Nearly a decade ago, JuCoby Johnson left the warmer climes of Jacksonville, FL, and headed north to the Twin Cities to find stability in an otherwise unstable career as a theatre artist. Being that talking about the weather is a well-established pastime in Minnesota, one might say that to move to a place that is often 60-70 degrees colder for nearly half the year than the place you grew up would require a masterclass in adaptability. With his most recent work, JuCoby, an actor, poet, and playwright, is demonstrating his ability to be adaptable by turning his play, I’ll Be Seeing You Again, into an audio play produced by the Jungle Theater as part of the Jungle Serial series. “I wrote it for live theatre, of course, I wrote it to be a live play, but for me it’s been exciting to think about new forms; how do you pivot, how do you think about the work differently in this time.”
Jungle Theater’s Interim Artistic Director Christina Baldwin developed Jungle Serial to support its artistic collaborators and invite them to think about theatre differently while we are unable to gather large groups in enclosed spaces. “I just started thinking there has to be a way forward where it won’t be in competition with live theatre, but we support artists and designers and technicians and creators and keep trying to find ways that this new methodology will be complementary to live performance… so that means finding all the great gifts of accessibility that the virtual world gives us.”
Set in the time in the Twin Cities after the murder of George Floyd, I’ll Be Seeing You Again was born out of JuCoby’s desire to capture the humanity of the moment. “Oddly enough, talking about the murder of an innocent man, I found the conversations sometimes lacked humanity. We lump people into ‘the community’ or ‘this community’ and I’m like, we’re all individuals inside of a community, so what about the individual stories and individual lives of people living through this?” He felt that what was missing from the conversation in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder was how people, particularly Black people, were feeling the strain of day-to-day pressure to be out protesting, doing something, in a time when the looming spectre of a global pandemic is also present.
Christina says JuCoby’s work “has a trademark of not shying away from the big occurrence, but keeps it focused purely on a singular human journey… it’s an expansive lens in a really personal moment.”
Certainly, both the revolution brought on by the murder of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic have been catalysts for change in the theatre industry. “I just want us to learn how to be better… So, what can we do to keep learning on all fronts?” Asks Christina, who also shares a quote by General Eric Shinseki: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”
“I think there are a lot of people out there who are trying to figure out a way to make art and make something to contribute and put out into the world in the way we have to do it right now.” says JuCoby. “I’d encourage people to find what works for them. Whether that’s just sitting down and not creating right now, if that’s what you need to do, that’s good. But if you want to be creating and you want to be doing something, there are still plenty of ways to do it.”