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After ten years, Orlando’s Jester Theatre takes a final bow.

On Sunday, May 4th, Jay Hopkins made an announcement on Facebook. There in the news feed, between the mimosa-laden brunch selfies, countless pop culture quizzes, and Instagramed pet portraiture, were those words which surprised many in the Central Florida theatre community: Jester is closing its doors.

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Sometime in 2004, Jester Theatre was born. Like any newborn, Jester required around-the-clock attention, but the crazy hours were nothing new. “We were working opposite schedules and decided that if we were going to live a life of poverty in the theater, we might as well do it on the same time schedule,” said Jay Hopkins, speaking with his wife Diana in an exclusive interview with Nicole.

During Jester’s first couple of seasons, they performed in the old Theatre Alliance black box. The Theatre Garage shared a corner with SAK Comedy Lab (which has since relocated to the corner of Orange and Pine Street). The space was small yet functional, and the parking was plentiful since it was located in the Centroplex parking garage.

For their first show, they chose A Tuna Christmas. It seemed like a great idea at the time since the Greater Tuna series is well-loved and the show requires only two actors. They failed to take into account the 40+ costumes, quick changes, seven distinctly different fully-decorated Christmas trees, and an alien abduction complete with an onstage spaceship landing. Despite the challenging technical requirements, the show was a great success.

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Jester Theater has many fine accomplishments to celebrate. They were the original producing company of The Iliad, The Odyssey and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes Or Less, a comedy that was published by Samuel French and has been produced all over the world. Jester launched original shows such as Is This Seat Taken?, and Chase Padgett collaborated with them on his highly successful one-man shows, 6 Guitars and Nashville Hurricane. All in all, Jester did 36 separate productions of 23 shows.

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To be clear, Jester Theatre Company did not fail. “We are able to make this decision having paid for every space we’ve ever rented, every author has been paid their royalties, and every single actor, designer, and member of a Jester crew has been paid. We are closing our doors while remaining debt-free, an accomplishment that very few small theater companies can boast,” Jay wrote in his widely-read Facebook message.

So, why is the curtain coming down?

“Running a theater is a time consumer, and there are so many other factors. We just reached the point where we can be creative in this community without rearranging our living room every three months for rehearsals.” Jay said if they were ever to start another theatre company, they’d have a real space instead of working out of their home. “You just don’t even realize how disruptive to your personal life a theater production can be if you can’t get away from it. Waking up and tripping over a costume rack that actors may or may not have re-hung their costumes on properly is not the best way to start a day.”

One of the biggest factors in their decision was their family. In February, Jay and Diana became grandparents for the second time. They have two adorable granddaughters, Maddie and Katie. At five years old, Maddie is precocious and inquisitive, and she loves to dance. Katie is just 11 weeks old, so she isn’t dancing or talking– yet. “She’s working on it,” according to her grandparents.

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Like many grandparents, they wish they could stop the clock. “Jay waited so long to have Maddie get to this age, where she can ask things and he can lie to her and she’ll believe it,” but Jay isn’t telling a tall tale when he says that his wife never gets tired of having a baby to hold. “We love them so much and we’re lucky to live so close to them.”

Jay and Diana won’t be retiring from the Orlando stage altogether; they look forward to producing the occasional show. “We still reserve the right to produce a show at Fringe now and again or somewhere else if the mood strikes us. We love to collaborate; we just reached the point where we don’t want to produce ourselves anymore.

What will they be doing in their newly-found spare time? Jay and Diana are in the process of buying their first home. They plan to travel. They’re also looking forward to hosting more poker games together.

They have plans for individual pursuits as well. Jay answers like a true Renaissance man: “I’m going to learn an instrument, golf more, and possibly learn to cook.”

Diana has something completely different planned. “I’m going to volunteer more. I’m already volunteering at the Fringe, and recently I started volunteering at One Heart for Women and Children in College Park. They are amazing, and when I go, I feel so fulfilled.”

Slightly shamed, Jay laughs. “Wow, that last statement makes me sound so selfish!”

In addition to practicing his swing, Jay is developing his new work, The Trenches. Understandably, he didn’t want to tell us too much about his work in progress, but he did say it is a comedy. “I’d like to get it written, read, and have somebody ELSE produce it,” he says. “Unless of course, someone reading this wants to produce it outright!”

They also plan to see more plays. To the theatre community, Jay says, “We look forward to being in the house of your next show, a luxury we have had to abandon and cannot wait to enjoy again.” After entertaining so many over the past decade, Jay and Diana deserve to be entertained.

The Central Florida Theatre Community can be sure if Jay and Diana are in the audience and their show is funny, they will laugh loudly. “Don’t be afraid to be the first person to laugh. It encourages others to have a good time, too. In fact, not just at a show, but everywhere you go, every day…

“Laugh All You Can!”

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Nicole asked Jay and Diana for their favorite Jester Theatre performances. Here are just a few:

Diana: The whole run of Parallel Lives. It was such a labor of love, and Jodi Chase, Karen White, Maria Ragen, and Michele Simms made me laugh and cry every single performance.

The Big Oz was a show I worked on with Jay before we were even dating (an earlier incarnation of the show was originally produced by SAK Comedy Lab in 1999). To produce it together was so special. It was a show and a cast that I wanted to watch at every single performance.

Jay: Noises Off was a lifelong dream fulfilled.

I love every single thing Jason Horne ever did with our company.

I loved the cast’s work on Moonlight and Magnolias. They had such chemistry and drive to make an amazing show.

Improvising full-length one acts in Is This Seat Taken? with David Charles was always thrilling, scary, and awesome.

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