Monday, July 23, 2018
Stage

Meet performing arts critic Andrew Meacham, former obit writer

For a part of my life, I loved nothing more than waiting in the wings to go on stage. There I could only see my immediate surroundings, and I nurtured at least a steadily evolving vision of what I wanted to do.

I lost sleep because of rehearsals or performances. As head muleteer in Man of La Mancha, I sang Little Bird but also had to drag a dead man up a ladder for six weeks — then get up at 5:30 a.m. to go to my construction job.

I played Angelo in Measure for Measure, the Rev. Davidson in Rain, Preacher Haggler in Dark of the Moon and other morally compromised characters. I loved the challenge of finding the inner core that redeemed them in some way, or at least explained their actions.

I came to know a shifting array of actors and directors in theaters that have since changed shape or vanished. People came and went in my life, like coquinas turning over with each new wave. By my mid-20s, I had performed in more than two dozen plays and musicals.

Then life intervened.

Work and relationships made it impossible to do shows anymore. I missed performing, so I sang in the Tampa Oratorio Singers for two years and the Tampa Bay Master Chorale for another two. Plus I got season tickets to the Asolo Repertory Theatre and attended as much as I could at American Stage and Freefall theaters, the Palladium and the Straz.

In 2006, after a 25-year hiatus from acting, I played Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and received a best supporting actor Lary, Pinellas County's community theater awards. (Perhaps in deference to my age, the director at Island Community Players didn't make me throw a washing machine through the window.)

Now, in a twist I could not have conceived of two months ago, work brings me back to theater and music. Starting Monday, I will be the new performing arts critic for the Times.

I succeed Stephanie Hayes, the new arts and entertainment editor. Of course, this means I will be leaving my previous post as writer of the Times' Epilogue obituary features, a job I have held full time since 2009. (In one of those odd twists, Stephanie was the first to hold down that feature and also came up with its name.)

Writing these obituaries — more than 1,000 in all — has been the best experience of my career. People have invited me into their homes, where they shared scrapbooks and old letters and memories of recently departed loved ones. It is impossible to overstate the graciousness I have experienced from these families at the worst times of their lives, or my gratitude at being able to tell those stories.

I have been at the paper 10 years and have always preferred finding stories that could have gone unnoticed to the must-do's. Before that, I worked a ton of construction, edited a self-help magazine and wrote a nonfiction book about that experience. While covering neighborhoods as a freelancer in the early 2000s, I earned a master's degree in journalism at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Way back when, I graduated from Eckerd College, where my father was a founding faculty member.

I do not move on from Epilogue lightly.

At the same time, we have a performing arts scene in the Tampa Bay area that is really hitting its stride. I will cover the hard news behind the Florida Orchestra as it uncorks a new era with incoming music director Michael Francis. We have opera, professional theater and dance companies, and we will continue to give them the same major league coverage as we extend to the Tampa Bay Rays or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I'll give you an idea of what to expect if you go to these shows and keep you posted on social media. I will look for stories in unexpected places, such as standup comedy or performance art.

The communication I want to establish is a two-way street. Let me know what you liked and what you didn't, either in the shows you saw or in my take on them.

The performing arts scene in this area is only getting richer. I intend to bring to its creators, and you, the kind of coverage you deserve.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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