Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gorilla Theatre co-founder Aubrey Hampton dies at 76

Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — Aubrey Hampton, who co-founded the Gorilla Theatre, one of a handful of professional theater companies in the Tampa Bay area, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 76.

Mr. Hampton bankrolled the nonprofit theater, named Gorilla because "living theater, like the gorilla, is an endangered species," with the fortune he made as founder and CEO of Aubrey Organics, which sells natural cosmetics.

Peers consider him a visionary in both fields.

He was committed to producing new plays, especially his own. Though his original work could be called eccentric — for example, he once put on a three-and-a-half-hour comedy about a cowboy ventriloquist — and subject to bad reviews, Mr. Hampton cheerfully rolled with the punches.

In a review for another newspaper, St. Petersburg Times correspondent Marty Clear wrote of one of Mr. Hampton's plays: "I was surprised that this didn't suck."

Mr. Hampton was so pleased, he made T-shirts for the cast emblazoned with the phrase: "Didn't suck."

But no one questions his contributions as a generous benefactor who gave many local artists their start.

"He mostly identified himself as a playwright," said Wendy Leigh, the vice president of education at the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center of the Performing Arts. "And he just happened to be a brilliant scientist (who was) able to create all of this other enterprise, which luckily was able to support his first love, which was theater."

A biochemist, Mr. Hampton struck gold when he created a bath liquid out of ground ginger, peppermint and eucalyptus leaf mixed with coconut oil.

The result: a comfort item to help customers enjoy a soothing bath, and a new company, Aubrey Organics. Under his watch, the company created more than 200 natural-ingredient products that are now being sold in more than 4,500 retail outlets in the world, the company says. The company's items don't contain any products that have been tested on animals.

Mr. Hampton has received industry awards for his work, including a place on PETA's cruelty-free companies list and an activist of the year award by the Culture and Animals Foundation.

"He's one of the founders of the natural products industry," said Aubrey Organics general manager Curt Velva.

Theater friends describe an easygoing man with long silver hair and a full beard, who spoke with a soft Midwestern burr and had a hearty and somewhat raspy laugh.

"He loved the artistic experience of going out after with the actors, to Bella's (restaurant)," said Jessica Alexander, an actor and founding member of the Revolve Theatre Company, who credits Mr. Hampton with helping her career. "He'd just sit there with a glass of wine and that little sparkle in his eyes."

Mr. Hampton launched the Gorilla Theatre in 1990 with his wife, Susan Hussey, a talented playwright who had edited his magazine, Organica: A Magazine of Arts and Activism. Gorilla debuted in The Loft, a Tampa theater, with a production of his wife's play Plutography in the Slave Trade.

The company eventually relocated to Drew Park, where Mr. Hampton produced works by playwrights including George Bernard Shaw, Alan Bennett and Wallace Shawn, often with out-of-town actors in leading roles.

"Some of the finest theater work I've seen in the area was seen at Gorilla," said Times performing arts critic John Fleming.

Mr. Hampton paid everybody, not just stars, said Bridget Bean, Gorilla's managing director. "Actors, backstage people — even our bartenders got paid," she said.

Aubrey Hampton grew up in New Albany, Ind., the son of a union organizer of foundry workers. He earned a doctorate in biochemistry at New York University, the theater said. He also taught himself magic and puppeteering.

Among his proudest accomplishments was the Young Dramatists' Project, started in the late 1990s, in which selected area teens can see their plays professionally produced.

Actor Meg Heimstead, education director at American Stage, said she got her first professional job in the Tampa Bay area nine years ago at Gorilla Theatre. She has since played roles at the Jobsite Theater, American Stage and other theaters.

"He was one of those people you've just never met before," Heimstead said of Mr. Hampton. "He was an experience walking into the room — a great, wonderful experience."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Aubrey W. Hampton

Born: Oct. 23, 1934

Died: May 9, 2011

Survivors: sons Mitchell and Trevor; sister Millie.

Service: To be arranged.

Gorilla Theatre co-founder Aubrey Hampton dies at 76 05/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 7:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Why Noah Spence could be the Bucs' X-factor

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE — Noah Spence crouched in a four-point stance, bending low like a sprinter in starting blocks. At the snap, he took one step to his right, startling Jaguars left tackle Josh Wells with his explosiveness. Wells went for the move and Spence countered with an inside swim move, flying past Wells' right …

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence (57) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  2. After Charlottesville, Charlie Crist sees turning point with GOP and Trump

    Blogs

    Congressman Charlie Crist was at his St. Petersburg condo building today when a painter suddenly said, "Can you believe what he said yesterday?"

    John McCain and Charlie Crist
  3. Lefty quarterback's task? Make sure nothing's lost in translation

    College

    GAINESVILLE — When Florida receiver Brandon Powell first met new quarterback Malik Zaire this summer, he was struck by the Notre Dame grad transfer's enthusiasm and outgoing personality.

    Florida quarterback Malik Zaire talks with the press during the NCAA college football team's media day in Gainesville. Zaire is a lefty quarterback, just like Tim Tebow. (Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via AP, File)
  4. The Lincoln Memorial is seen in the early morning light on the National Mall on June 30, 2017. The National Park Service says someone defaced the memorial with an anti-law message early in the morning on Aug. 15, 2017. [Associated Press]
  5. Bail hearing underway for woman accused in Selmon crash that killed three

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Amber Nicole Perera sobbed and hung her head at the defendant's table Wednesday as prosecutors displayed photos of the charred remains of a Tampa family who died in a flaming crash that Perera is accused of causing Thursday on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

    Angela Perera, charged with DUI manslaughter in a crash that killed three on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway on Aug. 10, 2017, bows her head as she appears in court on Aug. 16, 2017. Circuit Judge Margaret Taylor tells Perera to compose herself or she'll be removed from courtroom. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]