Jayme Tinti: Savannah Stage Company
My daughters are yelling when I go to facetime Jayme. She immediately asks how they are, and I hold Nova up to the camera so she can see her. She’s met Cecelia, who is screaming in the background. Her love and support for us also shows up in the way she loves and supports her art. As a cofounder and the artistic director of Savannah Stage Company, she continually pushes boundaries and works to bring theatre to the public. By touring, doing children’s workshops, and having a “Pay What You Can” policy for their shows, Savannah Stage Company is a theatre created for people who are passionate about what they do.
Dylan: Hi Jayme! Thanks so much for talking to me today. Just to give Jayme a little introduction, she is the cofounder and artistic director for Savannah Stage Company in Savannah, GA. First, just tell me a little bit about your personal journey. I know you were working for the Barter Theatre in Virginia.
Jayme: Yeah! That’s sort of like my artistic home. Before that, there was definitely a time in my life where theatre was not the driving force, and then one day it became sort of like the only thing that I care about. Not that I don’t care about other things, but that through line of me and theatre is just like the number one thing in my whole entire life now. But it wasn’t always that.
I went to school in Chattanooga to a conservatory, and that’s really where that flipped the switch. Before I went to Savannah, I worked at the Barter Theatre. It started out as an internship, and by the end of it I had been there for five years. So it’s definitely a home. I moved out to New Mexico for a little while… then we moved here to Savannah, really specifically to start Savannah Stage Company. We didn’t have any friends here. We didn’t go to school here. A few of our founding members had never even been here before. We moved sight unseen. We had no jobs, no friends- we held auditions so we could have friends.
Dylan: That’s how you make friends when you do theatre.
Jayme: That’s literally how we made friends. We held auditions. And that’s how we got the ball rolling. It was just the 5 of us for a long time.
Dylan: So why pick Savannah? Obviously that takes so much courage and so much bravery to come to a city that you don’t have any connections in.
Jayme: We knew we wanted to do something. We wanted to put all this knowledge that we had gained into practical use. Things at the Barter are essentially, fairly easy. People are told where to go and what to do at every minute of the day. At first it was going to be Atlanta. We discovered pretty quickly that Atlanta was not the right fit for us. It didn’t feel like they needed us.
So I had come here [to Savannah] once on a vacation a few years earlier. And I was like, “Hey guys. You ever heard of a place called Savannah?” And they were like, “Not really. Kind of.” And so, that became the focus. And once we got to know Savannah a little bit, we realized that they do need us. And something about Savannah, is you can keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. I know every single play that’s going on in town. And I know who’s in it. And I can tell you two other plays that they’ve been in. And I like that.
“How can anyone trust you- how can you trust yourself if you don’t live up to it?”
Dylan: So, obviously I already said, that this took a lot of bravery and courage, and Savannah Stage Company is all about bravery. Where do you find the courage to just go for it? I mean, like you said, you guys had a sort of home at the Barter Theatre, there are a lot of other options that could have been way easier and a lot less scary.
Jayme: Yeah. Um… I am a Taurus. I’m a Slytherin. I’m an 8 Enneagram. It’s like when I say I’m going to do something, and when I make a sweeping act of bravery to do that- like pack up my 1998 Honda Accord with every belonging that I had, and move to a city where I don’t know anyone, it’s important for me, for better or worse sometimes, to do what I said I was going to do. There’s also like an air of arrogance to it. Like, my art is worth all of this sacrifice. And worth you paying $18 for you to come see. Like, says who? Just me. Like, there’s the humility of the day in and day out. The vulnerability of putting something out on the line. You gotta do it. You said you were going to do it. How can anyone trust you- how can you trust yourself if you don’t live up to it?
Dylan: So Savannah Stage Company is a little different from a lot of other theatre companies. For people who aren’t familiar with Savannah Stage Company, tell us about some of the core principles that really embody it.
Jayme: Yeah, so we’ve got like our values which is: Bravery. Bravery & Imagination- which they really go together, and I’m saying this to you, somebody who literally embodies all those things.
“For two people in two different moments, it will never look the same.”
Jayme: So one is no good without the other. You see a lot of bravery all the time. People- big, bold, wild and outrageous things, but they’re just things for the sake of being things- there’s no imagination behind it. And in the same breath, you can have it all going on up here, but if you don’t have the bravery to get it out… So we want to be as brave and imaginative as possible in the rehearsal hall and in the office. So when we think of programming for the season, or how we’re going to approach this. We’re going to do this thing for ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and we always do “Pay What You Can” which is one of our values- Accessibility. But we’re going to try out this new thing called “Pay What It’s Worth” where we don’t collect money until after the play.
Jayme: Yeah! We just want to put a measure- what is this ticket worth to you? Just to give the audience a voice in that way. We’re coming up with our season of bravery. Yes the plays are brave, and it’s brave to do all musicals, but in the office, how can we administratively be brave?
So we talked a little bit about Accessibility which is just making the work that we do as accessible as possible. That’s why we do the Pay What You can. We also do touring, which is still one of things that drove us here- that we felt like was needed in Savannah. And that we’re still really the only ones doing. So there’s the accessibility, action-driven story telling. Which is the perspective of acting where the character is pursuing something to do. It’s not about the emotion, it’s about pursuing specific action verbs from the other people onstage, from yourself, from the moment, and approaching it actively. That’s one that’s a little tough to articulate, but when you see it, you feel it, and you know the difference. And you’re probably aren’t used to getting it.
And then growth, which I think is the most important of our values because it’s so relevant to every artist, every play, every moment. And it is constantly fluctuating and it doesn’t look the same. For two people in two different moments, it will never look the same. Those are the guiding core values.
Dylan: And I think they’re great values.
Jayme: I know- you’re just lighting up!
Dylan: It’s my favorite! I also just love watching you talk. So how does Savannah Stage Company reflect your own personal beliefs and values?
Jayme: Yeah. That’s a good one. It affects everything about me. Most people my age have families. Savannah Stage Company gives me something to love, to grow, to monitor, watch out for, protect, guide… in lieu of a traditional family. But [Savannah Stage Company] completely informs who I am, and there are moments in life where I am applying those same values to my day job and regular parts of my life.
“Skill set is secondary to the desire to grow.”
Dylan: Savannah Stage Company has grown and changed a lot since its creation. How do you continue to encourage that innovation and move people forward?
Jayme: The easy part of that is in rehearsal, in labs- because Wesley, one of the founding members, voted best actor in Savannah like a bazillion times, gets to be the star of the play, whatever, whatever- he is growing in lab and in rehearsal, every single moment. So it is about that growth based thinking. Letting people know in orientation. We say it in auditions. If you think you’re the most talented person in the room, you probably don’t belong here. Skill set is secondary to the desire to grow. So making sure that we find people who are going to be receptive to that train of thought. And then it sort of happens organically.
How to continue to push growth from the outside is what seems more difficult. The way the shows are promoted, and marketed, and picking the seasons, and the politics between different companies- that is more difficult to push myself to grow in. That kind of stuff I find more challenging. Often times, we’ll do something like some kind of marketing thing, and two months later everyone else is doing that. It’s like they’re pushing me to grow. And I love it! Year after year, I have to hunker down. The artistic growth just happens by being around beautiful, warm, loving people all the time. It’s the other stuff that I have to have more of a plan in place.
Dylan: So where do you see the company at in three years?
Jayme: Growth is able to be accounted for in times of stability. The real growth is happening in the times of instability- cause you’re all crazy and like flipping pancakes- “Hey I learned how to flip that pancake!” This past year has been so much pancake flipping, so I think in three years we will be in the place where we get to bask in all the rewards of all that growth. And “Ah…. Look at us!” Then something will happen and it will be pancake time again! Which is sort of like- in that cycle of growth, I know where we are. Like the rockier waters, but I know that pendulum will swing- I can see us in three years like being able to maximize all of this growth. And coming up in three years, I think I can really see this being my full time job.
Dylan: I really hope so. I want you to be able to do this full time.
Jayme: Me too! I don’t mind my day job now; I’d rather have this one than any other one, but…
“And when it’s not your people, you know it, and you can feel it, and it can hold you back.”
Dylan: Yeah. So what are three pieces of advice that you would give to young artists?
Jayme: Oh- golly. Find your tribe. There is nothing like going into a room with your people. And when it’s not your people, you know it, and you can feel it, and it can hold you back. Be brave and use your imagination. Trust your imagination. And… Oh! If the offers aren’t coming in, create your own stuff. Do it yourself. It can be done. You know. You have a story to tell- write a one-woman show. You want to do a play and direct it, and no one will let you? Do your own play. Be brave. Have the imagination.
Dylan: And just go for it.
Jayme: Go for it. Just do the fucking play.
Dylan: I want to thank you again, Jayme. I miss you guys so much! Totally talk about you all the time, any chance I get. One last question, before I let you go, what is your spirit animal?
Jayme: Golly… probably like a pug? Like a pug dog. Where it’s just loving and snuggly and warm and squishy and really chill. That’s what I want to be. Chill.
Interested in sharing your story?
Let’s chat! Schedule your meeting here!