Theater for the Senses
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Mary Grace Johnson
Theatre Du Jour founder Tammy Wilkinson is changing the meaning of “theater.” With her 3-year-old business, Tammy aims to facilitate as much interaction as possible amongst everyone involved, from theater-goers to performers.
“You can see a show anywhere. You can see a show in all of the best alternative spaces,” Tammy said. “I want to do it outside. I want to do it in castles. I want to do it at wineries. I want to do it at golf courses. I want to do it on your lawn. Whatever you want or need, we will do it.”
Tammy’s love for theater began during college at SUNY Morrisville in the journalism technology program, where a group of “vivacious and insanely creative people” introduced her to the theater world. She got a taste of the experience, but didn’t really get involved until she moved back to Oswego in 2005 and joined the Oswego Players. She became more and more involved, and eventually became producer.
One of the most challenging aspects of theater was “getting butts in seats,” Tammy said. So, she thought of an innovative approach: move the seats to a whole different setting.
Tammy made a deal with a local restaurant to produce a main stage show in their dining room. The Oswego Players bought out the room, and along with the main stage show, brought in a photo booth, music, jewelry vendor and prizes. It wasn’t just a performance; it was an event, Tammy said.
“It was insane and amazing, all at the same time,” she said, “but very, very perfect for what we had hoped to do.”
Tammy knew she had a unique and refreshing concept on her hands. From that point, she kept mulling over the idea of an “interactive touring dinner theater experience,” she remembered.
One day, she went to Syracuse to see a performance about Lizzie Borden at the Barnes Hiscock Mansion. Tammy and the rest of the small audience followed the cast from room to room as the show unfolded.
“I was just sitting there with goosebumps thinking, ‘The universe is telling me: this is all the right stuff. You’re on the right track, Tammy,’” she remembered.
As the show continued, she turned to her friend and whispered, “This is what I mean! This is what I’ve been talking about.”
Tammy knew there was a need for more interactive theater like this. In October 2014, she filed a DBA, and Theatre Du Jour was brought to life.
Since then, Tammy and her team have produced a variety of shows, including “Love Letters,” “The Santaland Diaries” and, most recently, “Steel Magnolias.” Theatre Du Jour has performed at a number of venues, including Barnes Hiscock Mansion. For each show, they work with different local businesses and artists to offer the audience much more than just a play or musical.
“We wanted it to be a multimedia event,” Tammy said. “We wanted it to be an experience. And so, part of our mission was to have it be collaborative with different community businesses, [and] have that synergy between us and anyone and everyone who wants to get involved.”
While each show is different, the audience can expect roughly the same format. The evening begins with a cocktail hour that usually includes a cash bar, photo booth and local musician, and gives the cast and crew a chance to mingle with theater-goers. Dinner is next, most times in theme with the show. And then, of course, comes the performance.
Not wanting to limit themselves to simply traditional plays and musicals, part of the challenge for the director is often to weave more opportunity for interactivity into the shows.
“And every director has stepped up to the plate on that,” Tammy said. In the future, Tammy plans to expand Theatre Du Jour’s reach, she said, adding that she’s always on the lookout for more venues she admires.
The whole experience of founding and running her own business — something Tammy never expected she’d end up doing — has helped her grow and find herself, she said.
“This company has helped me to love myself, love what I do, and trust in the process,” she said. “Because we figured it out as we went along, there’s something really healing about that as a woman — and as a human, period.” SWM