Cara Ober talks to Jessica Garrett about bittersweet sentimentality, how a college spat became a successful theater, and her impending move from Baltimore.
If you have attended a performance at Single Carrot Theater, either in its former location on North Avenue or in its current, fancier digs on Howard Street, you have no doubt come into contact with Jessica Garrett. Not only has she been a leading actor in many of the theatre’s performances, she has handled much of the behind the scenes work including the box office, public relations, educational programming, and marketing. To her credit, her hand in these pursuits has seemed almost imperceptible, which indicates the professionalism and dedication she has brought to such tasks.
Being a founder of a community theater is much like being a a part of a family. Over the years, Garrett has watched SCT grow and evolve, add new members, create new homes, and tackle challenging and edgy contemporary projects. She has worked to nurture this organization and has matured as a result of it. At this point, the theater is at a more ‘grown up’ position than ever before, occupying a newly renovated building on the Howard Street corridor and sharing it with Spike Gjerde’s ‘Parts and Labor’ restaurant, and Garrett is ready to tackle new projects, even though leaving is bittersweet.
Cara Ober: How long have you been a part of Single Carrot and what roles have you taken on there?
Jessica Garrett: I started in the development side, planning our fundraising events. I then added an outreach hat. I was working for a homeless shelter at the time, and I wanted to be able to use the community-building I was getting there and at Single Carrot Theatre (SCT) together somehow. Then when founder Brendan Ragan left to go to grad school I stepped in and took over the PR and marketing and when founder Giti Jabaily exited the company I gained her education responsibilities as well.
CO: What about acting roles?
JG: Man, I’ve done a lot, which I am super grateful for. My favorites are probably Samantha in Linus & Alora, a (perhaps imaginary?) child; Sharla in Killer Joe, a scheming stepmother who really gets her comeuppance in the most violent way; Kiki in Tropic of X, a prostitute of fluid gender, also kind of scheming, but trying to maintain some order in a disordered world; and Gabby in References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, which was a great role and a fitting one for me to end on.
I count Sylvia from Food for Fish, Linda the Chicken from MilkMilkLemonade, and Woman from The Flu Season on another level because those three characters combined make up my entire personality. They are very special to me and signify very trying, very beautiful times in my life.
CO: You are planning to leave Single Carrot this summer to pursue other things. What are your plans? How did you know it was the right time to leave?
JG: I’m leaving in July. I am moving to San Diego, which I’ve thought about for years. I have family there. My cousin and I are very close and I want to be able to spend time with her, while also focusing on my writing and comedy, which has always been my dream. Theatre and acting are an amazing part of my life, but also kind of a 15 detour from The Plan. Now seems like the right time to leave because SCT is in this beautiful new home, and we’ve grown our ensemble so far beyond our little conference room in Boulder, CO. We’ve made something. It will be here after I’m gone. That’s a very bittersweet feeling.
CO: What is your educational / theatrical background and how did you come to be part of Single Carrot Theatre?
JG: I studied theatre performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There were a group of us from the classes of 05, 06, and 07 mostly who weren’t really interested in just auditioning, but wanted to do lots of things. We wanted to not be limited by what people would allow us to be in. That must sound trite and naïve, but we wanted to do the kind of theatre that we wanted to see.
Founding artistic director J. Buck Jabaily and I were close friends. We were in a dumb college-y friend fight and he came up to me at a party and said, “I have this idea. I want to start this company. I want you to be a part of it.” To me, that’s just so indicative of the enduring relationships that come out of college— this idea that Buck and I were actively not speaking, but our idealism, our sheer energy, and our respect for one another trumped pettiness and propelled us both in this direction that would end up changing my life forever.
CO: Can you talk about the changes moving to Baltimore from Colorado made in your life? Looking back, would you do anything differently?
JG: I actually made a two-year pit stop in Chicago in between Colorado and Baltimore. I am one of the older founding Carrots and we were waiting for everyone else to graduate. It’s funny that everyone seemed so concerned about a Denver girl moving to The Big City, but Colorado to Chicago (the cushy north side anyway) was a fairly comfortable transition.
But Baltimore — this place is truly unique. It’s another world. People argue if it’s more The Wire or John Waters and I have to wonder: how can anyone not see that it is both, simultaneously, along with myriad of other indelible cultural hodgepodge? That’s what makes it Baltimore. The charm, the blight, the love, the food, the art, the summers. There is no place like it.
As for what I would change? I want to say nothing. Us Carrots were pretty insular when we moved here, pretty closed off. But I wouldn’t change that. That first year, we built the relationships with each other that would end up being the foundation of this company.
Because I’m leaving soon, I’m in this place right now where none of those “mistakes” seem like mistakes. They all just seem like the ladder we built to here. I’d do it all over again.
CO: What have you enjoyed most about founding and being part of an evolving community theater?
JG: Single Carrot identifies as a Professional Ensemble Theatre Company.
Single Carrot Theatre is the most important thing I have done in my life. Everything after this will be because of this. The best part is the relationships. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a cynical sentimentalist, which basically means I am the worst at parties.
What that means for me is that this is a place that has melted the frosty edges off of my tender underbelly. These relationships are unlike anything I could have ever known. These are the friendships of fantasy. True love is yelling across a conference table about what defines a ‘classic play’. True love is sweating and crying and bleeding in a room for nearly a decade. True love is scraping carpet adhesive off the floor of a former office furniture warehouse. It’s an amazing thing.
CO: What has been most rewarding about seeing the most recent incarnation and location for Single Carrot?
JG: We’ve been working for this for 5 years. Even back when we were at Load of Fun, we were so grateful to have a home, but it was hanging over us, “We will outgrow this eventually. What then?” So we started looking and talking to people early, which ended up being a very smart move once Load of Fun closed.
Being here and seeing all of the work in a literal way blows my mind. The lighting grid, the rehearsal hall, the lobby—it’s all so beautiful. But you know what gets me every time? The drinking fountain. There is something about the drinking fountain that just makes me think, Dude, this is legit.
Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt.