When art is in the blood, it takes more than a pandemic to drain the vitality out of an artist.
This is why JP Clemente finds this to be a perfect time to take on the role as managing director at B3—“Be Bold! Be Brazen! Be Brilliant!”
“I’m honored and excited to be a part of B3,” Clemente says.
He considers this a new chapter in his life, which has seen Clemente perform around the world.
“How we play in it, how we maneuver—it’s pretty exciting stuff,” Clemente says. “When there are new challenges, you adjust. Theater is not going to go away.”
He took his first steps of this journey with Artistic Director Ilana Lydia on “Reason to Be,” when they were searching for what they felt was missing during the pandemic.
“I was noticing how the theater atmosphere was changing in the Valley when the pandemic hit,” Clemente says. “All these things (that theaters were doing) are great, but something to me was missing. It’s not that I have the answers, but something was missing. I started questioning, am I just getting together with a group of people and doing a virtual Zoom reading? That’s a book club to me.”
He and Lydia found they had similar philosophies of theater. A couple months later, Lydia asked if he would take on the associate artistic director role.
Clemente responded with, “Why not?”
He says their goal is to help B3 obtain nonprofit status and take its place among Valley theaters.
“B3 is truly on the fringe,” Clemente says. “We’re not here to compete at all with any other theater. We want to partner with them and support them in any way that we can.”
They are working on a night of monologues and encouraging Valley actors to select unpublished monologues from local playwrights.
Lifetime of experience
Clemente brings a lifetime of experience as an artist to the role of managing director. From a young age, his parents, family and childhood mentors paved the way for him to lay claim to being bold, brazen and brilliant.
“I immigrated here when I was 7,” says Clemente, who was born in the Philippines. “So, I was a child of color, a child that was not your normal little boy. I gravitated to the arts and I was taught that if this is who you are, embrace it. Be bold. Be brave enough to be who you are, and if you attack it with truth, that will make it brilliant.”
He says half of the people he auditioned for in his youth never saw that he was of a mixed race, that he was a person of color, that he was a part of the LGBT community.
“They just saw the artist that can create the product they were looking for,” Clemente says.
And the other half? He says those were the groups who helped him become even more bold, brazen and brilliant. When they told him that they couldn’t use him because of his skin color, his reaction was: “Then watch what you have missed.”
“I want that for everyone,” Clemente says. “Everyone should be that bold and brazen and that brilliant.”
His first foray into theater was when he was very young and living in Wisconsin. He had seen “The Sound of Music” on film and fallen in love with it.
He auditioned, but the director told him and his mom that he didn’t look Austrian, which was required for the part. However, the director added, he should keep auditioning for the right roles. Clemente did, and since then he’s played nearly every major male ingenue role, from Tony in “West Side Story” to Curly in “Oklahoma.”
From Wisconsin, Clemente went to school in New York and then commuted between Milwaukee and Chicago doing professional theater. Then his younger brother, who was directing in the Valley, asked him to direct “Man of La Mancha” for Desert Stages. He did, spending a summer in Phoenix and having a great experience.
Nine months later, the artistic director called and asked him to come back to direct “The Wedding Singer.” In 2010, he made the move to the area and, with the encouragement of his brother, put down roots.
“He was like, ‘JP, why don’t you do it—not because of the show but because I think it is time for you to uproot yourself from where you are, because you’re not growing,’” Clemente says. “Replant yourself and we will be here to help nurture that growth.”
That is what he did, and for years he spent time acting, directing and choreographing. A few years ago, he was asked to manage the Black Box space at Mesa’s Encore Theatre.
“I gravitated to it,” Clemente says. “It was very similar to B3—a smaller space, very experimental and exploratory as far as theater. Once a month, we did play reading. It was a very nurturing and growing environment.”
Life changes then brought him to a new job outside of theater, so he started freelancing again when the pandemic hit and everything changed.
Clemente says the public needs to know theater hasn’t stopped. It’s paused and finding new ways to express itself. He says people who transformed their costume shops to make and donate masks are being brilliant. Families who are pretending their homes are restaurants with moms and dads being the servers and serving their kids are making theater.
The pandemic brought Clemente to Lydia, and their conversation blossomed.
“I’m really thankful and honored to be working with her,” Clemente says. “It’s just a really nice balance, and that balance happens because we are always talking about something. The communication is always there.”
Following the “Reason to Be” project, they started working on a project called “Voices.” The premise is to get people to tell their stories. They’ll share those stories with playwrights who will create a monologue that a third person will perform. They are hoping the project will be ready in early 2021.
He says they are filled with plans to help the company grow and eventually find its own space. As of early September, they were looking at a space in Scottdale. They created a mission, but now they have to fulfill it.
“A year from now, we want to look back and say we established a YouTube channel that has now grown to productions that we are running in rep with live shows. They are ambitious and lofty goals, but if we obtain half of it, there will be a smile on my face,” Clemente says.
B3 Theater, b3theater.com.