TAMPA — Tricia Rose Burt thought the career counselor she spoke to was out of her mind.
Burt, successful but unsatisfied in her public relations career, had sought advice and taken some tests to see what other fields she might pursue.
"She told me I should be an artist," Burt said. "I thought that was ridiculous. I had never held a stick of charcoal in my hand before."
She ignored the advice and went back to her PR career. Then she took an art class at a nearby university and realized that she was, indeed, a born artist.
She began to work as a visual artist and, in 2008, premiered her first work as a performing artist in a funny and moving one-woman show about her life's journey, titled I Will Be Good.
Burt, 49, has performed the work all over the country to enthusiastic audiences. She's now preparing to bring the show to Tampa next week for the first time, at Jaeb Theater in the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
A lot of the 80-minute piece has to do with her growing up in South Tampa, where she graduated from Plant High School in 1978. She even incorporates a bit of a dance routine she performed with Plant's well-known Danceros team.
Performing in front of a hometown crowd makes the experience unusual, Burt said. Many of the characters in her piece are old friends who still live here and will no doubt be in the audience. But no one will be caught off-guard.
"I had to get clearance from everyone I talk about," Burt said. "So if you haven't heard from me, you're safe."
Burt, who now lives in New Hampshire, said she created the piece as a personal extension of her visual art.
"I had been telling my story in two dimensions,'' she said. "It was time to start telling it in three dimensions."
At first, she said, she wasn't sure if audiences in New England or Manhattan or Chicago would relate to her story about growing up in the South. But people connected to the material in ways she never expected.
"It's ostensibly about my being raised as a proper Southern woman and being expected to go to school, go into business and then get married," she said. "But it's really about the choices we make in life and about grabbing opportunities when you can."
Burt's writing and performance have garnered superlative reviews. "Hilarious" and ''poignant" are among the two oft-applied adjectives.
''I Will Be Good reveals how life's rare epiphanies can both elude and transform us, and Burt tells it with humor and power," Jamie Trowbridge wrote in Yankee Magazine.
Despite the personal details, the show has resonated with people from all age groups and backgrounds.
One older man approached her after a show and said, "I know you think this show is about you, but it's really about me."
Among the people who instantly became fans were Peg Golden, who won a Tony for producing Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Erik Orton, a New York director. Golden saw the show, decided to produce it and sent a script to Orton. He immediately knew he wanted to direct it.
"I don't have much in common with her at all, but I was immediately drawn to it," Orton said. "I laughed, I cried, I reassessed my life."
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.