Q&A: Director Kari Goetz, Jobsite Theater

83 Degrees Media chats with Kari Goetz, the director of Jobsite’s latest production, to find out what inspires her to work day and night in roles that benefit the Tampa Bay Area arts and culture scene.

83D: Is your approach to community involvement during your day job similar in any way to your theater work?

KG: I think so. I approach my day job with the heart of an artist. I'm always looking for elegant solutions, creative approaches, and collaborative environments. As a leader, I try to bring all the voices I can to the table, and I bring that same open forum to directing. If you have an idea -- share it! I went to a week-long training on creative leadership in California a few years ago and one of the questions they asked us was, "Who is the smartest person in the room?" The facilitator then said, "Look around, clearly, the smartest person in the room is ... the room!" I loved that! I have shared that same inspiration to encourage everyone around me to play at the top of their intelligence and bring their best choices. I've yet to find a situation where that approach doesn't work. And frankly, if wanting everyone in the room to have voice is not the recipe for success? I don't think that's the "success" I'm looking for in this life.

83D: Did you take a hiatus from local theatre?

KG: I haven't taken a full hiatus, but I have slowed down. It used to be pretty common for me to do four or five projects a year. It was marvelous, but it was my whole life. And it was a good life. I can recall a time when I would have told you that while I love many people and things in my life -- I would never sacrifice my love of theater for anything or anyone.

Ah, youth! Well, OK, I probably said that until I was in my late 30s. Then, I was named the Marketing Director at Tampa International Airport. I started to travel the world and all the amazing experiences and mind-blowing insights that come with learning about different cultures and making friends from all over. Suddenly, travel was as much a part of my life as theater.

Then, this guy that I'd met when I was 16 and kept in touch with for almost 20 years suggested we meet up and celebrate 2 decades of long-distance friendship with a face-to-face hang out. I think that went pretty well, I've been hanging out with him for coming up on eight years now. Then we bought a house, and filled it with animals, and had a totally cute and incredibly stubborn kid. And just like that, I suddenly realized that there were a lot of things I loved just as much, and more than theater.

But I'm proud to say -- I never took a full hiatus. I directed when I was pregnant, was back on stage about six months postpartum, and have done one show a year, every year of my son's life. I'll be back on stage in the spring with Stageworks Theatre. I may have learned how to love more than the stage, but I can't stay away from my first love for very long without becoming lousy at everything else in my life. Theater makes me better.

83D: What motivates you to participate in local theatre in addition to everything else you do?

KG: I kinda answered that above. Theater reframes my soul. It alters the neuroplasticity in my brain. I am absolutely happier when I'm directing, I'm moderately happier when I'm acting and I'm 100 percent my true self whenever I'm in a theater. It is my sanctuary. My safe space. It is the only space where I feel like I really belong.

83D: Tell us about your level of participation with Jobsite and Stageworks (besides acting and directing). Do you assist with play curation and other behind-the-scenes work, fundraisers, board meetings, etc.?

KG: When Jobsite Theater's board was comprised of working artists, I served for almost 10 years. I am proud to see Jobsite's board evolve into a group of incredible community leaders and activists. There are a lot of amazing people who bring their talent and expertise to Jobsite and I think that's really raised the visibility of the company. David Jenkins has always had a strong vision for Jobsite and I think that he finally has a board that can support his vision. David has this ability to make you want to be a better artist. He's just inspiring and he inspires me. Every day.

I currently sit on the board of Stageworks Theatre and have for about three years now. I enjoy my role because I think Karla Hartley is one of the most dynamic artistic minds in the region. She has been at the helm of Stageworks for the last five years and I have really enjoyed watching her take Tampa's oldest professional theater company to the next level. She's made some gutsy programming choices and to look at the success she's had -- she's just getting started.

In all cases, I serve at the pleasure of the amazing artistic directors who lead these companies, if they throw a script at me to read I am always honored. If I can throw some ducats at their fundraisers, I'm just proud I've reached a point in my career (day job) where I can afford to do that proudly. Anything else they need me to do? I do my best to do right by them.

83D: What gravitated you to The Thanksgiving Play?

KG: David sent it to me when I was on vacation. He didn't give it much of a lead-in other than to say, "You were made to direct this." David doesn't speak in absolutes very often and when he does - I damn well pay attention.

I made it to page five of the script and texted him, "I'm in."

It grabbed me immediately. I was laughing right from the start. And then I was gasping. Then I was laugh-gasping. I knew I had to make these well-meaning white people come to life. The satire is some of the sharpest I've ever read and the comedy is just divine.

83D: What are some of the challenges and fun aspects of directing the play?

KG: It's always fun to direct -- no matter what you're directing. World-creating is a divine act. There's something inspirational about it, always. … In this show, putting a spotlight on moments and trying to bracket them for analysis while also finding the comedy is the goal. A common mantra in theatre is to tell actors, "Louder! Faster! Stronger!" Before the actors in The Thanksgiving Play go out on the stage, I shout "Louder! Faster! Whiter!"

83D: What would you say to somebody who doesn't attend plays about how it creates a forum of ideas and sense of community?

KG: I wouldn't. I don't convince people to come to the theater. I try to entice them to see a story and see what happens. This may sound crass, but if someone isn't interested in theater, they probably don't want to be a part of a forum of ideas and their idea of community is what they have safely created for themselves -- I doubt they want that questioned.

Science has proven that the heartbeats of audiences synchronize when they are watching theater. That either thrills you or it doesn't. To me? It's the most thrilling thing I can imagine.

83D: What does Tampa Bay's theater scene have going for it that maybe goes unappreciated?

KG: In the words of Winston Zeddemore, famous Ghostbuster, "We've got the tools and we have the talent!"

Goetz earned a Master of Arts at the University of South Florida and a BFA in Theater at the University of Florida.

Jobsite Theater’s production of The Thanksgiving Play continues its run at the Straz Center through Nov. 17. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit Jobsite's website.

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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.