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Tampa man's theater career comes to fruition

“I said I don’t cry for this,” Rory Lawrence says. “I burn with passion and I cry for doing theater and film.”
Published Dec. 13, 2013

TAMPA — A group of actors sit in an open room of the Maney and Gordon law firm as Rory Lawrence leads them through a series of diction exercises.

Their voices bounce off the cold white walls. "How now brown cow," says Lawrence, and the group begins to repeat as if they are a sports team preparing to hit the field.

"All right, places!" Lawrence yells.

The drab walls, lit by fluorescent lights, soon become a sunny neighborhood where a woman and her sons engage in a conversation about a Bible verse mentioned at that morning's church service.

The conversation represents the opening scene from Lawrence's latest play, Fighting God, and audiences will see the full show today at Stageworks Theater.

The rehearsal, however, shares equal importance, because it is part of Lawrence's dream coming to fruition — a dream that began when he walked away from a corporate job.

"I got a lot of confirmations," said Lawrence when he thought back about the day he decided to make theater his full-time job. "I remember watching Oprah and she was telling her story. She said something that was key, and I felt like she was talking to me.

"She said that there may come a time and place where you're unhappy or discontented with your job and what you are doing. She called it a whisper."

For Lawrence, this whisper came from his many years of theater experience. The whisper soon became the nudge that moved him to leave behind seven years at T. Rowe Price financial investment firm in Tampa.

"I said I don't cry for this. I burn with passion and I cry for doing theater and film," said Lawrence when thinking back to the day he decided that his 9-to-5 job as a client service representative was getting in the way of his goal.

After touring the country to participate in theater festivals, Lawrence put on a variety show in 2008 that showcased one of his first plays, titled The Trip. The play was billed as a comedy and featured local actors and public figures like Tampa attorney and founding partner of the national law firm of Maney and Gordon, Jack Gordon.

Gordon, who played a jogger, embraced Lawrence's vision and became a supporter, lending out his company trucks to haul sets to various locations.

The group also uses one of Gordon's offices near Tampa International Airport as a practice space. Gordon has played roles like the judge in the company's production of 12 Angry Men, and he has a role in Fighting God.

"The average human being has desires and dreams and things that they are passionate about that tends not to be their job," Gordon said. "Most people do what is most convenient, and then later on they have regrets. Rory is absolutely living it. He's a testament to it, and I'm proud of him.

"It's very rare to find someone who is willing to roll the dice. That's something that absolutely should be admired and respected about Rory."

Lawrence's plays fall under the category of inspirational gospels, but he wants to break the typecast of audience members who come out to see his plays.

Fighting God explores the life of Quincy, who witnessed his mother fall victim to assault.

The story fast-forwards to a modern day when the young man, played by Lawrence, runs a local law firm with his brother, Elton, played by Jay Washington.

Quincy, an atheist, is in constant battle with his God-fearing brother and has to make decisions that later change his perspective on life.

Lawrence says his plays serve as a form of therapy for audience members. He recalls talking to audience members after his shows who share their life stories and thank him for putting on the productions. At each of his shows, Lawrence and cast members encourage audience members to reach out to the community for help if they need it. The idea came from Lawrence's wife, local psychologist Dr. Kahlila Lawrence.

"Although the show does its job of teaching and inspiring," Kahlila Lawrence said, "there are parts that can bring up some emotions, and I figured that we should have something available for them."

Lawrence says his focus is to create a company that can benefit the community. He added that he believes this is the start of more things to come. He plans on producing a film for Fighting God and touring the country in 2014. He is also planning a local theater festival for next summer.

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