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Thinking about that next role is helping TJ Albertson get through COVID-19 hiatus


TJ Albertson is one of Southwest Florida’s rising community theater stars. In the past two seasons, he has turned in outstanding performances as the priest in The Crucible, Anorexia Nervosa in The Legend of Georgia McBride, The Soldier in Andorra, Tyler Johnes in And the Winner Is … and bad boy Timmy in Hand to God.

But with all of the nation’s theaters shuttered indefinitely, Albertson no longer has an outlet for his creative impulses.

“On the days I didn’t have rehearsal, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” TJ concedes. “Now that [theater] has been taken away, it’s an even greater loss.”

Feeling adrift between roles may be disquieting, but it pales in comparison to the existential threat to the viability of local theater posed by COVID-19.

Albertson voices the fear that if the mandate for social distancing goes on for too long, some local theater companies may find it impossible to reopen. And those that do may find it impossible to attract audiences since so many patrons have lost jobs and their livelihoods.

“It’s pretty terrifying, I’m not going to lie,” says TJ over the phone. “If there isn’t the money for necessities, there certainly won’t be discretionary income for theater. Every actor’s worst fear is finding an empty house when they show up to perform.”

Still, Albertson is an optimist at heart.

He points to Brendan Powers and Rachel Burttram’s Tiny Theatre as a groundbreaking initiative for maintaining interest in theater until it becomes possible to resume live performances.

He’s mindful, too, of other virtual opportunities, such as Florida Repertory Theatre’s live stream of their cancelled productions of A Doll’s House Part 2 and Every Brilliant Thing and the National Theatre’s plans to stream a free play every Thursday night.

Observing that people are binge-watching shows on Netflix and Hulu, Albertson also senses an opportunity to inculcate an interest in live theater among people who never previously considered themselves theater-goers.

“With so many people working from home, this might actually give us a chance to create in an interest in the performing arts in people who’ve never gone to play or musical before.”

To assuage their tattered nerves, they’re turning to the visual and performing arts in record numbers – albeit in virtual formats.

“In times of absolute darkness, we turn to the arts,” TJ sagely observes. “They’re so important in helping us get through tough times.”

Since moving to Southwest Florida from Fairfax, Virginia in 2017, Albertson has found a home at Lab Theater and plans to do all that he can to help Producing Artistic Director and The Lab negotiate the turbulent waters (hell, it’s more akin to a tsunami) caused by the pandemic.

It’s not just a venue where he’s been able to perform or that Trossbach, her board and his fellow actors are family. He feels privileged to have participated in so many incredible shows and wants to ensure that others get to enjoy the edgy, avant garde productions for which Lab is known.

Since its founding more than a decade ago, the Laboratory Theater of Florida has become a bastion of innovative, immersive, transformative theater known for giving voice to members of our local LBGTQ community and fostering civil discourse on such sensitive social-political topics as hate speech, prejudice and remembering the Holocaust.

“Readings, monologues, whatever it takes,” he says, voicing his resolve while conceding that the specter of livestreaming a staged reading or monologue is a little “nerve wracking because it’s not what we’re used to.”

Meanwhile, TJ is honing his skills during the hiatus so that he’s ready to hit the ground running once it becomes possible to stage live performances again. A recent Meisner Level One graduate, Albertson is wading through a stack of plays he’s acquired over the years but never had the chance to read.

“As I read them, I’m thinking, if I was cast as this character or that character, how would I play the part?”

Whether it’s a comedic part or a serious role, the key for TJ is finding his character’s motivation.

“For me, it’s finding those areas in the script that I can really dive down into and from there, making bold choices and sticking with them.”

He gives credit to each of the directors with whom he’s worked with for giving him the tools needed to continually improve. He worked with Annette Trossbach in The Crucible and Andorra, Nykkie Rizley in Hand to God, Carmen Crussard in And the Winner Is …, Steven Coe for the Festival of Tens and Brett Marston in The Legend of Georgia McBride.

But his most recent mentor was none other than New York director and Meisner instructor Steven Ditmyer in How to Transcend a Happy Marriage.

“The best actors are the ones who are constantly thinking about and hunting for that next role,” TJ remarks. “So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Once the outbreak ends and it becomes possible to resume staging live performances, Albertson will be on the forefront of the effort to revitalize our local theater scene.

He’s committed.

For more on TJ Albertson, you can view his profile and a prior interview here.


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