La Caroline

October 14, 2014
7 mins read

THEATRE_mayportIt was 462 years ago (1562) that French Huguenot Captain Jean Ribault and a group of French explorers sailed west on the Atlantic Ocean and into the mouth of the St. Johns River. Ribault named this river that runs north the River of May (thus, Mayport), and he and his men met and exchanged gifts with the indigenous Timucua Indian tribes, who had lived here for thousands of years. According to maritime journals, Ribault and the French explorers set a large stone pillar carved toward the top with three fleur-de-lis firmly into the ground by the water’s edge and claimed this beautiful, pristine land for France, naming it New France.

The following year (1563), another French expedition, this time led by French Huguenot Captain Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, came back with 300 French men, women and children, to build a fort, which was completed on June 29, 1564. THEATRE_Fort-Caroline-National-Memorial5It was named Fort Caroline in honor of French King Charles. The following day, June 30, it is written that Captain Laudonniere along with the French families celebrated with a large feast to which he invited his Timucua neighbors to share and enjoy. This is known to be the “First Thanksgiving” in America, noting the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.

THEATRE_Jean RibaultIt is this history, underfoot all in Jacksonville, where the Timucua raised their corn fields, hooked their fish and built their lives uninterrupted until the French came in 1562 and 1564, only to be massacred by the Spanish in 1565. It is this clash of cultures that Jennifer Chase was intrigued with, as well as her visceral connection to France, that caught fire in her imagination to write the rock opera, La Caroline.

For more than six years, Jacksonville’s talented Jenn Chase, playwright, musician, director and Renaissance woman, worked diligently on a play, what she calls a “rock opera” to celebrate this area’s cultural genesis and herald in and bring focus to the French genesis and heritage of those who lived before us in Jacksonville.

THEATRE_JennChaseChase’s AJENNda Productions focuses on connecting the past to the present at home and abroad, which has led her to numerous trips to France connecting with artists, our Sister Cities representatives in Nantes to universities and theatres where her talent was recognized and awarded with grants so she could pursue her dream of completing the production of La Caroline, for it is this story of the Timucua, the French and their Fort Caroline and the massacre by the Spanish, all encapsulated in a rock opera with music by the talented John Citrone scored by Paris musician Bob Destiny, who worked with Billie Holiday back in the day. This rock opera is a modern take on a primordial subject of indigenous Indians, love, war and cultural exchanges of power.

“I found an attachment to the characters,” Chase explains. “I didn’t see myself at all in the beginning – then, I found my voice.”

She went on to talk about how the play was written and how there were surprises with other characters, such as Menendez, the Spanish Captain who brought the French to their demise in September 1565, and brought the former French fort into Spanish hands.

The original script has morphed these past years, but Chase has honed it down well, from its wording to the casting of the characters. “I had to find the humanity in the characters, let them be treated fairly, and speak on their own,” she goes on to say.

THEATRE_LaCarolineThe cast has five principles and five supporting actors and actresses representing a wide array of historical figures and some fictional – Indians, Frenchmen, Spanish soldiers, and such. The voices carry the play and are exuberant as Chase perfected their roles, but allows her actors and actresses to become the characters in their own language as they begin to swell into real people on the stage.

The play has been performed in smaller venues, such as at La Maison des Stats Unis in Nantes this summer, which was funded in-part by the City of Nantes where Chase and her cast were kindly hosted with lodging and other arrangements. She praises her French friends for their open hearts and hearths for her, her family and cast.

As she continued to streamline her performers, each began to present via the white European lens, while John Citrone, music director, brought out the vigor and challenging parts of the play with a superb score. “It’s a wonderful and significant working relationship,” Chase says of Citrone. “It’s great to work with him because of his influence by artists such as Frank Zappa. I would send him a scene and tell him what the character represented; then, he would unfold an amazing score.”

“Working with the French was an eye opener,” says John Citrone, part of the Jacksonville entourage that went to Nantes this summer for the purpose of presenting and further developing La Caroline. “The government subsides artists It’s all very series, orderly, people are prepared, and they pay artists for rehearsing and working – perhaps a great model for us to look at here in Jacksonville. Art is commerce and should be used as commerce – this fact is often overlooked in Jacksonville.”

When La Caroline was presented in Nantes, the key was to get the music out so people could hear it and see it being performed. It was then that Bob Destiny’s arrangements were dovetailed into the rock opera. Fresh ears helped Jenn crystalize and refine even more aspects of the play.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Citrone continued to say. “Sister Cities (Jacksonville and Nantes, France are Sister Cities) made it happen for us. It was a wonderful exchange. If only the people in power here could see the benefit of collaboration with artists – artists are so overlooked here. The “establishment” in Jacksonville needs to support and find artists to keep it all alive, or art and culture will stagnate. Working in tandem with artists to create a symbiotic working relationship is beneficial to business and artists.”

Characters have been revised and revised. It’s a moving target, writing, producing and directing a play is hard work. Chase has taken liberties along the way with her characters as they emerged and grew into themselves. The storyline of La Caroline remains, but the audience will find themselves intrigued with how the characters move and sound and relate to one another on stage as they tell Chase’s story of the French fort and times long ago in the 16th century.
Citrone was sent the scenes and synopsis of the characters and lyrics loaded with feelings, metaphors and symbols. Chase explains many characters are very involved and she knows Citrone understands it – “I knew I would get great music, and I did,” Chase says. “He is the antithesis of me!”

While in France this summer, she worked the music even further with internationally renowned Bob Destiny.  She trusted his solidification and ability to pull the best together to benefit the whole.

This rock opera is full of directors under her tutelage, actors, musicians, choreographers, as Jenn is the playwright-producer. She treaded it together by involving and intertwining creative voices of those hired to do the job, a really difficult job, but a challenge Chase took on. “It’s exciting to see what the actors do with it,” she explains. “Each creates a voice through their own language. It feels great when it gels. Under the directorship of Sam Fisher, the play has come alive – I just can hardly wait for people to see it and respond.”

It’s produced by Jenn along with LEAP Productions with support from the Jacksonville Historical Society, the Community Foundation, Community First Credit Union, Beach Road Chicken Dinners, and CAP21/America’s Musical Theatre Conservatory and Theatre Company, and ____ can’t read the other logo??

MOSH is excited to host La Caroline, which has become part of Jacksonville’s 450th citywide commemorative celebration of its Sesquiquadricentennial. As the rock opera uncovers the lives of the European explorers, the aristocracy, the Timucua and Fort Caroline in the 16th century, the performance merges the theme of old world ideas the today’s struggles.

“The weather will make it risky, but I think the rooftop is a good idea, it makes the presentation odd and more curious to the audience – it may help to redefine the theatre experience and bring more people in to enjoy it, too,” says John Citrone. “Jenn sees so many people working so hard. She wants to sincerely give people an experience, and this is an attempt doing that. I’m proud of it (La Caroline) – it’s been a struggle, but the process makes it,” Citrone went on to say.  History is its underpinning, so Jenn moved it into the definition of a “rock opera”.

Performances are October 16-18, with a gala performance on the 24th. Check the times and buy your tickets online at today, for a sell-out is anticipated.

What’s next? Her “unCoRKed Series” at CoRK continues to be sell-out. “Eva-Chase-Wood” and a special presentation by Lauren Fincham were met with standing ovations, showcasing her evolving writing as professor at FSCJ for more than 12 years. It’s the continuous movement, the gesticulations of Chase’s ever moving hands, her children by the sides of her long skirts and her mesmerizing way of sharing the enthusiasm she has for life and love, especially of her husband.

Jennifer Chase is one-of-a-kind, and Jacksonville loves her. Don’t miss this show – she’s worked very, very hard to bring it to you. So, get your tickets now, while they last! Be at MOSH and be part of your 450th history!


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