St. Petersburg’s theater community will be well represented at the 13th annual United Solo Festival in New York City. Taking place Oct. 3 through Nov. 20, it is the largest theater festival in the world devoted to solo (one-person) performance.
Onstage Oct. 26 at Theatre Row, a 50-seat house on 42nd Street, will be The Azure Sky in Oz, a two-act drama by local playwright Bill Leavengood. The show, with actress Amanda Ladd (a graduate of Northside Christian School, Class of ’98), had its world premiere last December at Studio Grand Central in St. Pete.
Getting accepted into the tony solo fest, according to Ladd, is something major. “They give you one performance, and if you sell that out, they give you an additional performance,” she says. “And that goes on and on for up to eight performances.”
She’s been a resident of New York City for several years. “I’m stoked about it,” she says. “It feels like such a righteous homecoming.”
Even more righteous after her recent success in Scotland, where she performed The Azure Sky in Oz as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – also a prestigious theatrical event.
Ladd’s shows – she did it 28 times, in two venues, during August – were under the auspices of the PBH Free Fringe, one of several producing organizations within the main Fringe Festival.
“There’s a level of professionalism to Ladd’s performance here that’s rare on the Free Fringe,” crowed The Scotsman. “Her voice has the clarity of a bell and her folksy mannerisms and expressions feel authentic.”
Divided into two halves, “Blue” and “Yellow,” Leavengood’s play has Ladd portraying two distinct characters – artist Michelle Feulner-Castro in the first act, and special education teacher Mary Tilford in the second.
Both are dealing, in different ways, with autistic children.
Act I, Ladd says, “just rips your heart out. A lot of people are weeping by the end of it. But with Act II, Mary is lighter and brighter, and she offers hope. And it makes you go ‘Oh my God, if I had a kid who’s got special needs, I pray that I have a teacher like Mary. That gives me hope in the world.’ It’s pretty balanced in that way.”
Because PBH Free Fringe performances are limited to 60 minutes, she alternated “Blue” with Yellow” over different days, at the two venues. They were several blocks apart, and at different times of day (11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.), which required a lot of schlepping on the actress’ part. “I took it because I felt like ‘I have the opportunity to have another whole set of audiences.’”
And she became a one-woman publicity machine. “I made a lot of awesome connections with people,” Ladd says. “So much of the Fringe is really just trying to be authentic, and really appeal to people. There’s so much competition.
“For a show like The Azure Sky in Oz, you can’t be like ‘Come see skin and rock ‘n’ roll!’ My show’s about moms and teachers and those who are autistic. So I had to talk about it very differently.
“There’s a lot of comedy, but it’s a drama. These are real people, and their struggles are pretty heavy.”
She didn’t exactly get rich from the arrangement. “The ethos of Free Fringe is that we don’t charge admission, so everything is by donation. The audiences were so generous, and they paid more money to see my show, through donations, than they would have if they’d bought tickets.”
Leavengood and Ladd first workshopped Azure Sky in New York, as members of the New Circle Theatre Company. The playwright/director will be in attendance as their show goes before United Solo audiences. “Amanda,” Leavengood says, “is an extraordinary performer, my go to first choice for most any show I am doing. The Azure Sky in Oz has always had an incredible impact on audiences, and I hope it will finally reach the wider world.”
In the meantime, Amanda Ladd is still in a Scotland state of mind.
“The one thing I did run into is that Edinburgh is the drunkest city I’ve ever been to,” she laughs. “And I’ve spent time in Dublin!
“In Edenborough, theater is everywhere you go. It’s become such a part of the landscape. I can’t wait to do it again. It is a wild, wild experience, and very cool.”
Tickets for The Azure Sky in Oz at New York’s United Solo Festival are here.