As a child, he performed in the grand opening celebration for the Largo Cultural Center. It was 1996, and Eight O'Clock Theatre presented the musical Camelot. Domenic Bisesti played an 11-year-old page named Tom of Warwick.
Fast-forward to 2011. Bisesti is revisiting King Arthur's Court, with its unfaithful queen, a knight named Lancelot and their legendary love triangle.
This time Bisesti, 26, is the show's choreographer. To mark the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Largo Cultural Center, Eight O'Clock Theatre has decided to open its season with a revival of Camelot. It runs from tonight through Sept. 18.
Bisesti, a 2004 Largo High graduate, easily recalls his first Camelot experience. "It was the coolest thing. The actors got a tour of the building and theater a couple weeks before it opened,'' he said. "There was still plastic on the seats, and I was so impressed with the stage and the full fly rail and thought I was part of history.''
The fly rail is a counterweight system used to maneuver the lighting and the backdrops on the stage. A $20,000 light board was added in 2008 to control the lighting system. And the same chairs are still in place, although they're a bit worn.
In 15 years, the Cultural Center, with Eight O'Clock Theatre as its resident community theater group, has become well-known among both actors and theatergoers throughout Tampa Bay, said Linda Weir, the director of this year's Camelot.
Comparing the center's beginning years with current times, "it is night and day,'' said Weir, whose recent directing credits at the Largo Cultural Center include Big River and Death Trap, both 2010 productions, and Steel Magnolias, a 2009 show.
"We've grown into a theater where actors — really good, incredible actors — seek us out,'' she said.
Case in point is the current production, which includes Rand Smith as King Arthur, Ashlie Mohney as Guenevere and John Timberlake as Lancelot.
"Once we started production, I was immediately swept away because of them,'' Weir said. "First, I was thrilled when Rand came out to audition for the role of King Arthur. There's not a better actor for that part in the area. And the chemistry between Rand, Ashlie and John is incredible.''
The original musical, written by Alan Jay Lerner with music by Frederick Loewe, opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre in 1960. The story line follows King Arthur as he aims to uphold his Utopian kingdom. He has met and wed Guenevere. However, when a French knight named Lancelot du Lac arrives at the castle, their marriage and the king's utopia is put to task.
As a child doing Camelot, Bisesti remembers enjoying the idea of knights and swords, castles and kings.
"And doing it again now has gotten to be a lot of fun. It has an emotional tie to me because it was one of my first roles in my hometown,'' said Bisesti, who has gained on-the-job experience as a choreographer for Jean Ann Ryan Productions in Los Angeles, as well as an instructor for Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a California charter school program.
Bisesti says his favorite Camelot scene to choreograph was the enchanted forest scene. In it, as the sorceress Morgan Le Fey, played by Danea Barrett, works her magic against the king, fairies swirl and sway through the trees.
"It was an opportunity for me to go wild and have fun,'' he said. "My aim was to create these mystical forest creatures that moved like they were human, fairy and animal. I also tried to make the scene full of excitement and help pop out the whole show.''
After the two-week run of the Eight O'Clock Theatre production, Camelot, and Bisesti, will also play a major part in the annual fundraising gala presented by the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation. SPAF, formerly Partners N Progress for the Arts, was set up in 1998 and helps provide financial support to the center. It also awards youth scholarships for its summer camp program.
Through his company Bisesti Productions, Bisesti is in charge of entertainment for the event. He'll bring in about 15 performers to sing and dance.
"We're calling it SPAF-a-Lot, and we'll have fun with the historical basis of the show,'' he said. "We're pulling not only from Camelot but we're going to pull from Spam-A-Lot, the Monty Python musical, too.''
Bisesti admits that his work these days is making him sentimental.
"I came back to Largo to go to college, to get a degree to teach,'' he said. "But I got my start here. I think the people involved at the Cultural Center know in their heart they can do what they love here."
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected]