The Conversation: Sarah Boone

Sarah Boone
Executive Director, Theatre Jacksonville
Photograph by Tiffany Manning

You’ve been the executive director at Theatre Jacksonville since 2000. In your nineteen years, what have you witnessed about the city’s performing arts scene?
I started my tenure at Theatre Jacksonville when public funding at the city and state level was high. There were also considerably more discretionary dollars directed toward the arts. Since then, we’ve weathered two major economic downturns. The first was after 9/11, and the second, and even more hard hitting, was the recession in 2008 from which we’re still recovering. What I’ve seen over the years is the amazing resilience of all of our performing arts organizations, enabled through dedicated service and increased support from a generous community. Major institutions have positively transformed to not just survive but to thrive, and many artists have found a voice in new ventures that have increased opportunities as well as their impact in the community.

How did you become involved in the performing arts?
I’ve been performing ever since I can remember. I was that kid that was always singing. Petula Clark’s hit “Downtown” was my favorite song, and boy did I sing it everywhere I went; especially when riding in the car with my mom. And that’s when I was about three years old. I also loved all the variety shows that were on TV in the ’70s and ’80s. Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and Doris Day were huge influences. Growing up in Jacksonville, my parents also took me to Broadway shows when they played at the old Civic Auditorium downtown. Original Broadway cast recordings were also always on the record player at home. So, it’s really not surprising that my very first paid job was acting in a Winn-Dixie commercial when I was in third grade. I earned a hundred dollars for two days of work and used my paycheck to open my first bank account. In high school, I studied with Jacksonville drama maven Marion Conner and was a member of her Storybook Players troupe that performed all over Jacksonville. I was well primed for a career in the arts by the time I headed to Florida State University to pursue a degree in theatre.

Can you tell us about your cabaret performances?
Cabaret has been defined as “a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song and storytelling … mainly distinguished by paying tribute and held in performance venues such as pubs and nightclubs with a stage.” As a young aspiring actor in New York many years ago, I fell in love with cabaret. I took every opportunity to see fabulous headliners weaving their magic in night clubs like the Oak Room, Rainbow and Stars and Café Carlyle. I also spent a lot of time in smaller clubs discovering up and coming performers. I learned so much. The idea of creating my own shows complete with script and songs that blend with my personal experiences quickly became my passion. I’ve been putting together cabaret shows for about twenty-five years now and have performed in various clubs in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as here in Jacksonville. My latest show is Sarah Boone and Her Hollywood Blondes, where I pay homage to the fair-haired leading ladies of classic film musicals … all women who had an impact on my growth as an artist … and particularly timely as we’ve been recently reminded that “well-behaved women seldom make history.” And yes, if you were wondering, that quote is framed on the wall in my office.

What are the programs that Theatre Jacksonville offers outside of its shows?
Theatre Jacksonville has so much going on that it’s easy to lose track of all the programs. We produce a Mainstage Season of five plays and musicals as well as one major production of a theatre classic in September each year. In the spring, our middle and high school students audition to perform in a Jr. Mainstage show. There are also other events that we schedule between our show dates ranging from stand-up comedy to musical concerts. Add educational outreach to the mix, and everyone from cradle to cane is covered. We offer two four-week sessions of summer camp for kids ages seven to fourteen serving about two hundred, including high school student counselors. Our new Theatre for Babies show for little ones three to twelve months and their caregivers has been added in the last year. Just recently developed in Canada, we are so excited to be the only theatre in America to offer this particular art form. We haven’t forgotten about adults who have the opportunity to take group acting classes as well as individual coaching. And lastly, during the school year, after school classes in drama and musical theatre are offered for students grades two through twelve.

How have you learned to navigate the nonprofit world while at Theatre Jacksonville?
Theatre Jacksonville is one of several important nonprofit arts institutions in town. As a charitable tax exempt organization, we rely on a combination of earned and contributed income including foundation and government grants, and tax deductible donations to offset the cost of doing business. Our mixed stream revenue allows us to offer programs at affordable prices making our services accessible to all, which is a priority of mine. When I started at TJ, I had lots of experience in theatre from performance to management, but I’d never held a position of leadership in the nonprofit community. It’s really an honor to be part of this community that continues to make such a difference in the arts as well as in social services. In addition to overseeing the artistic components of what we do, my job includes lots of fundraising, especially now as we head into our one-hundredth season in the fall. We’ve established a 100-Year Anniversary Endowment Fund to ensure our operations into the next century. I’m in the thick of the campaign right now, and my office door is always open.

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