Monday, June 4, 2012

ARTIST PROFILE: Britain Had Talent But Now It's Here--Jaynie Roberts, Magenta's Artistic Director

Jaynie Roberts. Photo provided.
It was June 4, 1993. Jaynie Roberts remembers that day well. That was, said Roberts in her distinctive British accent, “the day we arrived” in Vancouver from Texas “with a U-Haul truck and two small children.” She and her parents came from St. Helens, England where “there are no volcanoes,” by way of Japan.

She’d been to boarding school in Japan for awhile, didn’t want to go back to England and California was the closest state (besides Hawaii) to Japan. It was then that she, “informed [her] dad that [she] would be studying theater” in college, she said, acting out his response of hanging his head into his hand.

There she went to college at the age of 17 attending the land campus of Chapman College (now Chapman University). She went to study theater. She said it was “near Disneyland, which was a perk.” She has a communications/theater and film degree.

Roberts was involved in theater since childhood. Her mother and father were both performers outside their other lives. Mom was involved in Women’s Institute in England doing plays with other women and involved in Community plays. Both parents were involved in shows in Japan’s Foreigner's Club.

Coming to America

In Japan, Roberts was cast in the play "Anastasia" before she left for college. When she arrived stateside she was automatically enrolled in English as a second language because she was coming from Japan. Though she said she’d come from the country that made up the English language.

She then met and married her American husband, Bill, and for the first 13 years of marriage did not participate in theater. She said she “started back up [theater] in the mid’ 90s.” She’d done some things for New Heights Baptist and one-acts for First Church of God in Vancouver, Wash.

Then, ten years ago, she wrote “O’ Baby, Baby.” She was on the board at Slocum House at the time. She wanted to perform it, but doing it at Slocum House was too daunting. So, thinking, “how hard can it be?” she started the nonprofit Christian community theater company known as Magenta. They were homeschooling at the time and Grace Baptist Church opened their doors to the new company. 400 people attended Magenta’s first show.

“Were going to do plays with a Christian messages [and] we didn’t have any money for royalties so we wrote our own,” she said. Then, “we were doing mainstream plays… [that] was what we were going towards.”

“We [found that we] needed to change our focus,” we were a community theater company, but our roots were in faith. “We respect faith and family”

Publicity shot for Magenta's production of "Twelve Angry Women" Provided.
The company’s next play, “Twelve Angry Women,” directed by Roberts, will be their 34th main stage productions since they began ten years ago.

An American Dream

In the beginning she was a writer, now she’s a director. That’s what she likes. She said she, “likes to write quirky stuff,” and that didn’t match with the sophistication that is now Magenta. Acting? She’s not so stuck on it, because, she said “I struggle with line memorization.”

“She Loves Me” was the one musical Magenta tried. It was a great show, but a lot of work and cost too much money, she said.

 “We’ve dabbled in a lot of things, but we want to do what we’re good at which is main stage productions—not musicals.” She said musicians are too hard to work with. Too much work…they’re hard to find, organize, take too much time and always want money.

They’ve tried other things, too. They’ve attempted academy classes for years, but she said she doesn’t “think it’s our niche…we focus on acting.”

Some things which have been successful are improv classes and dialect coaching classes. A dialect class is coming up in August. $20 will get you five hours of instruction (the class is free for actors in the October show).

This Is My Country

Roberts doesn’t see the other theater companies in town as competition, though at first Magenta was very territorial because they were trying to build, she admitted. Serendipity Players, just a block away from Magenta, seems to be doing stuff similar to us, but not the same plays at the same time. There is a city-wide cooperation amongst the troops.

“We’ve each got our own core group,” she said, but,  “I am hoping to see some fresh faces in the October show.” But she said she wasn’t going to try and “poach” any people.

“There is some comfort in the same faces” like if you know they’re reliable, she said.

Roberts is proud of Magenta. “We now have a quality theater company, and have a quality reputation.” She loves what she does and plans to continue, but she also foresees a day when she will move onto other things—especially now that Bill is retired from law enforcement.

“We’re hoping to do some RVing,” she said, “We want to see more of the Pacific Northwest.” Aside from theater she likes beading and reading and, “being alone, being by myself. I’m with people so much” so quiet time is cherished. Roberts likes plays and books about England. Realistic gritty English crime stories are a favorite.

This Land Is Your Land

But, someday she will be retiring from Magenta. “I’m getting too old for this,” she laughed. She hopes to offload more responsibilities onto a “business manager/operations manager” sort of person. Magenta takes a lot of time. It always has.

“My involvement with Magenta was taking too much time away from my husband,” she said, even though he's always been supportive. Sometime back her good friend and Magenta Board Member, David Roberts (no relation) encouraged her to take time off. “I would say it’s a full time job,” but now she takes a month off each year from theater.

“I found out that “the company can run without me,” she said. She’s found that there is life outside Magenta and that it’s a good thing for their marriage. This December they will have been married thirty years and that’s something she values more than anything else.

Though she doesn’t know when, at some time she’ll pass on the role of Artistic Director and the position of Magenta’s President. She wants to focus on creativity and not on management.

Magenta has “lived” at Grace Baptist Church, River’s Edge Church, Salmon Creek United Methodist Church, and First Baptist Church before moving to their current home on Main Street. She would like to see the company in a bigger building out of the downtown area, but is not eager to move again either.

“I don’t have any burning desire to move or drastic changes,” she said adding that Magenta has a good board of directors right now, “I’m really happy right now.”

God [Has] Bless[ed] America

Roberts is big on the Vancouver theater scene and has tried to support the impetus for a performing arts center, but like many, has grown tired of the lack of progress. She was on the City’s Cultural Commission when they disbanded.

And now, she said, “I’m not on anything...”

After June’s “Twelve Angry Women,” Magenta will launch “Something to Hide” in October, followed by “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” for the holiday season.

Roberts said that it was, indeed, hard at first. “There’s so many things you have to do that you don’t know,” she said, “Like liability insurance…a lot of intricacies involved. You have to be a business person. I’m the bookkeeper as well as the president. I’m the one paying the bills. It is a business and we have to run it as a business.”

But, she concluded, “I’m blessed in that I can be very, very creative.”

By Gregory E. Zschomler with Ruth Zschomler

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