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A BORN STORYTELLER

Local actor Aleshea Harris has performed theater and spoken-word poetry on stages across the Tampa Bay area, including Studio@620 and American Stage Theatre. She has released an album of original songs and founded a production company, Bag of Beans. - This week, she will perform her one-woman play, Oddlie, in St. Petersburg.Neighborhood Times sat down with Harris to discuss the play, her background and the local theater scene.

How would you describe what you do?

I call myself a performing artist, and I do a number of different things. I have a degree in theater. But in real-world schooling, I'm a spoken-word poet, I'm a writer and I'm a singer. I've wanted for a while to do something that combines those elements into a creative piece. Oddlie was born of that desire.

How did you get into performing?

I was in my first play when I was 7. I just enjoy it. I really enjoy storytelling. I studied visual art before studying theater. I kind of dabbled in theater and I really, really loved it.

I saw that you got your degree in Mississippi. Is that where you grew up?

Well, sort of. My mom is from Trinidad. She emigrated from Trinidad to join the Army. She was (in the military) for 20 years, so I'm an Army brat. I moved around a lot. I was born in Germany. I lived in Mississippi; that's the longest (10 years) I've lived anywhere.

And you've been here for how long?

Going on five years, almost to the day. (Harris moved to St. Petersburg on July 21, 2004)

So besides the opportunities for performing artists, what do you like about Tampa Bay?

I do love the energy and the spirit of the area. I haven't set my mind on moving. I'm still considering it. But I think in order for things to change, like Obama said - and it's kind of corny - you have to be the change you want to see. So me doing Oddlie is me being that change. It's a totally different, original piece. That's what the area needs, something a little different.

So what is Oddlie about?

Very simply put, it's the story of a young woman's search for her voice. She lives on a garbage heap in a city that's composed completely of garbage heaps. She doesn't have any family or friends. She grew up alone. It's magical realism, so you know she grew up and learned to speak. But she barely speaks because she doesn't have anyone to speak to. Her greatest desire is to have people, to have others among her, to be loved.

Where did you get the idea about the play?

I started with knowing that I wanted to do a solo piece, and I wanted to use poetry and music and the traditional storytelling method. That was my starting point. I'm fascinated with the idea of people who are outcasts. She really is the ultimate outcast. She already lives in a garbage dump. So I really wanted to explore that character and what she wants and what her dreams would be.

How is doing a one-person play different than being a role in a traditional play?

Well, there's a lot more pressure, for obvious reasons. I have to command an audience's attention by myself for an extended period of time. It takes a lot more discipline to rehearse.

How long have you been working on it?

Since December. I was blessed and cursed because I was unemployed for a while. Cursed, obviously, because I was flat broke. But blessed because it gave me a lot of time to think and write.

What are some of your goals?

I hope to still be creating not just solo work, but still writing plays and getting them produced. I hope to still be performing poetry.

I hope that Bag of Beans Productions, my company that's producing this, has grown and is producing an entire season like a traditional theater company.

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IF YOU GO

'Oddlie'

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Where: Studio@620, 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg

Cost: $20, general admission. $15, students and seniors. A nonperishable food donation is encouraged.

Food donations

Audience members are encouraged to bring canned goods or other nonperishable food to support the food bank at the St. Petersburg Healthy Start consortium.

Harris, who is a member of the consortium, said the group addresses racial disparities in infant mortality. Black infants have a higher death rate compared with other ethnic groups.

For more information about the group visit www.allkids.org/body.cfm?id=261 or call (727) 824-6963.

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