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American Stage launches After Hour Series

Theatergoers will need to start checking their tickets from American Stage to make sure they're going to the right show. This week, the St. Petersburg theater launches its After Hours Series with the opening of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which will be performed on the set of By the Waters of Babylon, the play by Robert Schenkkan that opened the mainstage series on Friday.

"Right after one performance ends, we'll have a whole new audience for the next one,'' producing artistic director Todd Olson says. "Obviously, whatever we're doing has to either really fit well or be relatively simple technically. Since Vagina Monologues is essentially spoken word, it's perfect.''

To some extent, difficult theater economics inspired the series. American Stage has suffered substantial cuts in public funding, including more than $40,000 in lost arts grants from the state and city over the past two years.

"We need another revenue stream,'' Olson says. "Our strongest asset here is our stage, and if we can find a way to employ it more, we should do that.''

The series also allows the theater to do some plays that might be too edgy for its mainstage series, which has a goal of 3,000 subscribers this season. Olson mentions as possibilities a theater version of Reefer Madness; Confessions of a Mormon Boy, an autobiographical solo show by Steven Fales; and Theresa Rebecks' monologue by a single mom, Bad Dates.

There may also be a return engagement of the satirical revue An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. Late-night performances of it by a company of actors drew good crowds at the 142-seat theater in July and got American Stage thinking about doing a series of similar productions.

"Our idea is to get new people in the door,'' Olson says. "Maybe a younger audience. We'll do offbeat stuff that we hope people will talk about the day after.''

The Vagina Monologues, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is on one level a play about language, gleefully mocking every polite, vulgar and knuckleheaded euphemism ever used for that part of the female anatomy known as "down there.'' It's also a powerful piece of feminist theater and rollicking consciousness-raising session.

The monologues will be performed by a cast of four actors: Bonnie Agan, Brandii Edwards, Magali Naas and Jessica Alexander. They'll be joined for each performance by guest readers that include talk radio's "The Sports Chicks'' (Lynne Austin and Leslee Lacey), Michelle Dowdy from Broadway's Hairspray, BayNews 9 newscaster Jen Holloway, Globe coffeehouse proprietor JoEllen Shilke, Tampa Bay Magazine publisher/editor Margaret Word Burnside, several St. Petersburg Times writers and editors, and other community notables.

Director Meg Heimstead has some advice for guest readers in the late-night shows. "Be awake and be funny,'' she says. "Yes, there are some touching moments in it, but I really want to highlight the humor of it. Especially since 'vagina' is not really a word most of us are comfortable saying.''

The Vagina Monologues opens Tuesday and runs through Oct. 12 at American Stage, 211 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. 10:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday. Pay what you can. (727) 823-7529; americanstage.org.

More American Stage: Olson says the company plans to move its administrative offices into its new space, which is under construction in the downtown center of St. Petersburg College, in December, while continuing to perform in the old theater for several more months. He expects the first production in the new space to be Tuesdays with Morrie in June.

Playwright prize: Once More by Brian Wiggins won the award for best play in the first Florida Playwrights Festival, which presented productions of the two finalists at a pair of Pinellas County community theaters in August. Wiggins' play, performed at the Back Door Theater of the Gulfport Community Players, is a comedy-drama about a theater company struggling to stay alive. Frank Hale's staging took a clever deconstructionist approach to the play, and Gianna Esposito brought flair to the leading character, a sardonic young theater manager.

Wiggins, 26, a graduate of Seminole High School and Florida State University, recently moved to New York to pursue a theater career. He works as an office production assistant on the TV show Lipstick Jungle. For information on the festival, see floridaplaywrightsfestival.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

American Stage launches After Hour Series 09/20/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 20, 2008 4:30am]

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