That's not gray, it's silver

San Anto’s own Jump-Start Performance Company begins celebrating its 25th anniversary this week with a revival of its very first production, Franz Xaver Kroetz’s Request Concert, which will be performed in four different homes here and in Austin over the next few months. First up is company Artistic Director S.T. Shimi, who says the updated version shows that “We’re not rejecting our past, but at the same time we’re excited about experimenting in new ways.”

Shimi describes Request Concert as “one of those German plays, where it’s all about mundane details piling up to tell a story and implicating the audience as you watch it.” It’s meant to be staged in a set that looks like a rented apartment, but in its original production, Jump-Start staged it in the performer’s home. For 2010, a round robin of company directors and actors will recreate the piece in their own dwellings, reflecting the troupe’s ongoing interest in site-specific work.

“Just because we aren’t always painted purple and talking backwards doesn’t mean that what we do now isn’t experimental,” Shimi says of the next 25 years. Here, in their own words, are several more perspectives on this long-running collective’s mission, impact, and future. — Elaine Wolff

Lisa Suarez

Guest Artists Program Director, company member for 14 years, currently developing I’ll Remember for You, a semi-autobiographical work about a daughter helping her mother cope with Alzheimer’s

We do have a nice reputation, treating our guest artists really well. And I think that is because we are artists ourselves, and when we go and visit other houses or other presenters, we certainly know how we’d like to be treated, so we try to accommodate them as much as possible. This may not be the world’s greatest theater in terms of facility or equipment and that kind of thing, but we’re always ready to accommodate any way we can.

Dino Foxx

Director of Audience Development and Marketing, company member since 2003

To me it’s really important to provide a soundtrack, to provide a book for someone to pick up as they’re coming of age, as I did when I was 11 years old, trying to come to terms with being queer and brown and what that means to a Latino boy that was brought into a Christian family on the West Side of San Antonio — I couldn’t find things to relate to, and that was really hard. And if I can reach just one person who will not feel alone by the end of my show, I think that’s what’s the most satisfying for me.

Steve Bailey

Producing Director, founding member

The hardest challenge has been in hard economic times to kind of figure out how to keep the organization stable. … We went through a really hard period last spring and summer, and we had to downsize the staff, and we had to really rethink. … We’ve learned a great lesson about stability and moving forward.

We focus on original work. Often that’s experimental, but not necessarily. So we’re the only theater in the area that really focuses solely on that and is a community space for that. So it’s not just Jump-Start; we have other theater companies that are here, individual artists, dance, all sorts of stuff, that use our space. 

Michael Verdi

company member for 19 years

The training I went through in the Navy was a particular thing, where once I went through a school that did all the chemistry, and physics, and math, and stuff, they let you loose in an actual engine room of a nuclear power plant. And there are people there operating that, standing watch and doing all the maintenance and stuff, but you have six months and no particular schedule — you have to figure it out, basically ... And there’s no classes, you just have the technical manuals — you know, GE made this turbine, so you read the GE technical manual on the turbine. It was really great practice in teaching you how to learn anything, so that’s been actually probably my most valuable art lesson.

Kitty Williams

company member “for a while,” board member, currently developing The Great Chitlin’Debate: the Chitlin’ Keeps Happenin’, a revival and updating of her 1997 one-woman show, for 2011

That’s what I like about Jump-Start: We do a lot of collaboration with outside artists that are not necessarily members of Jump-Start, but we bring in other people, and that’s what makes Jump-Start sizzle.  

Sandy Dunn

founding company member

We wanted to be able to have a group of people to work with that were interested not just in traditional theater, but in developing their own creative ideas. It has been pretty much that since the beginning. I have been living in Austin for 15, 16 years, and I have been driving back and forth … and that’s how much I love working with this group of people: It’s worth driving down freaking 35 to get here.  

S.T. Shimi

Artistic Director, began life with Jump-Start as an intern

“A lot of the work that I’ve done around anti-war, anti-oppression work in theater has been inspired by Caryl Churchill and Harold Pinter — and what they do with their work is abstract it in a certain way, to where you don’t really know where the work is taking place, but the issue’s uncomfortably the same. So the important thing that artists can contribute to the conversation is to crack open the image, so that when you’re watching the piece you, on the one hand, can make the connections to what’s going on everywhere else, but you also can’t escape from the fact that it is happening here, you are part of a problem, you can be part of the solution if you take a little time to think about it.  

Annele Spector

aka Ann July, Education Program Manager, on staff since 1999

Monessa Esquivel

aka May Joon, company member since 2002, “I’ve only been in, like, 9,000 plays here”

Monessa: We do education work, afterschool programs. Jump-Start has a huge education program. 

Annele: We get paid to have fun with kids, which is what we love. So in the day we get to be nice and sweet to children and adults, and then at night we get to be whores.  

Monessa: Big, filthy, nasty whores. With nasty, filthy, dirty-ass mouths. 

Annele: For Jump-Start as a community company, we’re kicking, we’re thriving. We survived 9/11, we’re recession-survivors, we do what we can, but we want to bring fun and art to the community. 

Monessa: Keep it young, keep it fresh, keep the youth in here, always work with new artists — hopefully we’ll win the big lotto ticket, like $14 million, and make this like a multi-million-dollar theater and then we’ll bring international artists from all over every day.

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