It’s hard for the word “we” to not creep into director Jonathan Williams’ conversation when talking about Capital Stage, even though he’s not a company member any longer.
It’s understandable he feels a little proprietary toward the organization, given that he was the artistic director there just last year, succeeding his wife, Stephanie Gularte, with whom Peter Mohrmann and Williams founded the theater, and he remains on the board of directors. Williams was also instrumental in designing and building Cap Stage’s theater space.
Still, he and Gularte left Sacramento last year for St. Petersburg, Fla., where she took over as producing artistic director of the American Stage theater company.
Williams, who set this year’s Capital Stage season, was in Sacramento for the past several weeks directing “Blackberry Winter,” which opened March 19 and runs through April 17. As soon as Williams returns to Florida, he’ll jump into directing “Spamalot” for American Stage.
The current American Stage production has a distinctly Sacramento tinge, with Cap Stage associate artist Janis Stevens starring in “4000 Miles” (produced last season at Cap Stage ), directed by Benjamin Ismail, artistic director of Big Idea Theatre here.
Williams talked with The Bee over lunch near Capital Stage before the opening of “Blackberry Winter.”
Q: How are things for you and Stephanie in Florida?
A: Stephanie is just right back into the thick of things as far as running a theater company. A company that’s a little more than twice the size of Capital Stage is now. Getting up to speed on the community, that’s the biggest thing that Stephanie’s been dealing with. You don’t realize how much you take for granted – the fact that we really understood and were totally in step with the community we were serving here in Sacramento.
We’ve always tried to stay one step ahead of audiences and provide them the thing they don’t even realize they want yet, but you have to at least know that you’re in the ballpark. You can’t just walk into a community and give them something completely different and expect to be successful. We can go have a cocktail on the beach while we’re decompressing from the week – you can’t beat that.
Q: What about you?
A: Professionally I’m just working freelance for her. The company’s got a pretty big and robust staff, so it’s not like there’s an immediate place for me to jump in, nor are we interested in making that transition – that’s not my next step. I have been working some – I did a lighting design, a sound design, I was in the radio play at Christmas, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which we did in Sacramento.
I’m in the position of being someone she can bounce ideas off of, being her cheerleader, her counselor at times – whatever’s necessary. That’s what we’ve always done, worked in that way as an artistic team.
Q: How does it feel coming back to Capital Stage to direct a show?
A: It’s bittersweet. It’s great to see what Capital Stage is continuing to do. Michael (Stevenson, the new producing artistic director) is doing a fantastic job, things are absolutely continuing in the right direction.
There’s still part of me which has always been in a position of leadership at Capital Stage. I see something and I want to go take care of it, and it’s hard to stop that, but it’s not my job anymore. It’s difficult to let that go and allow people to do their jobs. Ultimately that’s what has happened, and it’s happening really well. There’s nothing to worry about.
Q: You’ve been attached to Steve Yockey’s “Blackberry Winter” for quite a while. What about the script interested you?
A: When Stephanie and I went out to the National New Play Network conference three years ago, there was Steve Yockey piece called “Pluto” which was up on offer. I just loved his writing style, loved – he deals with themes of mythology – what I call magical realism, non-linear storytelling to allow the content of the story to percolate to the surface, breaking some of the naturalistic barriers around it.
Then I read “Blackberry Winter” before going out the next year. I thought it was really, really powerful; I had tears in my eyes the first time I read the darn thing. Before we even saw it, I sought him out and let him know we were very interested, and he said, “Well, go and see the play first before you make any kind of commitment.” …
As soon as (the staged reading) was over, I stood up and I found him and shouted across the room, “I want to do your play.” That’s how confident I was in the piece of work. For whatever reason, I connect with it. It felt so truthful and honest. I also think the subject matter is really timely and his style of writing is very Capital Stage. It’s a great fit.