FESTIVAL FODDER: RORY LAWRENCE PLAY
The Tampa Bay Theatre Festival only started in 2014, so it's not surprising that the three-day event in Tampa has not attracted a huge amount of attention. It was founded by Rory Lawrence, who had undergone an epiphany while working as a financial advisor and decided he needed to get back to what he loved.
We've told his story a couple of times, but I suspect people will be telling it again before long. We're bringing it up again because you can catch a play by Lawrence this weekend. More on that in a minute.
A couple of key points from his story, though.
Before shouldering the load himself of bringing any theater festival here, Lawrence said he had tried to enlist the help of the Theatre Tampa Bay, a local alliance. According to Lawrence, he didn't get anywhere. Larger cities can pull off a festival, but the market would not support it here, conventional wisdom said.
The other point, even more remarkable in light of what has happened since: Until several years earlier, Lawrence had not been involved in theater since high school. The 2015 festival, based at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, blew away attendance figures from the first year. Workshops sold out, as did a dressy awards party. New plays performed over that weekend in September were well attended.
Something else: It wasn't the same audience.
I went to the opening event, a play written by Lawrence (Hour Confessions) in a packed Jaeb Theater. The mood, the buzz if you will, was highly charged. The crowd was younger on average than you see at most shows in Tampa Bay, and much more ethnically diverse.
The show was different, too — more blue collar, openly spiritual, and drawing a level of audience engagement that I had never seen. The 2016 Tampa Bay Theatre Festival runs at the Straz Center Sept. 2-4, Labor Day weekend.
Fighting God, written by Lawrence three years ago, will be performed Saturday at Tampa's Inkwell Centre. Reception has been strong, he said.
"Normally when I do a show, I will do it for about a month and put it away," Lawrence said "But we have been booked in locations outside of Tampa to bring the show in simply by word of mouth. It's crazy. Outside of Tampa, we've done it in Lakeland, Atlanta, (Washington) D.C. and smaller places."
The story centers on two brothers, Quincy and Elton, who witness their mother's murder but internalize it in very different ways. They grow up and become lawyers, and are brought together in a high-profile case that tests everything they stand for. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. 2905 N 50th St., Tampa. $20. (813) 786-1915. fightinggod.com.
END TIMES: CLEAVE
A self-described prophet sees the end of the world coming. This happens every so often, and somehow the people who buy into it always recalibrate their beliefs and reset the date after the world does not end. Cleave, a new play by Vicki Peterson, delves into the stresses caused for a closely knit group in preparing for the worst. A joint production of Lab Theater Project and Stageworks Theatre, Cleave explores "the dangers of blind faith and turning men into idols," said producer Owen Robertson, who founded the Lab Theater Project. The show runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 3, at the Silver Meteor Gallery, 2213 E Sixth Ave., Ybor City. $15. (813) 300-3585.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE: FLORIDA ORCHESTRA
The Florida Orchestra invites you to loosen up and kick back in a coffee concert that's all about humor. Listen and Laugh, directed by Stuart Malina, offers fun pieces along with coffee and doughnuts. They include Leroy Anderson's The Typewriter, starring a typewriter as multiple percussion instruments; Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony; and Peter Schickele's The Unbegun Symphony. Listen and Laugh starts at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $24-$42.(727) 892-3337. floridaorchestra.org