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Stageworks does Rayfield

(ran TP edition)

Actors will read from works by the Tampa playwright, actor, director and teacher.

Rumor has it James Rayfield still owes Lauren Hutton 50 bucks, from the early days when she lived in Tampa.

But you won't hear about it from him. (A former student told on him.) Rayfield doesn't name-drop, and he's too comfortably modest to toot his own horn.

The Tampa playwright, actor, director and teacher at Blake High School is pleased to participate in an upcoming Stageworks tribute honoring his works, but he's quick to point out that it was the idea of Stageworks director Anna Brennan.

Stageworks actors will read from Rayfield's collection.

His body of work includes pieces written for and performed by various Tampa theater groups, such as the Bokononist Players, Tampa Tongues and School of Night.

Rayfield's The Chatterbox Club, one of his most-performed pieces, is about a restaurant where people order conversations instead of food. The Ostrich is about a guy who's addicted to watching videotapes.

The tribute has had an effect on him.

"It pushed me into finishing up a few new pieces that had been on the back burner for a while," he says.

One, The Docent, is "a fantasy of what might have happened to the thieves who stole the painting The Scream during the 1994 Olympics in Norway." Another is a "Southern Gothic takeoff on the Tennessee Williams/Faulkner school," he describes.

He's currently working on a new play, his fifth, for teenagers to perform.

Perhaps James Rayfield is best known as a theater teacher, his profession since 1964, mostly in the Tampa Bay area. He currently teaches at Blake High School in Tampa, a magnet school for the performing arts.

Rayfield joined the faculty there when the school opened two years ago. He is more comfortable talking about his amazing students at Blake than about his own long list of accolades and accomplishments.

"Amazing things happen in our classroom," he says.

Several of his monologues were performed by a former student in an "off-off Broadway" venue.

Rayfield is also known for his performance in the title role of director Gordon Mhyre's 1991 film, Artie Infinger. Shot as a pseudo-documentary, it had viewers arguing for years about whether or not Artie Infinger was a real guy who lived in Tampa.

Mhyre remembers working with Rayfield on that project.

"You could describe a character to him and in a short period of time he could just be the character. I was amazed by that ability," Mhyre says.

Another thing Rayfield doesn't mention is the constant pain he suffers from the effects of childhood polio.

"He was in real physical pain a lot," said Mhyre. "He had to walk all over the place (to make the movie). He physically exhausted himself doing the part. Once he made the commitment, he threw himself into it."