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‘Catalyst Sessions’ recap: Emilia Sargent of Tampa Repertory Theatre

Bill DeYoung

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This past January Emilia Sargent, one of the founders of the nonprofit Tampa Repertory Theatre, was named Co-Artistic Director. It’s a small company, and it wasn’t so much of a promotion as an official acknowledgement that Sargent was already instrumental in the planning and execution of Tampa Rep productions, and its backstage administration.

On March 5, Artistic Director C. David Frankel died. And within a week, while Sargent and the rest of the staff were still consumed by grief, the COVID-19 curtain fell and took the stage away for everybody.

And so Tampa’s Rep’s newly-minted Artistic Director – there was never any doubt who would succeed Frankel – found herself in charge of a broken theater company – with no theater.

“We’re in the same boat as other live theaters, in a lot of ways, but we’re also still reeling from the loss of David. We haven’t had a memorial yet – and we will, when we can gather again safely.”

The 10th anniversary season, Sargent said on Wednesday’s edition of The Catalyst Sessions, has already been laid out and announced. It is scheduled to begin Sept. 24 with The Elephant Man, at the Hillsborough Community College Studio Theatre with which Tampa Rep has a working arrangement.

As for that start date, cross your fingers.

The discussion covered a lot of ground – from Sargent’s early career as an electrical engineer (and a contestant in the Miss Alabama pageant!) to Tampa Rep’s grapples with the usual theater-company gremlins – staying afloat via sponsors, donations, ticket sales and partnerships.

There’s a lot of talk about the future, uncertain or otherwise. And always, there’s the memory of C. David Frankel.

“David,” Sargent said, “was probably one of my best friends. A brother. I was very close with him; we worked very well together. And from the beginning, we’ve always collaborated. It’s very much still a founder-driven company.

“David was just a good person. There’s no other way to say it. Well, there are lots of other ways, but that’s the root of it. He approached everyone and everything with integrity and he had a true vision for what he wanted to bring: Classics old and new.

“He was battling illness, but he was on the mend. His passing was sudden. So the succession wasn’t quite in place for the things that he was doing day to day. So it’s been an adventure – everything from finding passwords to just figuring out what his day-to-day was.”

Today on The Catalyst Sessions: Actress/singer Alison Burns.

Streaming weekdays at 7 p.m. on the Catalyst Facebook page. Videos are archived on the Catalyst YouTube page.

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