Jasmin and Todd Hunter are a Portsmouth power couple. Their power doesn’t come from money, brawn, or social status, but creativity. She’s a passionate photographer and actor and he’s an award-winning playwright, actor, and director. But this isn’t Todd Hunter’s story.
Though it almost was.
Jasmin Hunter had been looking through scripts for plays she would like to act in. “Rush,” which will premiere on Jan. 2 at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, caught her eye.
“Originally, I used to try to force Todd to direct shows I was interested in, which maybe he wasn’t that sold on,” she said. Hunter had met playwright Callie Kimball, who wrote “Rush,” through a friend and “started stalking her website.” The play’s tagline hooked her: “‘Deadwood’ meets ‘Memento’ with women.”
She read the script, “and I said, ‘Todd, you have to direct this. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s great!’” And he said, “Why don’t you direct? Stop trying to make me direct shows.”
“I want to promote the use of female protagonists to tell stories. Let them grow, let them be human, let them tell their unique story.”
And that’s how she launched Soul in the Sea Productions, a new company whose mission is “to produce, promote, and foster writers, directors, and actors in productions that tell a story from a female perspective.” Hunter said, “I want to promote the use of female protagonists to tell stories. Let them grow, let them be human, let them tell their unique story.” A Long Island native, she named Soul in the Sea for the source of her inspiration — the ocean.
“Rush” is the story of Belinda and her brother Frank. It’s 1899 and they stand at the threshold of a new life in the Yukon Gold Rush. Their past, and the law, haunts them. And They may not even be brother and sister.
“Callie came up with the story because her friend had gone to Dawson City (Yukon, Canada), where the end of the play takes place, and found something unique.” Women in that time period didn’t have careers — they were homemakers. Except, Hunter said, in Dawson city. The men who were prospecting didn’t know how to sew, cook or do laundry. “Women would go there and start businesses doing those things. It puts a new light on the role of women at that time. If you were in Dawson City, you could have a career, and, in many cases, the women were more successful than the men.”
It’s often a challenge for actors to make the leap to directing, but for Hunter, it wasn’t difficult. “I have to direct people in photos all the time,” she said. And she also directs staff at photo assignments — second shooters and lighting assistants. She has also served as stage manager for four shows. “It wasn’t my cup of tea,” she said. But neither role is a total match.
“The directing style is different. When I’m doing photography, I try to make them laugh, whereas now I’m watching their performance and saying, ‘I need a little more of this emotion from you. And it’s not necessarily smiling or laughing … ‘This is what your character should be feeling.’”
And, at times, there is an audience watching her direct: in the case of “Rush,” Kimball, who has come from her home in nearby Maine to attend two rehearsals. “We have the same philosophy as to how the process goes. The director will change how it’s delivered and maybe some of the words will change. It’s a layered practice. The actor has their interpretation. The director has their interpretation, and it just kind of builds until you get a finished product. Callie has the same philosophy, so we work really well,” Hunter said.
Hunter won’t reveal too much about the protagonist’s trauma, but she does expand upon the fractured way in which Kimball tells the story. It’s similar to “Memento,” the 2000 thriller starring Guy Pearce as a man with short-term memory loss who creates a strange system to help him remember things to track his wife’s murderer.
“You have two timelines,” said Hunter. “One is what’s currently happening to the characters and one is kind of a review … little bits and pieces … Belinda is trying to process what’s happening to her.”
“Rush” is not all doom and gloom, Hunter said. There is some comedy to balance the drama, light moments that alleviate the darkness, much like any woman’s, or any person’s, life. “It’s watching one woman’s journey and (seeing) the people that help her on that journey,” Hunter said.
It’s territory Hunter will continue to explore with Soul in the Sea. After “Rush” wraps, she and Michelle Blouin Wright will be pitching a series of monologues about women’s struggles.
Hunter feels she’s really found her niche as a director. “I based my play choice on what drew me to finally direct a show — a strong female lead,” she said.
And she’s going strong. “It’s been most fascinating watching the story come to life. Watching the characters, watching their faces, working with this great group of people,” Hunter said. “I work all day and then I go to rehearsal, and you think I’d be exhausted after sitting there for three hours — but I’m energized. I didn’t expect this to be energizing. I expected it to be draining. But now I leave rehearsal excited.”
“Rush,” by Callie Kimball and produced by Soul in the Sea Productions, will be on stage at The Players’ Ring, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, Jan. 2-18, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. (Jan. 4 and Jan. 11) and 3 p.m. (Jan. 18). Tickets are $15 and are available by calling 603-436-8123, online at playersring.org, or at the box office.