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Take one, or two, or three // They're free!

(ran TP edition)

You could call it a snack tray of theater samplings, an opportunity to preview the new season of local dramatic offerings before you invest in actual tickets.

But as past attendees of Theater Hop will tell you, it's the roving party aspect of the event that draws a lot of people, many of whom relish the opportunity to schmooze and snack, and move from one arts venue to another while they check out their fellow patrons with the lights on.

This Sunday, another chance to schmooze starts at 4 p.m. with the third annual Theater Hop. Two downtown venues _ the Falk Theater and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center _ will stage bite-size selections from the Off Center Theater, the Loft Production Company, Stageworks, Bits and Pieces Puppet Theater, and Professor Saturn's Atomic Sci-Fi Theater Company from Orlando.

"This is a way of putting our theaters on the map," says Stageworks producing director Anna Brennen. "It's a fun event and it's an interesting collective because they're all local artists."

Tampa actor Paul Potenza, known locally for his work in Eric Bogosian's Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll, will play another one-man role scripted by Bogosian in Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead. That show is included in the Off Center's upcoming season and will be staged in part Sunday in the production company's space at the Performing Arts Center. Other selections at Off Center on Sunday will be The Black Madonna Project, work from a Tampa artist's collective, led by writer and poet Phyllis McEwen, and Episode 26, a Flash Gordon parody from the Atomic Sci-Fi Theater Company.

Also on the Off Center stage will be scenes from The Loft's upcoming season, including Raised in Captivity by Nicky Silver, and The Baltimore Waltz by Obie Award-winning playwright Paula Vogel.

A few blocks south on Kennedy Boulevard, the Falk Theater will be buzzing with activity both the main stage and in the lobby.

Selections from Molly Sweeney, by Tony-award winning Irish playwright Brian Frier, will be presented on the main stage along with work by two Florida playwrights: Kama Sutra Blues by Linda Grimm, and Mr. Damage by Ray Zacek.

Bits 'N Pieces Puppet Theater, fresh from a world tour, will use giant puppets and regular-size actors to present selections from their repertoire of fairy tales and yarns.

Productions will be repeated about every 30 minutes from 4 to 7 p.m., and all performances are free. You can start at any stage at either venue and take in performances in any order you choose, plus enjoy strolling entertainers and food.

If walking between venues seems too much of a trek, take the Tampa Town Ferry from the Performing Arts Center down the Hillsborough River to the dock at Plant Park. Driving between venues will be made easier with free parking at both sites.

Started in 1994 after prompting from Tampa Tribune arts critic Joanne Milani, the hop has become the unofficial start of the local theater season. Initially, organizers thought regular theater-goers would make up the bulk of Hop patrons, but Off Center director Wendy Leigh says "we get lots of people we've never seen before."

Hop veterans will note a smaller range of offerings and locations this year _ down to two from four stops in 1995 _ prompting Wendy Leigh to jokingly suggest the name be changed to "Theater Bounce."

Both Leigh and Brennen of Stageworks say this is no reason to fret over the state of local theater, but those used to the multi-stop tour of years past may think the schedule is a little thin.

The most glaring absence is the Warehouse Theater, which just finished a successful run of Return to the Forbidden Planet. It has no stage of its own after leasing out most of its Channel District space.

Agent provocateur Randy James Johnson of the now-defunct Pig's Eye Studio also is missing from this year's gig, resulting in a dearth of satanic rituals and naked ladies on the program.

But there will be other kinds of madness to take up the slack this Sunday, including belly dancing from cable access cult heroine Mariette Coulter (of French with Mariette fame), as well as tarot card readings, music, food and cash bars.

A party afterwards at the Cherokee Club in Ybor City, where a band called the Blue Dice will be playing, is free to Hop-goers whose fliers have been stamped at both venues and $3 for everyone else.

Up next:Film Clips

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