ID. Another lady tried to use her library card for payment. She kept swiping and swiping and wailing there had to be money there. One older guy insisted we card him and then accidentally flashed his AARP card. That one had everyone in line laughing and joking with him. AND IT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY!

CITA: How did you become a bartender? What are your fave aspects of the job and what are your fave drinks to mix?

DJ: I got involved with bartending during a stint at a catering company. I enjoy the witty repartee with guests and handcrafting beverages (especially martinis, cosmos and manhattans) that folks will feel good paying for and come back when they’re ready for another. It’s a fun atmosphere to meet a variety of folks with an even bigger variety of interests. There’s so much going on at The Straz. There is something for everyone, and the excitement keeps me coming back each season.

SR: I started helping out friends who worked in the industry when they were extra busy at events like Gasparilla and Guavaween. I stay because I like meeting new people, seeing events and being part of fun stuff like Broadway, concerts and yearly events. My favorite drinks to make at The Straz are margaritas, manhattans and sangria from scratch.

CITA: It may surprise some of our readers to know we have a huge Food and Beverage staff, we have to with as many patrons as we have. What’s your advice about how to get hired and be the best at the job?

SR: Interested and prospective candidates for any position in Food and Beverage should go online to strazcenter.org and fill out an application. This alerts Human Resources. The steps to joining our team all start online, and the possibilities are endless!

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If you’re interested in applying to be part of the Straz Center Food and Beverage team, visit the online job openings here.