Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and Juilliard School graduate JaMario Stills founded the Phase Eight Theater Company with the mission to “push the boundaries of performance.” As audience members such as Claire Cimino attest, “[With] other theaters you go to see a show, but with Phase Eight you go to have an experience.” In February the experience was the immersive, gourmand play The Food of Love at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA). In March the company’s diverse ensemble devised a play in response to a Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens exhibit. Then the pandemic happened. As COVID-19 shuttered public performances, Phase Eight decided not to pause but pivot. “Sometimes the artists choose to push the boundaries of performance, and sometimes we are transformed by circumstance,” Stills says. “Either way, we’re blessed with a team that can adapt for and speak to the times.” Intentional and deliberate, Phase Eight is positioned to emerge from 2020 stronger than before.
Phase Eight’s diverse artists continue to innovate. Stills attends company Zoom meetings while in Rhode Island and provides insights from Brown University’s master of fine arts program. Phase Eight offers online classes and even rehearses for a (virtual) Florida premiere. Ike Holter’s play Exit Strategy will stream via Broadway on Demand on Friday, October 3rd at 7 p.m. Beyond being novel and necessary, the digital medium can lend poignancy according to director Samantha Corbitt: “Exit Strategy is about Chicago’s mass school closings but we’re rehearsing [the show] during debates about school reopenings. Though the plotline is [set in] 2013, performing on Zoom reminds us how educators continue to grapple with policy decisions in 2020.”
Managing director Kelby Siddons notes, “We have a low overhead, a willingness to experiment, and a talent pool that allows us not only to survive but thrive. There’s fear about losing audience, but some of our RSVPs to Exit Strategy are way outside of Duval [County]. We can actually broaden our audience if we stay engaged.” Phase Eight is not only “pushing the boundaries of performance,” but pushing through all boundaries for the love of local art and storytelling.
By Kelby Siddons
Find out more at www.phaseeight.org.