ST. PETERSBURG — An old man and a young man will take the stage tonight. They'll trade dialogue about endings and beginnings.
The play is Tuesdays With Morrie, and it marks a new life for American Stage.
The St. Petersburg professional theater officially moves into its new facility today, the Raymond James Theatre in the St. Petersburg College downtown center at 163 Third St. N.
So far, pulses are calm. The cast performed previews of the play based on Mitch Albom's book Wednesday and Thursday.
"We have been planning for the better part of two years," American Stage's producing artistic director, Todd Olson, said of the move. "The execution has been pretty smooth."
American Stage's history in St. Petersburg goes back 30 years. In 2007, it formed a partnership with St. Petersburg College and announced plans to move out of its old building at 211 Third St. S., across from the Publix plaza, and into a $17.8 million addition to the college.
Raymond James Financial stepped in with a $500,000 donation. The formal name is now American Stage Theatre Company at the Raymond James Theatre.
Architect Leo Arroyo designed the state-of-the-art building with 182 seats, 40 more than the old theater. There are 300 lighting fixtures on the ceiling, striking glass windows and modern new design elements.
But the theater's mission remains the same: good performance.
American Stage has had successful runs of productions including Anna in the Tropics, Dial M for Murder and The Big Bang! Since 1986, it has offered free outdoor shows.
This year, American Stage secured more than 3,000 ticket subscribers, the first time in its history.
"They have had a consistent vision of high-quality innovation, sensitivity to the community that they're working in, and a real commitment to never giving up," said Judith Powers, director of Pinellas County Cultural Affairs. "This is an incredible achievement. So well deserved."
It's a boon for an arts world enduring harsh economic times. On Broadway, critically acclaimed shows are closing early. This spring, Disney musical tickets came in deal packages aimed at getting people through the doors.
Government budget cuts and the recession have drastically impacted local arts, too. Theaters slashed ticket prices and cut production corners. In May, the Florida Orchestra laid off three staff members and enacted pay cuts.
"Somehow, amidst the worst economic climate in generations, amidst devastating state and city budget cuts, when people have separated the essential things in their lives from the nonessential things, American Stage has remained essential," Olson said.
"This new theater is proof."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.