The summer before high school, I was looking for something to do beside watch The Price is Right until my brain broke. You can only withstand so much Plinko.
I joined a summer theater program in which everyone got cast. While some kids were supremely skilled, most of us were plebes who thought projection was the overhead screen in algebra. I (plebe) stood in the back of the Bye Bye Birdie chorus, terrified, dead eyes, arms like a stone crab, murmuring:
"We love you Conrad. Oh, yes, we do. We love you Conrad, and we'll be true."
No matter how tragic I was, something transformative happened that summer. The stage, the audience, the lights, the tension of entertainment unfolding, unedited, all in real time.
I was hooked for life.
I take that same sense of wonder (and humor) into my new role as Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic.
Former critic John Fleming, a legend in the Tampa Bay arts community, leaves a vast stage in his retirement. While I will channel the grace and authority of his work, my job is not to be John. And it's not to make you enjoy all the same things I do. Some people really like Plinko.
My job is to use my own voice to give you context, help you navigate the choices that lead you far from your beige cubicle, from your messy kitchen and your money woes to the art that helps you feel whole.
And it's to make you smarter about those choices, about what you're seeing and hearing, about the people on stage in front of you. I'll write about costumers and conductors, divas and drag queens, prop managers and rabid fans, Frank-N-Furters and mezzo-sopranos.
I love social media and staying connected. Talk to me. Tell me your ideas. Say hello in the shoe aisle at Target, where I spend most weekends. The next time NBC puts on a 26-act musical starring an American Idol, live-tweet with me. I'll bring the wine.
Some journalism credentials: I'm a graduate of the University of South Florida. I've been at this paper 11 years, covering everything from small town politics to big city crime to higher education. I originated the Times obituary feature, Epilogue. I also write for Deal Divas, the Times' fashion blog, and cover Tampa Bay Fashion Week.
Some stage nerd credentials: I learned not to be quite so terrible, and through high school and after in community theater, landed roles in productions of Grease, Sweet Charity, Pippin, Godspell, The Women and Little Shop of Horrors (twice).
And I did a bit of competition playwriting. One play I wrote, a one-act about a dreary single woman whose entire family drops in for the weekend, went to the Florida State Thespian competition.
I was so nervous before the panel of judges. A man sat in the middle, kind, wise, measured, great hair. It was Times performing arts critic John Fleming.
He gave me good marks back then. I plan to earn the same from you.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @stephhayes.