by ERIN THURSBY
When you think about a nomadic theatre company just starting out, using urban spaces and looking for nontraditional material, you might think that the people behind it are just starting out themselves. But this isn’t true when it comes to The 5 & Dime theatre company.
The founders of the company are names familiar in the local theatre community. (They are, in alphabetical order: Caryl Butterley, Evan Gould, Judy Gould, Staci Cobb Grant, Lee Hamby, Craig Leavitt, Zeina Salame, Joshua Taylor and Josh Waller). All of them have had experiences both inside and outside Jacksonville that inform this new venture. Says cofounder Zeina Salame: “We’re working with actors (and it’s not just us, it’s all the [local] community theatres) that have worked in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, directors that have worked professionally. There has been really professional-quality work being done in community theaters in Jacksonville for years, but people just don’t know that it’s there.”
The 5 & Dime’s motto is “Making change in Jacksonville.” Part of that change is helping Downtown to thrive and contributing “toward the imminent renaissance of the Downtown area.” In their first year, the team brought performances to eight different Urban Core locations: Riverside Arts Market, the Downtown Public Library, CORK, Church of the Good Shepherd, the Carling, the Southlight Gallery, MOCA, and WJCT Studio. “It’s been really eye-opening to see the look on people’s faces as they walk into a space that’s been transformed into something other than what they thought it could be, and that creates a sense of wonder before the show even begins,” explains cofounder Staci Cobb Grant.
When we asked the marketing and media contact for the 5 & Dime, Zeina Salame, about her marketing background, her philosophy on marketing the arts is strikingly similar to what the company itself has done in the past year. Salame says, “You can’t do what people have always done, and you have to be flexible and creative.”
Inventive use of unexpected spaces has quickly become a trademark of the 5 & Dime. Even though they’d like a permanent space for rehearsals and storage of props and set pieces, ultimately they aren’t going to want a standard setup. “We’ve discussed the advantages and disadvantages of being nomadic,” says cofounder Caryl Butterley. “I think the ideal would be to have a permanent space to serve as a home base, while continuing to find opportunities that take us out into the community.”
While Downtown has its commercial venues – the Florida Theater and the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts – it lacks in smaller-scale, community-production venues. Community history buff and Jax native Joshua Taylor lived in Chicago for years and returned to Jacksonville cognizant of the possibilities. Says Taylor: “At Jacksonville’s heyday, there existed a dense theatre district in the Urban Core that comprised more than 30 individual vaudeville and movie palaces. Of the remaining stock not demolished for surface parking, only two remain. We are left with a city center almost completely devoid of local cultural representation. We at the 5 & Dime formed partly as a solution to this problem.”
Their first production was a stage adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, aptly staged at the Jacksonville Library during Banned Books Week last year. The Eight was their Christmas offering, mixing conspiracy and North Pole politics in a cheeky cocktail served up at the art warehouse CORK. Spunk, an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston short stories, gave them a show with a local connection. Last Fall is simply a relationship story where the main characters happen to be a gay couple. All of these were premiers, as none had been staged in Jacksonville before.
The fresh choice of material isn’t completely new to the First Coast. “Jacksonville’s really lucky in that a lot of the people who have leadership positions in the various community theaters are willing to take risks and willing to be open-minded about the kinds of things their audience will enjoy,” says cofounder Zeina Salame. “They’ve learned that, for the most part, the audience is open-minded and they want something different.”
Many of the people who have the cash to support theatres are older, because they’ve had time to accumulate wealth over their life and they have an interest in supporting the arts. But it isn’t just the youth who want edgy, diverse theatre. This more mature audience does too. After all, as director and board member Lee Hamby points out, these folks grew up in the 60s and 70s. When they get nostalgic, they want to see productions like Tommy and Hair, certainly a far cry from what most people would think of as “traditional.”
Besides the usual arts supporters, because the 5 & Dime has gravitated toward Riverside and the Urban Core, they’re building a younger audience as well, which is beneficial to the arts community as a whole, now and in the future. It’s a community that’s willing to help, and the members of the 5 and Dime certainly have deep roots in the local arts.
“Many of us are very fortunate to have worked with all the local theatres in some capacity and have developed relationships with each,” says Hamby. “Those relationships allow us to utilize their amazing resources, and now we are blessed to now share our resources with them. Everyone has been so generous. We could not exist without the help from the other local theatres and community.”
Networking and an army of eager volunteers were essential for this year’s accomplishments. Current board president Kim Schnepf shares, “There isn’t a ‘typical’ 5 & Dime volunteer. They range from our directors and actors, to our stagehands and carpenters, to our box office staff and ushers and everything in between. When I consider our mission to ‘entertain, engage and enrich our current and future audiences,’ I rest easy knowing that we have a vast support system eagerly waiting to help us reach that goal and beyond. The 5 & Dime simply could not do what we do without the dedication and support of our volunteers. We are extremely fortunate to be a part of a community that gives so generously of their time and talent.”
A keen social consciousness centers the 5 & Dime’s brand of “nomadic storytelling,” not only in their choice of productions, but also through community discussions and the distribution of two scholarships. For a company just a year old, it’s laudable they’re doing what they can to help the community and foster the arts even so close to their inception.
We can expect a December production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Underbelly. You can join the discussion on their Facebook page, but if you want to stay informed of the latest production, sign up for their email list under their FAQ on their website: www.the5anddime.org. Those who want to volunteer or contribute in some way can also do so through links on their FAQ.
The 5 & Dime Making Change on Jacksonville Stages
by ERIN THURSBY