TAMPA — Queen Cleopatra, a pair of ancient Mayan twins, Ptolemy and a fourth-grader from the year 2061 time-traveled on the TECO Theater stage.
They sang about stars, books and science. Cleopatra shared her astronomical theory that monkeys make the stars and planets revolve. The Mayan twins shared their thought that jaguars held up the sky. Ptolemy asserted his theory that everything revolved around the emperor.
And Eve, the fourth-grader from the future, had no theory, because she figured that everything had already been discovered.
"I like this play because it teaches the audience that people learn from their mistakes. It's a beautiful message for the kids, to keep asking questions and learning from those answers," said the director, Jack Holloway, 33.
And it's a message from the kids, since the play, Quest for the Stars, was written by the Theater for Young Audiences, with assistance from playwright Doug Cooney. The play stars professional actors, who bring humor to the story.
Futuristic glasses, gadgets, shooting comets and Holloway's own space sound effects, on top of the comedic screenplay, make the show appealing to children and adults. Holloway has worked with the Theater For Young Audiences for seven years and enjoys being a part of the Patel Conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. "It's like a big, friendly family."
Holloway began on a path to acting at the University of South Florida. But after taking one director's class, he changed careers. "I had the chance to be around awesome directors, learning enough from them to eventually develop my own style," he said.
To direct this play, he created a relaxed but hard-working atmosphere.
"They are called 'plays' for a reason," he joked.
On a more serious side, he spoke with each actor to get down to the emotional core of their character. "It's good because I can relate to the actors, having studied acting," Holloway said.
There's one actor in particular, Rodner Salgado, 24, whom Holloway can really relate to, since they spend their days working on Quest for the Stars and their nights working on Shakespeare's Land of the Dead for Hat Trick Theatre Productions.
"He's a triple threat," Holloway said of Salgado, in reference to his acting, singing and dancing abilities.
Salgado, originally from Cuba, moved to Florida when he was 7 years old. He inherited his drama genes from his grandmother, who was a dancer in Cuba.
"In Cuba, they incorporate theater when you first get to school. I was in a play in the first grade," Salgado said.
When he moved to Florida and was attending Discovery Intermediate for middle school in Kissimmee, the actor found himself without a drama program. So he started one, and his theater career grew from there.
"I was planning on being in television, but I starred as an extra for the movie Won't Back Down," he said. "And although they fed us lobster and filet mignon, the process was boring.
"That just reinforced my passion for theater."
Salgado went on to attend the University of Tampa and received his bachelor's degree in theater with a minor in dance. While at UT, a theater professor from Patel Conservatory directed one of their plays. Through that experience and word of mouth, he applied and was accepted into the conservatory's internship program last year.
"I have worked at several performing arts centers, but this one has the facility and the staff. Everyone is so welcoming and there is no negativity," Salgado said.
Salgado not only plays the Mayan twins, Ichik and Chak, but he choreographed Quest for the Stars as well. Since the actors were not too versed in ballet or tap, he took a modern approach — the movements mirror the song lyrics, making it kid-friendly.
Since this play is geared toward children and Salgado's character has a distinct accent, he wanted to make sure it was understandable.
"It is modeled after my mom's Cuban accent, but I gave it a Mayan twist," Salgado said, laughing.
Arielle Waldman can be reached at [email protected]