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American Stage plans five area premieres

Todd Olson will put his stamp on American Stage right away in his first season as artistic director. Olson will direct the first two shows of the 2003-04 season, which is being announced today.

Stones in His Pockets, an Irish comedy by Marie Jones, opens the season in September, followed by Eugene O'Neill's classic A Moon for the Misbegotten.

"I didn't really plan on doing these back to back, but I think I will," said Olson, who arrived at the theater in January. "Stones just happened to fit there. It's an area premiere, and we wanted to be the first theater to bring that to audiences. And Moon I just love. It's always been on my wish list."

Olson, previously associate artistic director of the Tennessee Repertory Theatre in Nashville, has scheduled five Tampa Bay area premieres, including his revue, My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, which has been widely produced around the country.

"I've been associated with this for four years now, and I didn't feel like I needed to do it here," Olson said. "I would have been fine if we hadn't done it. But there's a company that's going to be doing a national tour of it, and they want to book into the Tampa market. I just knew if we didn't do it first, the audience would be diminished in 24, 36 months."

Olson, who co-conceived the show and wrote the book, will avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by giving his royalties to the theater.

"I told the board that any cent that I would make from the show I would donate back to the theater," he said. "I don't want it seeming like I'm double dipping or anything. But I just think it's smart business to do My Way. David Grapes, the other co-creator, will donate a large portion of what he makes as well. So we're getting a good financial deal on it, and we're sort of staving off the national tour."

The largest production of the season will probably be Rebecca Gilman's Spinning Into Butter, which has a cast of seven. It has been hailed for its provocative take on political correctness.

"It's rare for me to read a play and feel very uncomfortable as I'm reading it _ uncomfortable in a way that I know as a producer we need to bring this discussion to an audience," Olson said. "It talks about the notions of political correctness, but it doesn't suffer from political correctness."

American Stage's largest show is its Shakespeare in the Park production, which is Romeo and Juliet this year, from April 11 to May 11. The 2004 Shakespeare production has not been determined.

Also on the 2003-04 calendar are Santaland Diaries, a one-man show by David Sedaris about working as a Christmas elf at Macy's, and David Rambo's comedy on high-powered religion, God's Man in Texas.

"It's sort of a master balancing act to satisfy all the niches of our audience," Olson said. "I think it is a well-balanced season with enough emotional punch as well as some satisfaction for our more traditional offices. I think everyone will find something in here."

Next season is the theater's 25th anniversary. It has 1,774 subscribers to this season's lineup in the 140-seat theater. "Lee (Manwaring, the managing director) and I have set a goal of a 10 percent increase in subscribers, and I think these plays can do it," Olson said.

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