Sunday, January 21, 2018
Stage

Director Karla Hartley talks juggling two plays on opposite sides of bay

Take a look at the roster of plays going on in Tampa Bay right now, and one name inevitably keeps popping up: Karla Hartley.

The producing artistic director of Stageworks Theatre in Tampa has been one busy woman, recently directing Stageworks' production of The Sugar Bean Sisters, then heading into simultaneous jobs directing God of Carnage at American Stage in St. Petersburg and Inventing Van Gogh at Jobsite Theater in Tampa, open now through Aug. 3 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Hartley is a longtime stalwart on the local theater scene and is no stranger to juggling multiple jobs at once. This period, she said, has been energizing but intense.

"I feel sorry for my family," said Hartley, 44. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

To direct both plays, she regularly worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on God of Carnage, then hopped on the Howard Frankland Bridge to Tampa to work from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Inventing Van Gogh, a more high-concept work about "what is false, what is real, what is forgery, what is truth," she said.

Hartley became an independent artist in 2009 after leaving a job with the Straz Center. She had gotten used to juggling multiple jobs at once out of necessity.

"You know how the arts are," she said. "You take anything and everything because you're afraid there's a drought coming. I ended up overbooking a lot. I don't consider myself overbooked now."

American Stage, she said, is one of the few local companies that can afford to hold rehearsals during the day, making it possible to direct two plays at once. Although the performances overlap, she doesn't go to every performance after opening night, trusting the actors are where they need to be by then.

The experience of switching rapidly from one show to the other has been a good tool sharpener, she said, a way to separate her directorial mind from the traps of each piece and come back fresh the next day.

God of Carnage is driving and forceful but also subtle in ways," she said. "Inventing Van Gogh is poetic and lyrical and nonlinear. It has actually been kind of interesting. They're so different."

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