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American Stage goes virtual, reimagining summer programming

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.

On this episode, Stephanie Gularte, CEO and Producing Artistic Director of American Stage joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.

But first, Steinocher takes listeners through the Florida Chamber Scorecard for Pinellas County. While the percent of positive tests continues to decrease, the 14-day average of positive cases is continuing to increase.

American Stage closed its doors March 13, on what would have been an otherwise joyous opening night of its latest production, Natalie Symons’ play The People Downstairs. Its actors and staff have been at home ever since.

Gularte explains how American Stage has handled the Covid-19 pandemic and how it is reimagining summer programming to serve its important role in the St. Pete community while keeping theater goers and staff safe.

The first step in that reimagination, Gularte explains, was a pause to understand the scope of the moment and the runway and investment needed for a new long-term strategy, while being prepared to pivot back to in-person productions without delay.

American Stage began by putting out “PSAs” or short video tutorials to keep the community connected via social media.

Luckily, the Tampa Bay area’s longest-running professional theater company was able to secure a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to keep its staff on board and paid.

The inability to hold live performances caused American Stage to take real stock of its role in the community. “Who are we in the community if we are not bringing people into our space?” Gularte asks. “We’re not film, we’re not television, we’re not live streaming.”

“How do we stay connected to our community and create a sense of connection community-wide?” Gularte says American Stage has always been a place for the community to joint together and connect through experiences of empathy and dialogue. It’s that role that American Stage has had in mind while creating its virtual programming schedule.

Over the next three months, American Stage plans to produce three month-long mini theater series. In June, it will hold Shakespeare Lite, a series of abbreviated productions of different Shakespeare plays, performed by actors via Zoom in their own homes.

In July, American Stage is planning a series of short plays, stories told in just 10 minutes by playwrights across the country.

In August, the acting company will perform Living Room Plays, a series of what Gularte describes as a sampling of the best of American Stage’s 43-year history.

It will also host a virtual academy, with educational outreach program reinvented to deliver educational content for students K-12, as well as families who are spending more time together and look for creative ways to interact. While American Stage normally runs summer camps for students, it plans to run an eight-week virtual camp and will wait and see if health indicators enable it to host an in-person camp.

Finally, Gularte shares her plans for an upcoming series of conversations, hosted Monday nights via Zoom, to talk about the integration of arts and business and how performing arts will fare in recovery.

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    Heidi Sherman

    May 19, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Shakespeare Lite, looking forward to it! Filmed Shakespearean theater for some reason usually works for me👏👏

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