Orlando theater creator Jeremy Seghers joins the exodus of artists out of Florida

He leaves us with one last show, a reimagined ‘Streetcar’ at Timucua Arts Foundation

click to enlarge Caroline Hull, Indigo Leigh, and Daniel Luis Molina star in "A Streetcar Named Desire" at Timucua Arts Foundation. - photo courtesy of the producer
photo courtesy of the producer
Caroline Hull, Indigo Leigh, and Daniel Luis Molina star in "A Streetcar Named Desire" at Timucua Arts Foundation.

Thanks to Florida’s current governor, creative artists and members of vulnerable minorities (often the same thing) have been exiting our state en masse via planes, trains, automobiles ... and even streetcars. You can add producer/director Jeremy Seghers to that list; after nearly 20 years contributing to Orlando’s cultural scene, he is (in the immortal words of MuppetVision 3D) moving to Pittsburgh, but not before shaking up Central Florida’s stages one last time with this weekend’s groundbreaking production of A Streetcar Named Desire at Timucua. I recently sat down for a “moving moment” with Jeremy to reflect on his wide-ranging legacy and hear how his swan song sheds new light on Tennessee Williams’ classic.

A native of Jacksonville, Seghers studied at Savannah College of Art and Design and lived briefly in Chicago before returning to Florida in the mid-aughts. Wanting to stay close to family, but seeking more culture than Jacksonville could provide, Jeremy was lured to Orlando by the Fringe Festival, first serving as an unpaid assistant to then-producer Beth Marshall; to pay the bills, he worked at Barnes & Noble alongside much-missed OW columnist Billy Manes. 

By 2007, he was producing his own Fringe shows, including an ill-fated puppetry fable with Heather Henson, a searing stage adaptation of Mysterious Skin, and the Adventures of Normal People in 3D, a free performance where nothing happened for an hour, and patrons were forced to pay if they wanted to leave early.

“We had the guy who took the fire extinguisher off the wall and sprayed it around,” recalls Seghers of the infamous social experiment. “That was the show that Beth [Marshall] was in, along with [performance artist] Brian Feldman, who had fallen asleep on the ground in sort of a Dracula position. And so he had this outline of white powder all around him, and we had to wake him up and say, ‘you're laying in this toxic dust.’ So that was fun.”

Following a sojourn in New York, Seghers returned with a remarkable run of innovative site-specific experiences, including A Clockwork Orange on I-Drive, Dracula inside a taxidermy shop, and Equus in an actual barn (without working air conditioning).

“It was kind of like ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ really, because I came back, I didn't have a venue, and I didn’t want to waste any more time,” Seghers says.

In the years since then, Seghers has become sought-after as a freelance director, working across the region from the Villages to Winter Garden; most recently, he mounted Misery at Osceola Arts and the epic two-part Angels in America at Valencia College. 

For his final local production, Seghers revived a concept he had previously pitched at Osceola Arts, inspired by his friend and collaborator Indigo Leigh, the openly transgender actress and designer who plays the fragile heroine, Blanche DuBois.

“When I was doing pre-production for Angels, I think that kind of sparked something, because there are there are so many connections [and] parallels between Kushner and Williams,” says Seghers. “It's been widely noted that Blanche and Tennessee Williams are the same. … He wrote a character with queer camp sensibilities; she has a flair for the dramatic, she is an outsider, and Tennessee was an outsider, [so] it's not that far of a leap to make — having Blanche as a queer character, and as a trans character — because there is so much about her past that she wants to avoid talking about, that's dark [and] in some way scandalous.”

Although Leigh and Seghers are using this Streetcar to emphasize Williams’ interrogation of gender norms — with Blanche’s sister, Stella (Caroline Hull), and boorish brother-in-law, Stanley (Daniel Luis Molina), as Exhibits A and B of toxic heteronormativity — they’ve done so while sticking to the original script, without “adding anything to it; we’re not changing the text at all, [and] not taking anything away from it either.”

What Seghers is adding is an immersive element that fully utilizes Timucua’s multilevel venue (“it's gonna happen all over, so people are going to have to turn around to see stuff”), as well as a commitment to assembling a diverse cast that “looked like a New Orleans that I knew.”

When asked his reasons for leaving town, Seghers cites both “the political stuff that's happening right now in Florida,” and also the tribal competitiveness of Orlando’s cliquish theater community.

“If we don't unify against the real enemy of artists, which is fascism, [then] there's not going to be anything left,” Jeremy says in farewell. “I hope that a new generation of theater makers will work with their friends to start something and keep it going, [and] then welcome new people in who can bring things that are different from them, not the same. Inclusion is not exclusion, and people need to know the difference. … Have a vision. Have your own perspective about things [because] there's so much talent here, and there's so much potential with that talent.”

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