In June, Tweed celebrated his 40th anniversary working with Jewel Box Theatre, 3700 N. Walker, where he started as a part-time volunteer and actor. Now, as the community outlet’s most decorated production director for 35 years, he said he has no plans of retirement.
“It’s in my contract that when I drop dead, they have to put my ashes onstage somewhere for every production,” he said, joking.
Tweed was a 28-year-old high school drama teacher when he began his community theater service.
“I went to work every day and got to play, and [now] I come here and get to play every day, so who could ask for anything more?” Tweed said.
By his third year with the theater, the number of season ticket holders jumped from 277 to 980, while productions extended from seven to 16 performances. Tweed eventually had to dedicate himself full time to what he affectionately calls the “J.B.”
Today the theater boasts 2,300 season ticket holders. Tweed has implemented yearly changes throughout the past four decades to welcome new audience members and authors, including the founding of an original playwriting competition.
The Jewel Box Theatre itself started in the 1940s as the Jewel Box Players at N.W. 10th and Robinson Avenue. Now, the theater neighbors First Christian Church, its only sponsor.
Jewel Box receives most of its funding from season ticket holders and donations from individual patrons, referred to as “gems,” Tweed said.
“What we do,” he said, “we do all on our own.”
The current off-season allows him to organize longtime and incoming season ticket holders and send out audition notices, which begin July 6 for the August’s production of The Philadelphia Story.
“It’s a lovely little time off,” he said.
“Once shows open, we’re here six days a week, which is why I look so old.”
Tweed said the daily floods of mail, ringing phones and preparations for “in the round” rehearsals and performances will remain his new normal until productions with a two-week turnaround begin in August.
He and fellow board members allowed season ticket holders to vote for the six shows that comprise the upcoming 56th season. The new season brings another unprecedented change: no tickets. Season ticket holders simply will check in by name at each show.
“The enrichment, the love, the joy that the audience gets from learning about life and all types of things is one of the best things for me,” he said. “There’s nothing like live theater. Nothing.”