During last month’s Raise the Curtain fundraising event, American Stage Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte made her final formal appearance in that capacity.
She got up in front of the assembled and sneak-previewed the upcoming 2020-21 season, which was released to the public July 8.
Gularte resigned from St. Petersburg’s longest-lived professional theater company in the spring of 2020, after being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. Her intention, she said, was to stay on through the uncertain days of the pandemic and leave once her successor had been chosen and announced.
That announcement is expected by the end of the month.
Putting this new season together, the first to include performances inside the actual American Stage complex since March 2020, necessitated a different process than in previous years.
“I always enjoy having conversations about the season selection process, in any year,” Gularte explains. “And really listening to others – and in the final hours of decision, I have to go into it alone and come out with decisions that I can stand by.
“This year was different in that I really just felt such a sense of responsibility to the staff, and to my successor, to be sure that they all felt really good and comfortable with this season selection, and the direction of programming. So it was even more inclusive, more collaborative.
“And in the final hours, once a new leadership decision had been made, I was able to have a conversation with my successor before making the announcement public.”
Among the upcoming shows is the musical version of Footloose in Demens Landing Park, which Gularte was to direct last spring. That’s another role she felt she had to give up (“that one was a heartbreaker for me”), although choreographer Shane Stroff, who worked side-by-side with Gularte on 2019’s Mamma Mia, was chosen to succeed her as director (“it’ll be in very good hands”).
Once the leadership transition has taken place, Gularte says, she’ll stick around as a consultant for a few months, “very much in the background.” She intends to stay in the St. Pete area, and has begun working with a “great” medical team at North Carolina’s Duke University.
“I’ll be traveling up there regularly for ongoing care,” she says, and looking forward to developments accelerating, as they look to be, in the realm of retinal disease. There’s a lot of positive things right now that I’m focusing on, and I’m doing really well.”
And American Stage will never be far from her thoughts. “There’s been so much that happened over the past year and a half that’s served as a sort of re-centering, for the purpose of the arts, and the purpose of live theater,” she declares. “So I’m really hopeful that this is going to be a season that will find its way to an even bigger audience, in terms of making more people feel that theater is for them.
“And that’s going to happen not just through the stories, but the lens through which they’re going to be told. Hopefully, a lot of people will discover a lot of catharsis through the experiences that’ll be provided in this programming.”