Thursday, October 12, 2006

20th Anniversary memories

Believe it or not, TBPAC is celebrating a 20th anniversary season right now. My boss is collecting memories from those 20 years from the community, and I decided to throw in my connection to this building. It's posted here below in whole. Do you have a special memory of TBPAC? A story you'd like to share? Please send them to comments AT tbpac DOT org (Y'know, actually make that an email address - we're trying to foil those pesky spam robots).

I know there are staff and board members who have had an official relationship with TBPAC when it was still a dream. I was only 12 years old when they broke ground on TBPAC, but I have still managed a 17-year history with these halls.

In 1990 I made a trip from my performing arts high school in Jacksonville to Tampa for the state thespian festival. For my final three years of high school, the annual week-long trip to Tampa became one of the highlights of my school year. Despite it being a trip with school friends with all of the accompanying benefits and freedoms - it was a chance to really feel like I was a part of something greater, it was a chance for me to learn more about this great art form I'd dedicated myself to and a chance to showcase my talent. In 1991 I performed for the first time on Carol Morsani stage - at the time it was Festival Hall. We'd won our district with a scene from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and we opened the festival with me playing the latter titular character. At the time it was as big as performing at the Met, or Shakespeare's Globe.

While here my junior and senior years, I was recruited by USF and in the end chose to move here for college. While there, I'd try to get to TBPAC whenever I could. Sometimes the theater department would get free tickets to shows and distribute them to us. A good friend's boyfriend was the stage manager in the Jaeb and got us tickets to see the first run of Forever Plaid. If my trips to The Loft fed the iconoclast in me, TBPAC acted as its big, legit sister.

So fastforward to 1998, I'd finished grad school, toured a bit and moved back to Tampa to take a year off. Tampa's always felt more like a real home to me as an individual than Jacksonville ever did. I had connections here, and began work on starting a theater company. We thought at the minimum we could put up one show with our own money. Not too terribly long after that we tried setting up a meeting with TBPAC, as we'd heard they were amiable to allowing young groups to using their Off Center Theater (now the Shimberg Playhouse) during late night time slots or on off nights. While negotiating that with Wendy Leigh (Off Center artistic director at the time) she asked me to read a play and come to an audition for a rock musical she was working out - a weird Mac Wellman piece called Whirligig. Within a few months Jobsite did its first show in the Off Center and I made my professional Tampa debut alongside the likes of Ranney Lawrence and Joe Popp - both of who would become great friends of mine to this day. I'd work with Kissy Simmons, who's now famous for her Broadway role in The Lion King. I'd develop strong relationships with both Wendy Leigh (now Patel Conservatory Executive Director) and Karla Hartley (now Shimberg Playhouse artistic and producing manager) and the most unlikely event - I'd meet the woman who would a few years later become my wife.

About six months after Whirligig I'd be offered a job at TBPAC in the marketing department, working on getting in audiences for off the wall stuff and the produced Jaeb shows. My theater company began to produce more and more in the Shimberg. In 2003 Jobsite was made resident theater company in the space. Just one week ago I had my 7th anniversary of employment at TBPAC, and Jobsite was recognized as best theater company and I was recognized as best artistic director.

17 years later, and I'm still here. In the same town and in the very same building that I fell in love with when I was 15. I always say that I live on borrowed time and that I'm not even supposed to be here. I was never supposed to go down this path. I'm a blue-collar kid from a blue-collar family in a blue-collar town. I won't go so far as to say that TBPAC is responsible for who I am today, but this building and what it represented was most certainly formulative. It showed me what could be when I was a kid, it made me feel like part of something much greater than myself. This institution can also claim partial responsibility for me still living here, and for what I've been able to do with Jobsite. After all, Tampa was originally going to be a place to take a year off before I went on to bigger and better things. Now, I am bigger and better for being here, and I still feel like I am part of something much greater than myself.



Dominick F., Senior Bean Counter said...

After reading DJ's memoir, all I can say is “wow”. It’s one thing to scan someone’s life bullet points, but it’s another to see how they’re connected around a central point. This project is a great idea--I’m looking forward to eavesdropping on more TBPAC memories.

TBPAC said...

It's a little weird, I hadn't thought of it in such detail until I started writing it all out ...