I met Jodie Dupuis at the May River Theatre in Bluffton, which she co-founded with her husband Ed in 2001. It was one of those cold days back in February. Despite the blue-register temperature, my impressions of Jodie had to do with heat and crackling intensity: live wire; ball-of-energy; spitfire. Within minutes of talking to her I realized her passion-musical theater- fires her up from the inside out.
Jodie is a delicately small woman with a big story. Her dance career began as a raindrop in her first ballet recital in her hometown of Houston, Texas. As a teenager, Jodie, and her dance partner, had a television program every Wednesday afternoon. Dancing with her hair pulled off her face, she became the trendsetter for the "Jodie ponytail" mimicked by young female fans across Houston. By 19 she had arrived in New York. At her first audition, she was one of four dancers selected out of a pool of 1,000 for the touring company of Can-Can. She later worked with George Abbott, famed American theater director and producer, on Pajama Game. While touring, she met her husband Ed.
Ed was a college student and the night manager at the hotel in Narragansett, Rhode Island, where the touring company was staying. Jodie's friends were a bit rowdy. Ed wanted them to be quiet. He accosted Jodie in the hotel hallway. She managed to slip away into a friend's room and tried to hide from him for the remainder of their stay. Destiny had other plans.
We are sitting alone in the first row of the Ulmer Auditorium. She communicates with her whole body, like a dancer. She laughs and gestures and even sitting still her body hums. The fervor of her enthusiasm fills the empty space and has raised the chilly temperature to warmth. She and Ed married. He became a successful businessman. They raised two sons-David and Doug-and she maintained her interest in the local and regional theaters wherever Ed's job took them.
In the 1970s, while living on Skidaway Island, Jodie had her first involvement with Lowcountry theater as the choreographer for the original Hilton Head Playhouse, later Dunnagan's Alley Theatre. Then, Ed was transferred to Bardstown, KY, and the couple didn't return to the Bluffton area until 2000, when they retired.
In 2001, after being married for nearly a half-century, Jodie and Ed gave birth to a love child-The May River Theatre Company. With Ed's business acumen and Jodie's talents as director and choreographer, they have parented a remarkable community resource for the performing arts that is anything but amateur. Jodie looks around and says, "This really is our baby."
In this financial climate it is remarkable they have managed to keep their not-for-profit theatre not only viable, but vibrant and successful. Jodie gives full credit to Ed. Ulmer Auditorium, formerly a middle school auditorium, has benefitted from an arrangement between the Town of Bluffton and the May River Theatre Company. Ticket sales, member contributions, grants from the town, and the generous resources of the Dupuis' have transformed the original theater-including the 200 new plush green theater seats.
Jodie is busy with the final rehearsals of the upcoming production of I Love You- You're Perfect-Now Change. The open audition call for EVITA-which comes out this spring-has been posted. Her theater life is all consuming. "I just go home to change my clothes, get something to eat, and sleep. We do four productions a year and we're busy all the time. But I love it. I really love it." I ask her whether choreography has changed since she began. She laughs, "Of course and there are some moves I just can't do, but I still incorporate them." She visualizes what she is aiming for in her choreography and then uses pennies on a table to map out the actors' moves in each sequence.
Jodie calls herself a "mother hen" to the actors and performers who are her family here. Ed is the brains of the company and Jodie is the artistic heart and soul. When I ask her about other interests, I am dismissed with a shrug that says, "who has the time?" She has managed to find the vocation and partner that have sustained her for life. Who needs more?
As we leave the empty auditorium-she will return for rehearsals in a few hours-she says, "Life has been fun. This is exactly what it should have been." The lights go down, but Jodie is burning bright.
Another Love: Visual Effects is a performance group for the deaf that Jodie directed in Georgia.
Sons: Doug is a salesman in Wilmington, NC and David is a special effects/makeup artist in Los Angeles.
Celebrity Spotting: Back in the day, Warren Beatty dated Jodie's roommate.
Go See I Love You-You're Perfect-Now Change: Performances are March 2 & 3, Matinee March 4, May River Theatre Box Office at 843-815-5581.