Just about everything on the makeshift stage was new, including the cushioned footstools with sale tags still dangling and the backdrop mural freshly painted in bright yellow, turquoise, brown and purple.
Nearly 20 years' worth of props, along with vehicles and other equipment, were destroyed during a February fire caused by an electrical short at a city parks and recreation facility near Lowry Park Zoo.
David Jankiewicz, director of the city's Dreamers Against Drugs summer program, had to start over.
But the show, as they say, must go on. So he held auditions at community centers throughout the city, then chose about 10 teens to star in this year's production of a play intended to discourage their peers from the wiles of the streets.
The plays are typically written fresh by the casts, but with all the reinventing he had to do, Jankiewicz used a script written a few years back to simplify things.
Still, this year's teens, called "dreamers," made some important changes.
Charity Marshall, a petite 14-year-old from Tampa Heights who plays a tough gang leader, was there to help. The old script included words like "cool" and "hip," which have gone the way of MC Hammer and stonewashed jeans. The cast inserted "that's straight" or "that's down," Charity said. It has to be "something now," she said.
In the play, Demario Knight is being inducted into Charity's gang. The 17-year-old Middleton High student was also a dreamer last year.
"I like to entertain people, to entertain kids," Demario said.
He's familiar with the life situations acted out in the play. Peers have asked if he wanted to do drugs, although he hasn't felt particularly pressured — he easily blows them off.
"I just say, 'No, I'm good,' " Demario said. "I don't drink. I don't smoke."
Charity has also seen the evils of the streets, but she said her mother works for the women's prison system so she has been taught right from wrong.
The diverse group of teens sat inside the community center on E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard this week.
Some, including Lynn Kathryn Grissom and Danette Trimboli, had come from as far away as Temple Terrace and New Tampa.
Several had experience acting. Zoe Kaye, 16, of South Tampa, learned about the play from her drama teacher at Plant High School. And 13-year-old Savanna Morrow said she has performed in community theater productions.
But the 30-minute musical with strangers who became friends was a bit different. "It's a new experience," Savanna said.
Jankiewicz started the program in 1989 to get kids to discourage other kids from getting involved with drugs. The program became an annual line item, including pay for the actors. This year they'll get about $350 to $400 each, Jankiewicz said.
Practices began June 10. Things have been hectic with having to coordinate things, buy new props and equipment, and, of course, work with the kids. The cast was expected to have the final dress rehearsal today..
Earlier this week, Jankiewicz walked briskly back and forth in the practice room, scrutinizing the kids' moves and making changes.
The actors rehearsed "singing out," finding the appropriate key and remembering lyrics:
Can't stop the hurt, can't stop the pain that continues all through your life. Falling like rain, out of the sky, for the price of a high …
Later, Jankiewicz had the kids push the footstools offstage to prepare for the introductory scene.
An assistant pushed "play" on the tape recorder and a Shaft-sounding tune set the tone. Zoe and Demario emerged in character, greeting each other with a cool — excuse me, down — handshake routine. Other players appeared, along with Charity.
With her most serious expression, she turns to a fellow "gangster" and gets to the point of the drama and of Jankiewicz's efforts to teach kids a better way:
"You got the drugs?" she asks.