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Stageworks Theatre finds a home in Tampa's Channel District

Stageworks board president Andrea Graham, left, and producing artistic director Anna Brennen sit on the company’s new stage.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Stageworks board president Andrea Graham, left, and producing artistic director Anna Brennen sit on the company’s new stage.

TAMPA

A song by David Friedman says it best:

Here we are you and I at last

In the right place at the right time

These lyrics are from Listen To My Heart, which is also the title of a revue of Friedman's songs that opens the new Stageworks Theatre this weekend in Grand Central at Kennedy. It's located in a complex in the Channel District, just down the street from the Tampa Port Authority.

It has been a long time coming. For almost 30 years, Stageworks was a theatrical vagabond, performing in a variety of rented spaces, from a storefront in Ybor City to the University of Tampa's Falk Theatre to the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

"It's like every day I wake up and pinch myself," says Anna Brennen, founder and producing artistic director of the company. "It doesn't feel real to finally have a home of our own."

A week ago, workers were rushing to complete construction on the new Stageworks, which is on the ground floor of one of the two buildings in the complex, which features a pleasant courtyard. It's basically a black-box theater, with 99 purple seats facing the high-ceilinged playing area and excellent backstage facilities. There's a spacious lobby and rehearsal hall in the two-story, 8,000-square-foot space.

"The most important thing was getting a stage that was sophisticated but affordable, flexible and exciting," says Andrea Graham, the Stageworks board president who has worked on the project for at least five years. "We are hoping this will become a haven for creativity in the community."

The theater cost $1.2 million to build out in space given by developer Ken Stoltenberg. About $300,000 was donated in-kind, such as the air-conditioning system. Because of the recession, Graham says, Stageworks took longer than planned to finish its new space. With a $500,000 loan to pay off, the theater still has money to raise, but she expects fundraising to pick up now that it is finally open.

The new space will be a work in progress for a while. Graham expects that getting the audience acquainted with the location and parking will "take some training."

The company's first season in its home also includes Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph (Oct. 14-30), The Blue Room by David Hare (Dec. 2-18), 'night, Mother by Marsha Norman (Jan. 20-Feb. 5), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (March 9-25), Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon (May 4-20) and When Pigs Fly by Howard Crabtree (July).

Listen To My Heart, with a cast of five singers and Friedman at the piano, is directed by Karla Hartley. Friedman is renowned for his cabaret songs, many written for the late, revered Nancy LaMott, but he also has his share of pop hits, such as Open Your Eyes to Love, included on the soundtrack of The Lizzie McGuire Movie. In recent years, he has done a lot of work with Kathie Lee Gifford, and a song they co­-wrote, Only My Pillow Knows, is in the show.

Though Brennen's forte is drama, Stageworks has quite a few musical revues in its history, including Ain't Misbehavin' and Lies and Legends (songs by Harry Chapin). She thinks the Friedman show is an ideal opener for her theater.

"He's a wise man with a lovely grasp of what a life's journey means," Brennen says. "The progression of the songs is about the lessons we all have to learn. We learn them at different times, or we never learn them, but the lessons are always there. I think it's a swell show because he communicates this in such an accessible way."

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

If you go

Ribbon cutting

The public is invited to attend a small dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. today at the theater, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Parking in the Grand Central garage is free for the first two hours for the occasion.

'Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman'

The revue opens Friday and runs through Aug. 28. This weekend's performances are sold out. $24.50. (813) 251-8984; for parking information and directions to the new theater, visit stageworkstheatre.org.

Stageworks Theatre finds a home in Tampa's Channel District 08/10/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 1:13pm]
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