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JRT makes NYC visit to learn from the best

By BONNIE BAILEY

Jonesborough Repertory Theatre members returned from a trip to New York recently, bringing back to their Jonesborough state what they viewed as an incredibly valuable commodity: the knowledge and advice of Broadway theatre professionals.

Sixteen JRT members, including technicians, choreographers, assistant directors, and all the directors for JRT’s upcoming season, attended the three-day Broadway Teachers Workshop, which took place from July 20-22.

“This is great that we were able to do this,” said Janette Gaines, director of education for JRT and organizer of the trip.. “You can’t produce great theatre if you never see great theatre.”

As part of the workshop, the group attended four Broadway shows: Anastasia, Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

“Watching four completely different types of musicals continues to be a great way of expanding my toolbox for creating shows at JRT,” Gaines said. “By watching, I get the best ideas for different approaches to set design, props and even costumes. My mind is opened up to step outside the box.”

After each show, the JRT members were fortunate enough to take part in question-and-answer sessions with the cast and crew, she said.

Gaines, who has been with the theatre for 15 years, said it doesn’t get better than “getting answers from the people who do it best.”

“It helps us to grow and produce quality, which brings more people into the theatre,” she said. 

In addition to evening performances, the musical theatre workshop also included daytime sessions on various subjects, like stage management, directing musicals, and choreography. 

“I think we’re an exceptional community theatre… because we have the support of the town, but we have a budget,” Gaines said among other things, the tips and tricks learned in the sessions have helped the theatre create complicated effects without undue expense.

For example, Gaines said, this year they were struggling to find a “magical” rose for JRT’s season opener, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and the options were limited and expensive, but during one of the workshop sessions a lighting designer for JRT learned how to make a rose with petals that will drop that will work perfectly for the upcoming production.

This is the third year JRT members have attended the Broadway Teachers Workshop, Gaines said, and every year they bring valuable knowledge back to JRT and to their students.

JRT directors were provided partial registration, she said, but many JRT attendees paid for the musical theatre workshop in full out of their own pockets.

“That’s the kind of committed people we have (at JRT,” Gaines said. “These are people who save money all year long so they can do this.”

JRT members are already planning to attend the Broadway Teachers Workshop in 2018.

Jennifer Ross, artistic director at JRT, said education is paramount to the theatre’s operation.

“Everything we do is to try to serve and educate others,” Ross said, so she found the attitude of the actors and directors on Broadway especially impactful.

They stress an attitude of service, Ross said, and having people so successful in their field emphasize the importance of serving others left a strong impression.

“You’ve got to give back to other people before you’ll be able to create effectively,” Ross said. “I’ll definitely be communicating that verbally to all our actors. It’s all about service to others.”

Ross said she is considering putting a sign about the importance of service in the green room as a constant reminder to everyone in the theatre.

Though JRT’s theatre family already strives to give back to the community, Ross said, directors are always trying to raise the bar of excellence at JRT and community participation is important.

JRT takes part in many community events, like the Storytelling Festival and Jonesborough Days, but the theatre would always love to do more, which is where volunteers come in.

“The doors are always open for anyone and everyone to join Friends of JRT,” Ross said.

The Friends of JRT meet on the first Monday of every month, and the next meeting will be on August 7.

Part of what makes JRT unique is the support of the town, Gaines said, and that support has only grown as of late.

“We had our best year yet last season,” Gaines said, which adds to the excitement for upcoming shows.

To celebrate the new season, JRT is having a Season Kick-Off Soiree on Saturday, August 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Attendees will get a sneak peak of JRT’s upcoming season followed by a champagne reception.

Tickets for JRT performances and for the Season Kick-Off Soiree can be purchased on the JRT website, www.jonesboroughtheatre.com, or through the Jonesborough Visitors Center.

You can contact the Visitors Center at 423-753-1010 for information on tickets and reservations, or JRT at 423-791-4440 for more information on the theatre and the Friends of JRT.