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Starting next year, American Stage will admit patrons younger than 20 for free

Production manager Jerid Fox speaks to a tour at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. American Stage is celebrating its 40th anniversary season and as a part of that celebration is making live theatre free to those under the age of 20 beginning in 2018. There will also be an under 30 pass that gives people under the age of 30 unlimited access to live theatre for $15 a month. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
Production manager Jerid Fox speaks to a tour at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. American Stage is celebrating its 40th anniversary season and as a part of that celebration is making live theatre free to those under the age of 20 beginning in 2018. There will also be an under 30 pass that gives people under the age of 30 unlimited access to live theatre for $15 a month. EVE EDELHEIT | Times
Published Nov. 28, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — High school and college kids aren't known for having much money. Their budgets tend to rule out seeing professional theater, where tickets can run $25 and up.

Now, there's help. Starting Jan. 1, American Stage will admit theatergoers younger than 20 at no charge.

Customers younger than 30 may continue buying passes for $15 a month, something the theater began offering in a trial phase in recent months. It's all part of a new initiative the theater announced on Giving Tuesday, one leaders say is designed to encourage young people interested in theater.

"As I thought about the American Stage's role as an arts leader, I began to think more seriously about our responsibility to this art form and to the community we serve," producing artistic director Stephanie Gularte said in a prepared statement. "Who will shape the future of the American theater? Who will perform on, design and direct for our stages? Who will market, advance and lead our theaters?"

The Young Americans Initiative also includes a yearlong apprenticeship program in all aspects of the theater business, from acting and set design to marketing, fundraising and advertising. American Stage is seeking candidates who have recently completed undergraduate work and have some experience. Those chosen get a small stipend and the chance to work with the theater for a year of on-the-job training to bridge school and career.

"Teens and young adults will have unprecedented access to our work and will have the opportunity to make theater a regular part of their lives," Gularte said.

In a climate in which local professional theaters earn anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of revenues from ticket sales, the official launch of the Under 30 Pass and Under 20 Free Passport marks a significant move for American Stage. The theater, now in its 40th season, covers only 55 to 60 percent of costs, including production, advertising, salaries and overhead, through ticket sales.

The initiative gets its start with a $25,000 pledge in matching funds from St. Petersburg Realtor Scott Wagman and his wife, Beth Houghton, the executive director of the Free Clinic.

Here's how it works. The Under 20 Free Passport allows people under 20 to get into mainstage productions at no cost. The Under 30 Pass offers unlimited access to patrons younger than 30 for $15 a month. (Under 30 passes, which can be purchased now, function like Netflix — passes are good one month from the date of purchase.) Under 30 Pass holders may attend mainstage productions, improv, cabaret or American Stage in the Park as often as they wish.

Gularte called the initiative "absolutely imperative."

"Theater must engage today's youth to survive and thrive," she said.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.