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American Stage in St. Petersburg launches virtual return

The theater company will offer virtual performances, workshops, a podcast and summer camps.

After shutting down in March and canceling all of its shows through June, St. Petersburg theater company American Stage has announced it is back — but virtually, for the time being.

On the agenda are Summer Shorts, a series of live performances and videos including the Shakespeare Lite Festival in June; a 10-minute New Short Plays Festival in July; and Living Room Plays, which celebrate favorite scenes and characters from American Stage’s 43-year production history.

Artistic director Stephanie Gularte said that in the next several weeks, they will be casting a company for the online performances, who will all be paid. Gularte said that while American Stage typically casts nationally, it is trying to focus on members of the Tampa Bay community.

She said the theater company received a $300,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan, which was based on figures from 2019, when the company had a full production schedule and therefore more employees. Because American Stage had to cancel all of its shows, there are far fewer employees currently working.

Gularte said the entire regular staff was furloughed for two weeks, and that they all have returned to work.

The style of the online performances is unprecedented, but so are many things these days. Actors will perform their roles, from productions such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Othello, in their homes, individually.

“People will be surprised at the things we’ve come up with,” Gularte said.

She said the performances won’t be full-scale productions, with the costumes and sets that define the experience of live theater, but there will be a few props.

Those performances all come with a pay-what-you-can suggested donation. Gularte said the goal is to make the performances as accessible as possible to the public.

There will be a charge for the online workshops, which will include youth programs and adult classes. Gularte said they aim to reach new audiences through their workshops.

There are also family workshops, a weekly virtual talent show and a Creative Wellness series, which includes an improv workshop called Live and Laugh. And summer camps will also be held online, with scholarships available.

The theater company has also started Spotlight: The American Stage Podcast and is offering how-to videos online.

Gularte will host a series of Creative Conversations, Zoom roundtables with members of the community to discuss live theater during the pandemic and beyond. She said that, among other things, they’ll discuss what it will look like when American Stage is able to open back up.

“We’re very mindful of opening our doors at the right time and in the right way. This last month has been about creating a new normal,” she said. “Nothing replaces the power of sharing a space together, but we have to do it in a way that’s safe for the community. But American Stage will return.”