Last summer, artist Elizabeth Indianos re-created a mural she had done in the 1970s depicting the history of Tarpon Springs. The vivid mural is painted on a gallery wall at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, leading to the center’s theater.
Indianos began writing a play while she was working on the mural, which covers the city’s history, from the 1500s when Spanish Conquistadors arrived on Florida’s shores through current references.
The 50-minute “micro-play,” This Blessed Plot, This Earth, brings the mural to life at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center starting Jan. 21.
Indianos worked with composer Michael Amish to create original music, the script and artworks. Paula Nunez, artistic director of the Tampa City Ballet, choreographed the actors’ entrances and exits and ensembles.
Several actors are notable Tarpon Springs residents. Katerina Lecourezos, who was the Dove Bearer in January’s Epiphany celebration, will re-enact that in the play’s Cross Diver scene. Father James Rousakis, who has presided over Epiphany celebrations, will also perform in the scene.
Lecourezos said in an email that while she was rehearsing for the play prior to the Epiphany, she was just playing a part, but that after experiencing the emotions of the ceremony she felt herself “entering the stage in a different manner.”
She also plays the Seminole princess, and her mother, Demetra, plays the princess’ mother. Indianos conducted an exhaustive search to find indigenous people for those roles, to no avail.
Representing all of the elements of Florida’s “complicated” history, some of them problematic, is important to Indianos.
“It’s a big responsibility to absorb history then tell it back in a way that’s fair and compelling to all the different factions,” she said. “I just wanted to tell the truth and get people to feel empathy for their struggles.”
Indianos discovered the lesser-known history of the Black sponge hookers who came from the Bahamas and Florida Keys and worked alongside the Greek sponge divers, and she included it in the play. In the mural, she gave the image of a sponge diver in his helmet “a face that could stand for either” the hookers or divers.
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Randy E. Donaldson plays the Afro-Bahamian sponge hooker who interacts with Nicholas Toth, playing the Greek sponge diver. Toth has been handcrafting diving helmets for more than 30 years, continuing the 100-year family tradition started by his grandfather, Anthony Lerios.
The scene not only tells the history of the sponge hookers being brought to the islands as enslaved people, but how they learned to speak Greek because of the close relationship with the sponge divers.
While not a Tarpon Springs resident, Leigh K. Davis will portray the mural’s only living person, Annie Doris Dabbs, who stewards the Rose Cemetery, the city’s African American burial ground. Based on interviews conducted by Indianos, Dabbs, who is a Tarpon Springs native, will attend each performance and connect to Davis.
“For an actor, it is very rare that you get a chance to play a character that is still alive,” Davis said. “My very first rehearsal that she came to, I’m reading my lines and she’s mirroring them because they’re her words. That is magic. That is an alchemy that rarely happens. And it makes it so much more meaningful, and so much more important to me. I represent her and tell her story.”
Davis said it was important to celebrate Dabbs now because too often Black stories aren’t told until people are gone. She commended the play for telling stories that are ignored or forgotten.
For Dabbs, watching Davis recount how her mother would sing hymnals in the kitchen during a rehearsal brought tears to her eyes. That memory recalled her family’s belief in God and strength that carried them through difficult times.
Dabbs echoed Davis’ sentiment that these histories are too often suppressed. She thinks the play brings much needed awareness to history that cannot be changed.
“I think it’s a very special, good play,” she said. “It brings to the people of Tarpon Springs ... the actual history of Tarpon Springs and I think the history should be told as we look back on it, and see where we are today. You can’t hide history, history has happened.”
This Blessed Plot, This Earth. Jan. 21-23 and Jan. 28-30. $15-$18. Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, 101 S Pinellas Ave. (Alt. U.S. 19). 727-942-5605. tarponarts.org.