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The classic play's the thing for Stage Agenda, founded by a 72-year-old veteran of community theater.

Community theater is hard to give up. Just ask Scottie Michael.

The Clearwater resident has worked in local theater for 30 years. In 1971, she founded Clearwater City Players. She served as its director until she retired in 1989. She then began freelancing for area theater companies, such as West Coast Players, St. Petersburg Little Theatre and Francis Wilson Playhouse.

In 1997, she struck out on her own and founded Stage Agenda, a local theater group dedicated to the classics. It's co-sponsored by Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department.

"It's taken about three years, but we've finally got an audience," said Michael, 72, the company's director. "Now we have a following."

In January, Stage Agenda performed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in front of six sold-out audiences at Studio One, a 50-seat venue at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Michael is hoping to do the same with William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opens tonight for a six-run production.

Featuring a cast of 21, the two-act play is one of Shakespeare's earliest works, written in 1600. "He's so bloody clever," Michael said of the British playwright. "Nobody has equaled him since. And talk about picturesque speech."

The comedy takes place in the woods with many mystical and merry characters, such as Oberon, king of the fairies, (played by Ar-Raheem Babalola) and his wife, Titania (Linda Fajvan), who are squabbling over a young boy who is half mortal and half fairy.

Meanwhile, the humans in the story are in a pickle as well. Hermia (Laura Needle) is in love with Lysander (Thom Jay), but her father, Egeus (Scott Needle), wants her to marry Demetrius (Raymond Pereira).

Hermia and Lysander meet in the woods to elope, but Helena (Jan Farrell), a spurned young maiden, spoils their plan by telling Demetrius.

"And then the magic starts, all under the moonlight," Michael said.

Puck (Mark Mainardi), Oberon's fairy servant, stirs up even more trouble by mixing up the lovers. But all ends well, Michael said.

"In other words, it's pure fantasy," she said. "It's a welcome break from the violence (in the movies and on television) and back to classic storytelling. It's a nice, pleasant diversion."

A Midsummer Night's Dream is Stage Agenda's eighth production. The theater company got its start at the city's Memorial Civic Center, which was demolished to make room for a traffic circle on Clearwater Beach.

Last year, the company moved productions to Stage One. "'It's a challenge to the actors, but it also allows the audience to feel like they're right there, right in that bedroom or right on that street," Michael said.

The group's debut performance was a production of Danish playwright Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. "People stayed away," Michael recalled, perhaps because the play wasn't well known, she figured. Though Michael loves the popular musicals, she said she prefers the classics such as The Glass Menagerie, Love Letters and The Importance of Being Ernest, all of which Stage Agenda has produced.

"We welcome the chance to co-sponsor something with her because her shows are always excellent," said Margo Walbolt, arts and community services programming coordinator for the city's Parks and Recreation Department. "She has a sense of knowing what's good theater."

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