This tumultuous year handed Stephanie Gularte an extra helping of unpleasantness. In March – on the very Friday, in fact, that all live performances were halted because of the rising pandemic – American Stage’s producing artistic director was diagnosed with a degenerative retinal disease. She is staying on with St. Pete’s longest-lived professional theater company until a successor can be found – the search is on – but the long-term certainty, Gularte says, is that she will eventually lose the use of her eyes.
She seems to have made peace with it. “As time passes,” she says, “it’s like ‘Well, gosh, I feel the same.’ Then I’ll get waves of recognizing that there’s stuff coming that I need to prepare myself for. But I’m the same person. So I’m doing … fine. And I’m looking forward to a new chapter in some ways, and in other ways I’m holding on tight to what I have right now.”
The immediate future, of course, is 2021, and Gularte can definitely see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
“I have this word for 2021,” she explains. ‘It’s not a word that’s very often in my vernacular, but it keeps coming up for me. And that word is ‘gleaming.’ Because I just feel that so much is going to start getting uncovered, as things become available to us, in this way that feels like renewal. There’s a gleaming quality to it, like we’re all George Baileys, not realizing what’s been right in front of us. And suddenly, there it is.”
“So much of it is just like it was before, but it’s completely different. It’s gleaming now, because we have so much value for it that we didn’t have.”
The reference to Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life is intentional, as American Stage prepares to premiere a virtual version of the beloved Frank Capra holiday film, as a “live radio play,” this weekend.
“I shouldn’t love it as much as I do, as many times as I’ve produced it, but I still love it,” Gularte says. “Yes, it has these Capra-esque elements, where things kind of all work out, but it’s got some real heavy-duty stuff in there. It’s a man about to take his life. Because he’s lost everything not by his own doing – and right now, that just has a new, in-your-gut resonance.
“I really am genuinely hopeful that out of this darkness will come a lot of light.”
Catalyst: What should we take from the Covid experience?
Gularte: “The preciousness of creativity and artistry, and the relationship between theater artist and audience. One of things we will come out of this realizing is that the experiences that we have together, when we experience art in a shared space, those are not just things that we do for enjoyment – they’re things that we do that feed us in a really essential way.”