Monday, June 1, 2020

Quarantine Q/A: JT TURNER

JT Turner
by Gil Benbrook

Our series of "Quarantine" interviews, which focus on individuals involved in the Phoenix theatre community and their reaction to Arizona's stay at home mandate, continues today with a conversation with Phoenix native, actor, and Valley arts publicist, JT Turner of JALT Media

COVID-19 has affected us all in many ways. The theatre community has been harshly impacted with show closures and postponements. We hope this series of daily interviews will be a way to provide some personal insight into what people are doing during this period of time while highlighting familiar individuals from the theatre community in town.

Was there a show you were in or involved with or preparing for when the stay at home order started?

Turner: “Where do I begin?! I've been very fortunate to work with an amazing client base that is always busy - so there was definitely a great deal going on when everything shut down.

Arizona Regional Theatre had just begun rehearsals for Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, and they were also in the pre-production phase for Spring Awakening. So there was work going on for both productions. 

The Madison Center for the Arts was pretty much booked solid between their rental events and the Madison Presents Series. Sadly all of those events were either canceled or postponed and the Foundation was gearing up for their lavish second annual Imagination Gala, NOLA!. I was really sad that didn’t happen - I was looking forward to a New Orleans themed gala. Fortunately, that is slated to take place in November now.

Ballet Theatre of Phoenix was in the middle of their Spring semester while also ramping up to their end of the year recital. I give Jennifer Cafarella (the director of the school) and her staff huge props for hitting the pavement - so to speak - and not only getting all of the classes moved online, but also taking it a step further and reimagining an online version of their end of the year recital. 

David Simmons and the UBU project were in the middle of their in-school residencies, which naturally had to be postponed when the schools suspended physical classes. 

Like Jennifer though, David doesn’t let the grass grow underneath his feet. He got busy offering online workshops, writing new songs and performing in multiple online concerts and cabarets. 

So yeah - there was a lot going on! Sadly, quite a bit of it was canceled or postponed.”

How have you been personally impacted by our current situation?

“My life, like the lives of many, has changed a lot. Permanently in some ways. Like many people in our arts community, it has affected both my personal and my professional life. I definitely have come to realize just how intertwined those two different parts of my life are. I’ve also learned that I take a lot for granted. 

I am anything but bored though, which is interesting because my day starts and ends at my kitchen counter. But thank G-d for computers! And thank G-d for an arts community that takes nothing lying down and that will also jump into action because between the various relief efforts and the explosion of online performances I was fortunate to have been swept up in helping to promote - not to mention the online efforts of my regular clients - I have been quite busy.”

How has your daily routine changed?

“You know what? I have learned that I had no routine and that it was a real problem. 

I am finding that I have developed more of one, although compared to some of my friends, it is downright pitiful in that I didn’t suddenly become inspired to hike or garden. I bought a bike but couldn’t ride it because I couldn’t reach the peddles. So back it went and physical activity and I are still strangers.

I typically work from home, so that wasn’t much of a change, and while I am never late for anything, I am still always rushing out the proverbial door to get to whatever Zoom meetings I have lined up for the day. Between daily fellowship meetings and professional ones, I usually have an average of about eight. What’s mindblowing to me is how that number is consistent with the in-person meetings I typically would attend prior to all of this. I don’t know how I was doing that. 

Food is always available so I spend a lot of time eating and my caffeine intake has probably tripled.” 

You hit a couple of milestones during all of this, right?

“I did! May was a big month for me. I turned 40 on the 17th, which I am trying to adjust to as gracefully as possible, and then yesterday, May 31, I celebrated one year of sobriety. That second one is very important to me, so if I had to hit forty in order to get to it, it was completely worth it."

JT Turner (right) with Brett Dixon
in Cabaret- Fountain Hills Theater
photo by Chris Bendet
Do you think people are surprised when they learn that you’re an alcoholic? 

“ Maybe - maybe not. I don’t know. I think the surprise is when they hear me say I’m in recovery. Then they have a chance to think about it for a moment and I think a lot of pieces come together and it makes sense. I would walk around with a drink in my hand at parties and events as if I’d been born with it and I could always make a case for why any time of the day warranted a drink of some kind. For the better part of four years, drinking was like a second career for me. I laugh, but it's not entirely untrue."

What made you decide to get sober?

“It was really sudden and rather strange because I haven’t had a history of doing good things for myself. It was a Friday and I was sitting in my office and something greater than me seemed to kick into gear and took it upon itself to do what I had never been able to do for myself. I am grateful for that. I am also extremely grateful for and am humbled by the support and encouragement I’ve received from so many people. I made a decision at the beginning to be very open and transparent about it all. Alcohol and addiction carry a stigma, and while I was prepared to receive some negative responses, I don’t think I’ve gotten any. Not to my face, anyway, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by that.”

What has the last year taught you?

“So much! I have learned just how many people, and how many walks of life are affected by the disease of alcoholism and addiction. It’s an equal opportunity disease. It’s not interested in how old you are, how nice you are, what you look like or what gender you are. It pays no attention to sexual orientation and it doesn’t care how little or how much money you make - it just doesn’t care. In fact, some of the most successful and influential people are alcoholics and addicts, and some of the nicest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing qualify as such. What’s important to anyone silently suffering to know is that there is a variety of ways to get help. The best decision I made and that anyone can make is in seeking out that help. 

I’ve also learned that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Certainly, there were shameful things that happened as a result of drinking that I had to come to terms with - and own - but alcoholism and addiction itself is nothing to be ashamed of. Most importantly, I’ve learned that alcohol was merely a symptom of a larger problem. I’ve really embraced the clarity I’ve gained over the last year and the opportunity to grow as a person. My way of doing things wasn’t working. Finding a different and better of living my life is what has saved my life. That’s a pretty powerful realization to come to. The truth is that the recovery process is neverending. It’s a lifelong commitment. Taking it one day at a time, I welcome it.” 

That's great to hear. Let's talk some more about our current situation with the quarantines and the virus. What do you feel will be different when theater restarts?

“Honestly, I think things are just going to feel different for a while. I have friends in the community who worry that we may never again see theatre exist as we’ve known it. I don’t think that’s true. I definitely believe that things will return on a recognizable level, but I think we may see that happen slowly.”

When do you think that’ll happen?

“I think time will tell. There are still a lot of details that need to be ironed out. We just need to keep taking it a day at a time. 

I can tell you that my hope is that things return to normal as soon as possible. What the Valley has going for it is a strong, vibrant and tight-knit arts community. We need one another. While I haven’t done so for a couple of years, performing on the Valley stages enriches me and feeds my soul, and that’s the most important part of a person. We need the arts, we need theatre, and I look forward to seeing everyone on stage together again as soon as it’s safe.”

JT Turner in Fiddler on the Roof - Mesa Encore Theatre
photo by Daniel Perlmutter
Any new hobbies you’ve taken on?

“Nothing new, really, but I have definitely returned to some old ones. I’ve started cooking again, which I really do enjoy. I hadn’t done it in years but I pulled out my own personal cookbook that I’d written all my recipes in years ago and I’ve been cooking a lot and eating really well - TOO MUCH, but really well. I also got a hankering for my blueberry scones a few weeks ago and have been baking those daily ever since. Yay carbs!”

What have you been doing to stay creative during this time?

“Aside from baking - and eating - copious amounts of scones, I also started a SoundCloud account and have been recording music using a cheap recording software. I’ve done three, because they take me a while. I don’t do it terribly well, but it’s been fun for me. I tried that Smule thing everyone else is using, but I didn’t like that I had to record videos of myself in the process.” 

Any binge-watching?

“You know, that is something that has not changed about me during this. I still don’t watch a lot of TV. But I did find  ER and Just Shoot Me! on Hulu and those are two of my all-time favorite shows. So I put them on at night and fall asleep to them. So far I think I’ve probably seen two episodes of each and have slept through about 50 of each!” 

How has this experience changed you?

“I definitely know that I can’t take so much for granted. If this had happened a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have made it through alive. I don’t say that to be funny, or dramatic, it’s just the truth. I would have seen it as an opportunity to do nothing but sit at home and drink, and it would have ended badly.

I needed a slowdown and a time out, and it’s been priceless. I’ve also learned how valuable friendships and relationships of all varieties are. I’ve really come to recognize the village I’m privileged to have become a part of over the last four years. It is made up of a diverse, colorful, and amazing group of people, yes, that includes you, Gil, and I’m extremely happy. I am happy and I am extremely grateful.” 

What is the one thing you’re most looking forward to now that the stay at home order has been lifted and some businesses have started to reopen?

"People. I miss people. Zoom has been a godsend in keeping the world connected, but it could never replace in-person interaction. I miss my clients. I love what I do and I love working one-on-one with them. I also can’t wait to see my family and my friends again. I see my family on Zoom every Sunday and I chat with my two best friends every day on Marco Polo, which is nice, but I want to see them all in person. I wanna give them real hugs." 

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