The "Artist Spotlight" and "The Director's Chair" are continuing interview series highlighting entertainment professionals,
working actors, singers, stage managers, producers, directors, designers and others in the arts and entertainment industry.
THE DIRECTOR'S CHAIR
When Jon Peterson quit his job after 10 years in the tradeshow industry, he never thought he’d be presiding as Director of his own theatrical production company only a year and a half later.
April 17, 2021 — By Chris Daniels
Jon Peterson is a man of many hats. Jon first fell in love with theatre in high school. Growing up in San Diego, he began searching for his métier, initially wanting to join the FBI and specialize in criminology. The problem was – he was conflicted. His natural talents as a pianist were well recorded, and his penchant for long bouts of singing in the shower became evident with all that knew him. Even during those early high school years, he unwittingly focused on choir and opera, and then suddenly found his passion for drama.
So, after graduating from UC Irvine with a degree in theatre, he set off for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., working in dinner theaters while making mad dashes to New York City to audition for Broadway plays. But, auditions in New York (as anyone who’s ever been there knows) are sparingly few, and finding that golden ticket can be challenging. As a second act, Jon became a merchandising manager for a national pet store chain, then transitioned into the trade show industry and earned his MBA online from the University of Texas-Arlington. All this while landing roles in community and professional productions, sharpening his vocal skills, and expanding his strength as a director.
Since then, over a span of more than 3 decades, Jon has performed professionally in National Tours, Cruise Ships, Regional Theaters and as an AGMA chorister in 14 operas at Opera Pacific. Some of his favorite roles include “Evita” (Peron), “A Chorus Line” (Al DeLuca), “Bridges of Madison County” (Bud Johnson), “A New Brain” (Richard), “Jekyll and Hyde” (John Utterson) and “Best Little Whorehouse” (Governor). And when Jon took that leap of faith to explore his artistic side on more of a permanent basis in April 2018, he never thought he’d be presiding as director of his own theatrical production company within two years later.
Fortunately, he knew Tim Cable, a theatre enthusiast and a Mason at the Long Beach Scottish Rite, which houses the elaborate 800-seat Ernest Borgnine Theatre. Jon had performed in two shows at the theatre – “Forever Plaid” in 2016 and “A Christmas Carol” in 2017, in which Cable had played Scrooge, and surprisingly offered Jon the opportunity for his newly formed nonprofit, P3 Theatre Company, to become the resident theater there.
In addition to his experience directing, musical directing, stage managing and producing, Jon has recently debuted his World Premiere Cabaret show “The Theatre is a Lady” – a brilliantly inventive revue show that helped launch P3’s first season at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre.
"A dream since childhood, I founded P3 Theatre Company to give paid employment opportunities to actors, directors, designers, and musicians, being that there are so few paid opportunities throughout Southern California. I also have a passion for making theatre available to everyone, including low income and disabled individuals, without bias…The P3 Theatre family firmly believes that it is possible to make a difference in the world – one person at a time.”
Jon was kind enough to visit with us and give us a closer, inside look at his career, his goals, his new company, P3's upcoming projects, and any impediments and obstacles that he has faced in the wake of this past year's theatre restrictions.
Jon, you’re a UCI musical theatre graduate, but then spent the next 30 years balancing an MBA in finance and human resources with a second vocation on stage. Finally, around 2018, you said enough is enough and you decided to open your own non-profit theatre, basing it in Long Beach. Tell us briefly about how that all came about.
"It's a crazy story. From 2009 to 2018 I was working in the trade show industry and doing a lot of travel for work and working a lot of hours. One day I came across a job posting for a theatre and dance school in Taiwan that was looking for a musical theatre teacher. That was on a Wednesday. After submitting an inquiry for details on the position, submitting my theatre and job resumes and having a Facebook Messenger interview I was offered a contract that Friday. I was on a plane to Taiwan the following Thursday and started teaching that Friday. A handful of times throughout my life I've taken that 'leap of faith' into the unknown, and every single time it has turned out to be an amazing experience that has carved out the next chapter of my life. I returned to the US approximately 2 months later and realized I had a completely clean slate and took that opportunity to pursue something that had only ever been a twinkle in my eye - to start a theatre company."
Your first season opener was "Evita," a smashing success, complete with a gala that included the Mayor of Long Beach. Many of the stars in that show were reprising roles from 20 years ago. I was there that night and remember it well. Describe how that made you feel, not only with the support of your cast and crew but the community as well.
"I remember meeting you that night and have been grateful for your support of P3 and other local theatres since then. It was such a thrilling night. I remember turning to my mother at one point during the evening and literally saying, 'I have finally found what it is that I am supposed to be doing with my life.' The most rewarding thing for me throughout the entire process was being able to create a platform for these amazing singers, dancers, actors, technicians, and creatives to show the world their talent and the passion they have for the theatre. It was truly one of the best nights of my life. At the time I was part of the Long Beach Leadership Institute and a lot of my classmates were there to support our grand opening - along with many friends and colleagues from the theatre industry. The support was overwhelming!"
As the Executive Director of P3, you do it all: producer, operations and even artistic direction—a big job for anyone! Luckily you have a brilliant group of highly proficient professionals who help make up your team. Who do you normally rely on mostly, to assist in putting your shows together?
"I like to call the P3 Theatre family 'small but mighty.' One of my biggest strengths is knowing my weaknesses and I do my best to make sure I'm surrounded by those that I can trust and by those who can pick up the slack where I may not be proficient. For the 'day to day' tasks involved in building a show, I have relied endlessly on everyone from the creative team, to the cast and crew. I firmly believe that theatre is a collaborative process and I regularly rely on every one that is connected with each show. For P3 Theatre's overall artistic and operational guidance I have a mentor/friend that I have known for the better part of 20 years. I frequently have what I call 'meetings of the minds' with Richard Jay Simon, who was the Executive Artistic Director of the wildly successful Mosaic Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, FL, where I was his Director of Marketing for a couple of years."
As I understand it, you were set to move from the Ernest Borgnine Theatre at the Long Beach Scottish Rite Event Center to the Renaissance High School for the Arts before the pandemic hit. This of course delayed things considerably. Do you have a timeline yet as to when P3 Theatre will switch venues now?
"At this time I do not have a timeline. We are still planning on moving into the amazing performing arts center at Renaissance High School for the Arts. Since the theatre is part of the LBUSD, we are at the mercy of the school district itself as to when they will be allowing outside companies and events to take place on their properties. Keep an eye out, though, as I am eyeballing a few other venues around the Long Beach and Greater Orange County areas to have a few productions until we are able to settle into our new home!"
Jon, what do the three P’s stand for and why did you choose those words as part of your mission statement?
"The P's stand for Passionate, Pragmatic, and Progressive. These words were chosen as part of our Vision Statement because they describe how P3 Theatre Company approaches the arts."
Every theater has experienced hardship with COVID 19, even the big ones. Some are compensating with recorded zoomed livestreaming; some, but not many, with Facebook Live. What innovations, productions or programming have you introduced for P3 to offset a shutdown of live theatre and a lack of funds?
"Yes, this blasted virus has taken its toll on the theatre community. I don't do well with sitting still, so we've tried our hand at a lot of different types of programming over the last 14 months or so. It's all been virtual - and the technology aspect of that has been the biggest challenge. I would say aside from the handful of virtual play readings, cabaret series and interview style shows we've done (Tech Talk with Ethan and Breaking it Down with Jodi Marks), we have had 3 productions that have been the pinnacle of this past year. First, we aired 'The Perfect Year' on New Year's Eve. That production was a compilation of 'feel good' musical numbers sung by a cast of 11 different performers. The bulk of the show was pre-recorded, but I hosted the show live with long-time friend Shawn Kilgore. In between numbers we took the opportunity to walk the viewers through the short history of P3 Theatre Company to show them that we're still here and we aren't going anywhere. We were able to highlight past productions as well as our P3 Educates+ program.
Second, P3 presented the production 'Dixie's Happy Hour' written by and starring Kris Andersson as Dixie Longate (from the long-time touring production of Dixie's Tupperware Party). In an effort to bring fundraising opportunities to local theatres and performing arts centers, Kris Andersson and his team created 'Dixie's Happy Hour' and made it available at no cost to these theatres to stream to their patrons and they then donated 80% of the proceeds to those theatre companies. That was an amazing opportunity. Finally, P3 Theatre Company just presented 'Funny Bonz, the Humerus Solution' on April 10th. This production has been in the making since last August! Funny Bonz is a musical sketch comedy style revue show (think a musical SNL). We pulled that show together using 7 actors from 7 different cities in 4 states across the country. With the help of our technical stream engineer and video designer, Brian Russell, we were able to take these performances and place them on a 3-D virtual stage literally bringing the comedy club-style venue directly to our viewers' homes. The show had such great feedback (including a wonderful review from you, Chris!), so we are offering it on-demand through the end of April. We feel that laughter is a much needed thing in the world right now, and this show will definitely make you LOL!"
You've had a few setbacks in life, and even a few lucky breaks. But everyone needs a creative inspiration to get out of bed in the morning. Who do you consider to be your greatest creative inspiration and motivator?
"I can't say that I have one single inspiration or motivator. What keeps me going and gets me out of bed in the morning is seeing the amazing talent that is out there in our community and knowing that their talent and gifts need to be seen. As long as I have the ability to give them that platform and bring their talents and the arts into to the community, then I will do everything I can to keep that going!"
Your website indicates you contract with union actors. Are all actors in your productions equity?
"We are currently under an SPT (Small Professional Theatre) 1 Transitional Contract. What that means is that we are required to employ a minimum of 1 equity person per show (actor, Stage Manager, or both). Since we are small and new at this time, we've only been able to employ 1 actor per P3 production. Over time we see that growing tremendously."
They say if you want to do a job right, give it to a busy person. Right now, you seem to be far ahead of many others in your field. What, concisely, is your five year plan and what do you hope to achieve by then?
"Ha! We are currently revising that five-year plan as dictated by the lovely Coronavirus. The current five-year plan has P3 Theatre Company in a venue of our very own (or the resident theatre company in an existing venue)."
How would you describe yourself in five words?
"Funny, Resilient, Stubborn, Passionate and Caring"
What are you passionate about outside of the arts; what do you do in your downtime?
"There are things outside of the arts?? Haha! I love the outdoors, especially the water. I go whale watching (dolphin watching is what it ends up being usually) on a monthly basis, hike as much as possible. And my number 1 favorite thing to do is spend time with my 2 beautiful nieces and handsome nephew!"
Jon, what is one thing that you’re really good at that few people know about?
"Sarcasm. Oh, wait, everyone knows that! LOL I would say that I am amazing at being able to plan a vacation or a trip. Down to the very last detail! It's kind of like producing a show in a way - and just another way that I can do everything in my power to make sure everyone has a great time."
Thank you Jon Peterson! For more information on the P3 Theatre Company, including upcoming productions, visit P3Theatre.biz.