Jobsite's artistic director: a darned good role

David Jenkins steered a fringe theater troupe to success, but don't call Jobsite Theater mundanely mainstream.

Published April 28, 2006

DOWNTOWN - Bangs hanging in his eyes, David Jenkins extracted a garbage bag from the refrigerator. An unrefrigerated refrigerator, in fact.

From that bag, Jenkins - a guy who has directed plays about Satan, Dracula and Frankenstein - produced exactly one dead goat.

Its woolen coat was matted with blood. Its tongue hung out.

It seemed like a perfectly good prop for a Monday afternoon photo shoot at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Though not a real goat, its presence served as a telltale sign about Jenkins. Over the course of eight years, he has steered Jobsite Theater from a ragtag crew of buddies to a mature, critically lauded theatrical powerhouse, the resident company at TBPAC's Shimberg Playhouse.

But he hasn't entirely strayed from his hey-check-out-my-dead-goat roots.

And to be fair, the goat actually was part of Jobsite's recent production The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, an acclaimed if deeply controversial play by acclaimed if deeply controversial playwright Edward Albee.

It's serious and slightly avant-garde theater, the type of show that has become a Jobsite hallmark under Jenkins.

As a kid in Jacksonville, Jenkins wanted to be a comic book artist. In middle school, his passion became standup comedy. But when he transferred to a local performing arts high school, he fell in love with theater.

"I can't think of anything I enjoy as much as what I do here," he said. "I hate to call it a calling, but yeah, by 16 I was sure I wanted to be an actor."

Originally, that's all he had planned to be: "The producing and directing were just a necessity" to create roles to play.

Jenkins worked on his dramatic skills by earning bachelor's and master's degrees in acting from the University of South Florida and University of Florida, respectively.

He started Jobsite in 1998 with four buddies, all about 25 years old, producing microscopically budgeted shows at Ybor City's Silver Meteor Gallery on Sixth Avenue.

"We had to beg, borrow and steal for everything we put in a show," Jenkins said.

Though the production quality was modest, the alternative was to "sit around for five years to put the money together and never put a show on." Instead, Jobsite evolved. During the 1999-2000 season, it began producing shows at TBPAC's 130-seat Off Center Theater, which later became the Shimberg Playhouse.

Still a scrappy little company, Jobsite got to use the theater "late, when it wasn't busy, like 10, 11 at night," Jenkins said.

"But then the center noticed we were getting that younger audience in, and we and the center started collaborating on some things.''

It was Jobsite's ability to snag that 25- to 40-year-old demographic that helped it earn the residency at Shimberg.

The company's mission statement focuses on "the creation of socially and politically relevant theater," but that young audience also factors into deciding what plays to produce, Jenkins said. What's ultimately important is that "we are turning out a high-quality product."

Jenkins has some creative guidance in every Jobsite production, but he will be particularly involved in two for the upcoming season. He'll direct Dario Fo's We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! and is co-writing and appearing in the sketch comedy Grimm's Faery Tales.

All of the proceeds from every performance go back into keeping the company running. Jenkins hopes that down the line, it will be profitable enough to provide salaries for the main administrators.

And a man who once thought about heading off to the bright lights of New York City to pursue his acting dreams is thinking he can help light up the night right here.

"When I first started the company I thought of it as a year-to-year thing," he said. "But now I think of Tampa as my home, and the roots are sticking deeper. I married someone local; I bought a house here. As long as I feel I'm doing good work here, that's what matters."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431. His Tampa arts blog, The Ill Literate, is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/tampaarts.

David Jenkins

AGE: 32

COOL GIG: Artistic director, chairman and co-founder of Jobsite Theater

ALMOST-AS-COOL OTHER GIG: Marketing manager for Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center

HOME: Born and raised in Jacksonville, he lives in Tampa Heights with his wife, Summer Bohnenkamp, TBPAC marketing director and regular Jobsite performer.

STARRED IN: The March of the Kitefliers, Bloody Poetry, Cloud 9 and True West, among others

DIRECTED:Playing With Fire: After Frankenstein, The Mineola Twins, Titus Andronicus and Accidental Death of an Anarchist, among others.

DEPENDENTS: Two dogs, three cats and "a 50-gallon aquarium."