Arts - StageLess is more

When Jump-Start creates original work with marginalized voices, acting is not the primary ingredient

"Too much acting," is one of the notes the director is giving his cast late in the rehearsal process for Something Else, which opens at Jump-Start theater on June 10. Although seemingly incongruous, this piece of direction illuminates something very important about the way Jump-Start Performance Co. members create work and about the origins of this piece in particular.

From left: Monessa Esquivel, Billy Munoz, Sandy Dunn, S.T. Shimi, Chuck Squier, Lisa Suarez, and Kitty Williams. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Something Else is based on writings generated by participants in Jump-Start's arts-education programs at two facilities - Fairweather Lodge, a residence for adults with chronic mental illness, and St. Peter-St. Joseph Children's Home. Jump-Start's arts-education staff regularly empowers younger children in inner-city public schools to create performances based on their own writings and experiences, but this is the first time they've taken text arising from those writing exercises and journal entries and used it as the basis of a new company piece.

The corollary to Jump-Start's oft-stated intention of giving voice to the voiceless is an equally important desire not to exploit the material and experiences of people who can speak for themselves. "We picked these two groups on purpose," says Steve Bailey, Jump-Start's education director and the director (he prefers the term "facilitator" for collaborative work) of Something Else.

"The St. PJs kids can't perform their own material as themselves; there are confidentiality issues because they're actually wards of the state, and the Fairweather Lodge folks can't perform literally. They have a hard time coming to a theater with an audience, let alone performing."

Both groups have been active collaborators, nevertheless. S.T. Shimi, artistic director for company programming, says that "We talked to them about our intent in creating the piece and let them know that we were interested in getting writing from them that would be used primarily for the show so that they knew that from the start." Shimi assumed dramaturgical responsibility for the show, along with Jump-Start member and playwright Diane Monroe. Although she says the company did not begin with pre-conceived thematic ideas, common threads of displacement, alienation, and hope ran through the early writing and shaped the later stages of the months-long development process.

Something Else

8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm Sun
June 10-19
$12 adult; $9 student, senior
Opening night gala: Jun 10, $20

Jump-Start Performance Co.
108 Blue Star, bldg. B

That commonality of experience is most apparent during the third and final section of Something Else, in which writings from both groups are woven together to illuminate the similarities. Special rehearsals were held for each of the other two sections with the writers in attendance in order to get feedback. Bailey remarks on how helpful that input was, and Shimi is pleased that the authors of the text responded well to Jump-Start's non-linear performance style. Company members and performers Sandy Dunn, Monessa Esquivel, Billy Munoz, Chuck Squier, S.T. Shimi, Lisa Suarez, Kitty Williams, and Sterling Houston have collaborated with Bailey to bring these startling, fresh, insightful, and often funny words to life using movement, music, and ensemble vocal work. When the material is this raw, true, and powerful, no acting is necessary.

By Laurie Dietrich

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