A World of Theatre On Your Doorstep

Theatre is so pervasive that Shakespeare’s words concerning the stage of life take on multiple, deep meanings that flirt with philosophy, social commentary, and pop culture. But when seeing actual performers work their craft, it is such a pleasure and a privilege because it can illuminate, transform, humble, and catalyze an entire audience, or a single audience member.
It has been said that in the specifics of one story, there is universality: that the way to telling a moving story is in the details. Here in the Jacksonville area, we are extraordinarily lucky to have a wide range of troupes and performers who engage in the spectrum of theatre performances, from pared down spoken-word memoirs, to full-fledged Broadway-style musical productions, and just about everything in between.
Arbus Magazine chatted with some of the leading lights on the First Coast, about their upcoming seasons, projects they’ve loved, and why the theatre is so enduring. “I call theatre my drug of choice. It’s an amazingly powerful addiction,” says Lee Hamby. “The feeling you get when you walk out into the stage lights or see the show you’ve directed come to life … it is the best feeling ever. There’s a bond between the like-minded crazy theatre people that is extremely special. Those are the main reasons I myself keep getting caught in the whirlwind of theatre and not even trying to get out.”
Hamby has gained a sizeable following among the city’s theatregoers. He is recognized for his high-energy musical performances, but also works in directing capacities as well as in stage-management, costumes, and makeup. And perhaps his versatility best exemplifies a scene that is dedicated and growing, where everyone contributes to the success of a show.

The 5 & Dime founders: Evan Gould, Judy Gould, Joshua Taylor, Craig Leavitt, Josh Waller, Lee Hamby, Zeina Salame, Caryl Butterley and Staci Grant. Photo by Maya Adkins.

The 5 & Dime founders: Evan Gould, Judy Gould, Joshua Taylor, Craig Leavitt, Josh Waller, Lee Hamby, Zeina Salame, Caryl Butterley and Staci Grant. Photo by Maya Adkins.

Currently, Hamby throws his lot in with the The 5 & Dime, a Theatre Company as their managing director, and of the company’s upcoming season, he says: “We have a wonderful show called The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter opening in October; it’s big-hearted and fiercely funny, telling the story of a man’s last chance at redemption, and of finding beauty in the most unexpected places.”
The 5 & Dime is an unusual company as they define themselves as a “nomadic theatre company,” though they do have a warehouse space in the urban core on Union Street. But many of their performances take place in partnership with area institutions like The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, and CORK. Their goal is to go where the audience is, and to support the works already happening in these places.
Often the shows mounted under the auspices of The 5 & Dime are personal and political with a social justice bent. However, this is not their sole focus; like many of the theatres profiled here, the shows reflect their mission as an entity and the interests of the players specifically. Check them out online at www.the5anddime.org.

Theater Aurora’s 2015 production, Celie Shug Bedroom; and below, Dreamgirls’ James Thunder.

Theater Aurora’s 2015 production, Dreamgirls’ James Thunder.

Another theatre group working with a mission is the Stage Aurora Theatrical Company. With a focus on the African American experience, the company’s founder and executive artistic director, Darryl Reuben Hall, brings his extensive professional stage experience to the fore in “build[ing] bridges of understanding between cultures in relation to the human experience. We want audiences of all backgrounds to laugh, dance, scream, cry and shout together under one roof.”
Like most meaningful and ongoing projects, Stage Aurora was born of personal experience wedded to hope. Hall has said that music, song, and dance gave him the discipline as well as the confidence to move into the world of his dreams. So, in 1999, after twenty years as a professional actor, he returned to the north side of Jacksonville (where he was raised), to start a theatre troupe where there had never been one before. “Stage Aurora is my purpose and call in life,” he says. “We have as a focus [the goal] of producing works that best project the African American experience in a positive light.”

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Article written by By Madeleine Peck Wagner

Author: Arbus

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