Shaping the local theater scene: David Jenkins at Jobsite

The head of Tampa’s Jobsite Theater has a Latin slogan tattooed on his chest that translates as “Through Hardship to the Stars.” 

Nothing could be more appropriate for David Jenkins’ life these days. For the past three years, the ravages of the COVID pandemic have kept audiences away from live performances at Jobsite’s home, the intimate Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

“Getting by the last three years has been really hard,” says Jenkins, the producing artistic director at Jobsite and a co-founder. “We’ve been hemorrhaging dollars to get people paid. But we are one of the very first in the county to reopen.”

After two seasons disrupted by COVID, Jobsite has returned to action at the Shimberg with an energetic punch, staging Bertholt Brecht’s satire of Hitler’s rise to power, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.” Performances began May 13 and run through June 5.The Jobsite Theater performs The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui through June 5.

It is a return toward normalcy after a time of uncertainty. Between March and September of 2020, Jobsite closed completely. 

“We tried productions on video but not everybody wanted to watch that,” Jenkins says.

Months after the pandemic really kicked in, Jobsite launched outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays on the Riverwalk Stage at the Straz. 

“We were really surprised,” Jenkins says. “We sold out for a month.”

Jobsite moved back indoors in October 2020 to the 292-seat Jaeb Theater. Because of the spacing demanded by the pandemic, they could only seat audiences at 35 percent of capacity.

“That made it incredibly expensive,” Jenkins says. “It was very hard to keep people employed. Ninety-five percent of American arts workers are unemployed.”

In March of this year, Jobsite finally moved back home into the Shimberg Playhouse, which seats 130.

“Many people don’t feel comfortable so we miss them,” Jenkins says. “Audiences want to go out. They are looking for a good time and they are not interested in being checked. They want to be comfortable.”

Because of COVID, Jobsite has had to hire more housekeepers to keep the facilities fully sanitized. The staff is tested for COVID before every performance. All this adds up to around $16,000 in production costs at a time when the theater seating is reduced due to pandemic spacing.
“I don’t know what the future holds for us now that our cash reserves are exhausted,” Jenkins says.

But Jenkins is hopeful the presentation of Brecht’s satire, which compares Hitler to a 1930s mobster, marks a turning point.

“Now, maybe, we can start rebuilding,” he says.

For more information go to Jobsite Theater: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
For ticket information call the box office at the Straz Center at (813) 229-7827 or toll-free at (800) 955-1045.

This is the second in a series about local theater directors. To read more follow this link:
Karla Hartley at Stageworks.

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Read more articles by Joanne Milani.

Joanne Milani is a Tampa-based freelance writer and former art and theater critic for The Tampa Tribune. After leaving the Tribune, she served as the executive director of Tampa’s Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and remains a member of the International Art Critics Association (AICA). She graduated from Vassar and worked in New York museums before moving to Tampa.