Sarasota’s theatrical scene is growing more diverse every season. Audience members in the know are no longer season subscribers who show up on their regular day, in their regular seat. Today, the hippest theatrical experiences are occurring in a variety of atypical, intimate venues, and chances are, if you're finding out about them in the newspaper, you're already too late.
This exciting new paradigm is in large thanks to a number of dedicated performers and producers who aren’t waiting around for opportunities, but instead are insisting upon them. One such individual, Dylan Jones, is the force behind Little Grey Hat Productions, a new theater company designed to present avant-garde and intimate performances in unique locations.
Active in theater, music and film since he was nine, Jones is also a writer, director, actor, composer, and now, he can add producer to that list. He's co-staring in the company’s first show, "The Last Five Years," alongside rising Sarasota starlet, Anna Trinci. This two-person musical by Jason Robert Brown tells the story of a young ambitious couple and how they fall in (and then out of) love over a period of five years. The production is directed by Ann Morrison.
Here, Jones tackles “Theater SRQ&A,” in which he talks mobile theatre, how there's no such thing as a day off and how “it is more courageous to fail gloriously than to quietly get by in the status quo.”
What's your latest theatrical project?
This is our first project ever; "The Last Five Years" fits perfectly with our model, being a two-person, hour-and-a-half-long show that's easily transported from place to place. We intend to perform in four different venues throughout the summer, including Home Resource, The Broadway Bar (June 6th-8th), the South Florida Museum (June 21st) and Backstage at The Players (July 26th-27th). All the information for tickets and times is on our website at www.littlegreyhatproductions.com
Why did you start your own production company?
I’ve been involved with theater and film and music in this area since I was 10 years old. I was basically raised in community theater, and I got to participate in a lot of shows growing up. But when I went to New College of Florida and studied literature and theater, I was introduced to a whole other world, full of absurdism and post-modernism and lots of other really fun “isms.”
I realized there were a lot of shows that were really quite good, but that probably wouldn’t get done around here because they didn’t have a huge chorus or a dance ensemble or a cast of dozens, or just because they were “different” from the norm. I wanted to make those shows possible, and I believe that by doing them with extremely talented people in small settings, it’ll generate great audiences, even if the venue or the run is limited.
How did your company get its name?
I have a hat — a little grey newsy type cap, which I’ve owned for more than 10 years now. I got it from a theater when a costumer decided it looked good on me and I should keep it. That hat has been with me through a lot, and it’s kind of become something I’m recognized and known for. It seemed like a good idea to equate the memorability of my hat with the memorability of seeing our performances.
Describe yourself in five words or less.
Energetic, humorous, intuitive, creative and passionate.
Why the Sarasota area?
I’ve been around the city most of my life. I’ve been on and offstage in just about every theater in town (including some that are no longer around), and I always listen to audience members and try to find out what they like and don’t like. It seemed to me that there was an enlightened theater crowd here — people who wanted to see something different, who appreciated being the first audience for something or being involved in a budding scene or style or movement. I think mobile theater, as I call it, is something many people will respond to positively.
What's been one of the top experiences of your Sarasota arts career?
I also write and compose music, and I workshopped my first musical in 2012, called "Jonesing." I’d written one before that for my thesis at New College, but it was just terrible; it was based on the epic poem "Beuwolf," and it was really long and pretentious, and at the time I didn’t even know how to write music, I just sang the songs into a tape recorder.
Over the next six years, I taught myself how to write music using a computer program, since I can’t actually play any instruments. It took an excruciatingly long time, but when I finally had the instruments in place, a theater lined up and a tremendous cast put together (including my current co-star in "The Last Five Years," Anna Trinci), it was without a doubt one of the proudest and most profound experiences of my entire life. I might work on my own materials from time to time with my company, but I want to open doors and provide opportunities to a lot of people, not just myself, and for a lot of different shows, not just my own.
Do you have any theatrical goals for next year?
I know I want to expand my scope a little bit. I’d like to be putting up at least one play at the same time I’m producing a musical. I want to get more people to be aware of what I’m doing — not just audiences, but actors too, because there are some incredibly talented people in our area who will truly shine in the shows I have in mind. It’ll depend how this first one goes, and if it interests people and they want more that’s what I’ll do.
When did you know you wanted to be in the performing arts?
I was 5, and I played “The Big Cheese” in our kindergarten production of "The Four Food Groups." I didn’t really get into theater head-on until we moved here, but I knew really early on there was something pretty cool about being “Le Grand Fromage.”
As a director/producer, what is your process for preparing to work with the cast?
That’s partially the beauty of doing things the way I plan to. I choose my shows based on the people and places I have to work with and the vision I have, not necessarily the time of season or the audience. Truth in acting, truth in singing, truth in anything theatrical is the pinnacle for me; I really need to believe in both the actors and the characters they portray, and I really think audiences will go outside their comfort zones if they know they’re going to get a truthful, awesome, powerful show.
How do you warm up before a performance?
If I’m acting in it, usually I’ll read a book or a new play, or maybe listen to some music. I try not to run lines or sing my vocal part — it just makes me overthink things. If I’m directing or producing something, I try just to remember whatever I’m going to say to introduce the piece and to make sure I get into the restroom before there’s a rush.
What hobbies do you have outside of theater?
I wear a lot of hats (not really; mostly just the little grey one, actually); I write plays and film scripts, some of which I’ve produced and others that collect dust on my hard drive. I enjoy helping people out and learning new things, because you never know what will turn from a hobby into a career someday, if you’re really proficient. As for idle pastimes, I used to collect things, like shark teeth and other fossils, which are abundant in Florida, but now I’ll usually just write for hours on end, or occasionally play video games.
What would be your ideal day off?
I don’t think I understand the question; what’s a “day off?” Seriously, if I had a day with “nothing” to do, I would find something to do; I would read a play I have in mind, or I would call a potential actor/director/technician and find out if they want to work with me on something. It might be nice to get in the car and drive — just go out of town for a vacation, but I’d feel compelled to bring a laptop in case I was hit with inspiration, and although I often need a lot of time alone to create and plan things, I truly enjoy the company of good friends and great conversation. So, again — what’s a "day off," exactly?
What do you listen to when you are driving in the car?
Anything that comes on my media player, really; I like to put it on shuffle and just see what shows up. Whether it’s Beethoven, Ben Folds, Eminem or Sondheim, if it touches a nerve in me or makes me tap my toes, I’ll listen to it. I have very eclectic tastes, and I think my musical preferences reflect that. Or, conversely, may be the reason for that!
If you had unlimited funds and you ran a theatre in Sarasota, what would be your vision?
First of all, if I had unlimited funds, I wouldn’t run a theater. I would utilize one, or several, probably. By being a mobile theater company, I’m not tied down to a space. If I had unlimited funds, I would fill the theaters of this area with unique, never-before-seen shows, tailor-made for their capacity and demographics, but I’d also find clubs, conference halls, abandoned movie theaters and industrial warehouses to put shows in as well.
Being unlimited in my funds, I would get bored with the genuine limitations of a specific theater space and tear it down, sooner or later! I’d rather have the freedom of movement and choice, even if my funds were limited, as they are now. At least that way, I’m never tired; I’m always innovating, always generating, always creating, and I’ll never feel stagnant or behind the times, whether I’m putting on a performance of Complicite’s "Mnemonic" in a functional laboratory or O’Neill’s "Long Days Journey Into Night" in an antique house on Anna Maria Island.
What show do you wish an area theatre would put in their season for next year?
It’s going to sound weird, but I’d love to see one of the Big Three (Venice, Manatee, Sarasota) tackle the musical version of Kurt Vonnegut’s "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater." It’s by Vonnegut, so major points there, and the music and lyrics are by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who are most known for the second show they did together after that one: "Little Shop of Horrors!"
It has a bizarre, fun, quirky sensibility, much like Little Shop, but you’ve never heard of it — no one ever has — because they never made a cast recording of it. There are so many shows out there that won’t get done because people don’t know about them. It’s the duty of anyone who finds theater relevant and poignant and a reflection of the human spirit to share as much of it as they can with others and introduce them to that sort of thing.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
That’s a really tough question, because there are so many people who have inspired and influenced me, from my own family to the composers I listen to and the writers I read. I couldn’t pin one down, honestly, but what I will say is that the ones who took the biggest risks, who decided that even if they couldn’t be absolutely sure they would succeed went ahead and did it anyway — those are the people I emulate and respect the most. It is more courageous to fail gloriously than to quietly get by in the status quo.
Name one thing on your theatrical bucket list:
As an actor? Probably Tevye. Sounds corny, but Tevye, it’s so iconic. I’d like to play Tevye some day in "Fiddler on the Roof."
As a director? Probably "Parade." It’s one of the finest musicals ever written, by Jason Robert Brown. Incredibly tragic, bittersweet and amazingly relevant in any day and age. Directing that would be a dream come true.
And as a producer? Making something original that withstands the test of time. If you believe everyone who claims they were present in audiences for the original run of "West Side Story," they would pretty much fill up the island of Manhattan 10 times over. But that show was universally despised when it first opened, because it was so ahead of it’s time and beyond what was happening around it, yet today, it's acknowledged as one of the greatest musicals of all time, which is why so many people attach significance and permanence to it.
I have fascinating ideas of my own, which I want to flesh out someday, like a performance piece that combines radio drama, musical theater and film all in one amazing evening. That’s my ultimate bucket-list criteria: to feel like I made something worthwhile, bigger than myself and that means something to people and will be remembered long after I’m gone.
Are you excited about Sarasota’s changing theatre scene? Are you planning to attend Little Grey Hat's production of “The Last Five Years”? Let us know in the comments!