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Streaming the dream: How Tampa Bay theaters are staying alive and relevant

Bill DeYoung



The Stageworks Theatre audience area, pre-pandemic. "The Lifespan of a Fact" is playing at Stageworks through Feb. 28. Photo provided

American Stage’s production of Satchmo at the Waldorf began streaming Friday, the latest volley in the war against ennui and coronavirus complacency while Tampa Bay drama houses are more or less shut down.

Each of our professional theaters is taking a different approach to spacing-and-masking. In Tampa, Jobsite Theater returned to live production with several one-person shows late in 2020; the January run of Doubt: A Parable was the first full-scale production, with a cast. They all took place in the roomy Jaeb Theatre in the David A. Straz Center complex.

Seating was extremely limited, and patrons were seated at floor tables (and mezzanine chairs) spaced far apart. The general reaction to having live theater after nearly a year of nada was joy – from patrons and from cast and crew, who were emotional about doing what they believe they were put on this earth to do.

The subsequent stream of a video recording of Doubt was similarly well-received; even the Wall Street Journal wrote a rapturous review (the critic, Terry Teachout, happens to be the author of Satchmo at the Waldorf).

Jobsite is again up at bat with the dark puppet comedy Hand to God, premiering Feb. 24 in the Jaeb.

Coming March 3-9 is a purchasable stream of Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, the one-woman show done in the Jaeb in November with Doubt star Andresia Mosely.

Jobsite has also launched a package of digital shorts, written and performed by many of the theater’s artistic associates.

Elsewhere in Hillsborough, both Stageworks and Lab Theatre Project have brought live shows back, with serious restrictions on room capacity; Tampa Repertory Theatre produced a virtual version of Lauren Gunderson’s I and You in November, with no announcements thus far about returning real butts to real seats.

Similarly, American Stage has yet to return to the in-person concept. Satchmo at the Waldorf is the latest in an ongoing series of shows produced and performed specifically for the video camera. As with previous entries such as Kate and Nosotros La Gente, Satchmo features set design – on a smaller-than-usual scale – by American Stage’s prodigiously talented Jerid Fox.

And freeFall, St. Petersburg’s other professional venue, started experimenting with a “drive-in” concept as a way of safely putting its theatrical toe in the water. Scott and Patti: Get a Real Job!, freeFall’s third such production, ends a successful run with Sunday evening’s performance.

Of course, doing things virtually or in a limited live capacity only provides a drop in the bucket – a coin in the coffer – for these local businesses. The fact of the matter, however, is that going virtual or keeping live events extremely limited ensures that the creatives can continue creating. It also ensures that the audience understands the theater companies have not gone away.

“One of things we will come out of this realizing,” American Stage CEO and producing artistic director Stephanie Gularte told the Catalyst in December, “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.”






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