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Theater notes: St. Petersburg Little Theatre's future in doubt

St. Petersburg Little Theatre is in a financial bind. It has lost most of its funding and attendance is off. It needs to raise about $15,000 to stay open until January, when business typically picks up.

Times files (1999)

St. Petersburg Little Theatre is in a financial bind. It has lost most of its funding and attendance is off. It needs to raise about $15,000 to stay open until January, when business typically picks up.

At 85 years old, St. Petersburg Little Theatre bills itself as the oldest continuously operating community theater in Florida, but it may not make it to 86. "The downturn in the economy has been really severe,'' says Deborah Kelley, executive director of the company and its only full-time employee.

Attendance has slipped at SPLT — or "Split'' — for recent mainstage productions like Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, which drew 1,147 for nine performances in September. But the biggest problem has been the loss of support from state and local governments.

"The funding we used to have from the state, county and city has virtually vanished,'' Kelley says. The theater has received grants of only about $11,000 this year from the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, whereas last year the grants totaled more than $50,000. With unpaid actors and a mostly volunteer staff, the theater has a budget of $230,000.

"Without a $10,000 matching grant we received from Raymond James, our doors would not be open,'' says Kelley, who figures the theater needs to raise about $15,000 to stay alive until January, when business traditionally picks up. The schedule includes A Christmas Carol in December and Anything Goes in January.

Supporters of the theater have put up $4,800 for the rights to Anything Goes. They're counting on attendance similar to another Cole Porter musical, Kiss Me, Kate, which drew just over 2,000 to the theater in January.

SPLT is not without assets. It has a 251-seat theater, costume and scenery shops and plenty of parking space, and is a landmark in the Lakewood neighborhood, just off Interstate 275 southeast of downtown. The theater owns the property.

Kelley stresses that the company has an educational mission with a variety of children's programs, such as its Petite Little Theater. It has held the line on ticket prices at $20 and $22.

SPLT will give a fundraising performance, featuring a cast of five in the music of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on This Island, Seussical), on Friday at the theater, 4025 31st St. S, St. Petersburg. There is a reception at 6:30 p.m. and the show is at 8. $25. (727) 515-7418; splt.org.

Simultaneous reading of 'Laramie Project'

American Stage is joining more than 130 theaters in all 50 states and internationally to perform a simultaneous reading Monday of Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project with a new epilogue.

The murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 is the subject of the play, a mosaic of voices from more than 100 interviews conducted in Laramie, Wyo., by Kaufman and members of his New York-based Tectonic Theater Project. Shepard was an openly gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was beaten by a pair of roofers he met in a bar, tied to a fence in a remote field and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie. His death became a milestone in efforts to overcome homophobia.

Ten years after Shepard's murder, members of the project returned to Laramie to conduct followup interviews with residents featured in the play. They also did new interviews with Matthew's mother, Judy Shepard, and his murderer, Aaron McKinney, who is serving two consecutive life sentences. The interviews were turned into a companion piece, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.

Chillingly, Shepard's killer was unrepentant in a prison interview. "As far as Matt is concerned, I don't have any remorse,'' Mc- Kinney says in the script.

Tectonic has created the Laramie Project Online Community (laramieproject.org), where collaborating theaters and universities can blog, upload video and photos and share their stories about the play and experiences in preparing and presenting the epilogue in their communities.

At American Stage, the cast includes Reggie Robinson, T. Scott Wooten, Eric Davis, Brian Shea, Steve Garland, Matt McGee, Chris Swan, Todd Olson, Drew DeCaro, Richard Coppinger, Jen Rae, Magali Naas, Meg Heimstead, Becca McCoy, Roxanne Faye, Bonnie Agan and Hersha Parady. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, the 11th anniversary of Shepard's death, at the theater, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. Pay what you can.

'Wonderland' gears up

Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure begins rehearsals Monday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, which is producing the premiere of the Frank Wildhorn musical. With a cast of 25, directed by Gregory Boyd, the show will have six weeks of rehearsal leading up to the first preview on Nov. 24.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

Theater notes: St. Petersburg Little Theatre's future in doubt 10/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 5:30am]
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