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Stage Planner: Tampa Bay Theatre Festival, Florida Orchestra debuts Happy Hour Concerts


The Tampa Bay Theatre Festival is back for its third year. The weekend of workshops, including a free, three-hour master class by Harry Lennix, right, of NBC's The Blacklist (reservations required), and short and full-length original plays, monologues and improv, kicks off Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

The area's only theater festival began as the dream — some might say the unlikely fantasy — of Rory Lawrence, a financial analyst a decade or so ago who could not get a love for live performance out of his head. He took acting classes, started getting roles and eventually quit his job. Lawrence also wrote plays and entered them into theater festivals in other cities. Now several of the area's professional theaters will man tables at a networking party that starts at 9:45 p.m. Friday at the Straz Center Rehearsal Hall, following a production of Lawrence's Between Calls at 7:30 p.m. in the Jaeb Theater.

Saturday's events include an improv workshop from Patrick McInnis (9 a.m.) and "The Conscious Actor" workshop by Jayne Trinette (11 a.m.), both at the Straz Center Rehearsal Hall. Afternoon workshops include one on musical theater by Elaine Pechacek (1:30 p.m., Hillsborough Community College's Studio Theatre) and the Lennix class (3:30 p.m., HCC's Mainstage Theatre).

Six full-length plays, 14 short plays and 15 monologues are each part of competitions, with winners announced at the awards party (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Maestro's Restaurant at the Straz). Between Calls is not included in any competition.

"It's the first play I ever wrote," Lawrence said. "My mentor told me it was funny but too long."

He revised the script, which centers on interactions between call center workers, reducing the running time to 90 minutes. The show, like the festival itself, falls into a genre of its own, multicultural and willing to tackle issues of religion and spirituality. Whipped: The Modern Day Love Story of Hosea and Gomer (7 p.m. Saturday, the Inkwell Centre), follows a pastor whose troubles with an unfaithful wife adversely affect his standing in the congregation. Playwright Tracie Bonnick based the play on the Old Testament's book of Hosea.

In the early days, Lawrence enjoyed participating in a couple of black theater festivals. Nonetheless, he decided to avoid the modifier when creating his own. Over time, he believes, a message of racial inclusiveness is starting to sink in.

"People are starting to see my heart," Lawrence said. "Everyone is invited. I don't care if you're black, white, atheist or straight. I'm all about the people, and I think now people know that."

1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. Free to $135. (813) 229-7827. For a full schedule, visit


The Florida Orchestra wants to loosen you up. Tickets are now on sale for a new series at the Straz Center dubbed Happy Hour Concerts, with 6:30 p.m. concert start times in February and March, a new way to experience the orchestra and meet its musicians. Each hourlong concert will be conducted by one of the orchestra's premier conductors, music director Michael Francis, above, principal pops conductor Jeff Tyzik, left, or principal guest conductor Stuart Malina, below left.

Happy Hour Concerts offer some complimentary beverages, including Stella Artois beer and Tito's Handmade Vodka. Other drinks, including soda and water, will be available for purchase. Light snacks are free. $35. Doors and bars open at 5:30 p.m. (727) 892-3337.

Here's the lineup:

A Toast to the Classics (Feb. 2, Ferguson Hall): Bernstein's Candide Overture, Brahms' Academic Festival Overture and Prokofiev's Summer Day. Stuart Malina conducts.

American Spirit(s) (Feb. 23, Ferguson Hall): Duke Ellington Portrait, Gershwin's An American in Paris, and Jeff Tyzik conducting his own work, New York Cityscape.

Scheherazade: A Fantasy in Music (March 23, Morsani Hall): Rimsky-Korsakov's haunting tale of Scheherazade, with Michael Francis as your guide.

Stage Planner: Tampa Bay Theatre Festival, Florida Orchestra debuts Happy Hour Concerts 08/31/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 8:55am]
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