ST. PETERSBURG — Among the things that were lost and preempted throughout the pandemic was the visceral impact of storytelling in a shared space. For more than a year, many theatergoers have been deprived of that critical connection, with performers crafting live characters and in-the-moment emotions, and with audiences providing honest and spontaneous reactions. The absence of such experiences has provided the opportunity to more fully appreciate the uniquely valuable and life-affirming experience of sharing our humanity through live theater.
With the announcement of its 2021-2022 season, American Stage hopes to welcome audiences back to celebrate the gradual return of live performances. With a theme of “For the Love of Theatre,” the season will officially get underway with “Around the World in 80 Days,” adapted from the novel by Jules Verne, running Oct. 27 through Nov. 21.
“After a hiatus from truly live performing arts, I am excited to reignite the fire for theater in our community,” said Kristin Clippard, American Stage associate artistic director. “We have been missing the thrills and chills we get from watching a powerful story, so this season is crafted to remind us of the theatrical wonder and splendor we love. I can’t wait to hear people laugh, sniffle, and gasp as these stories play out onstage. Those reactions are fuel for artists and we are ready to reunite audiences with performers in October.”
According to Clippard, this season’s theme reminds us of the unique power of live theater to bring us together. The lineup of plays seeks to encourage everyone in the community to join in the life-affirming experience of live storytelling. With stories that are at once universal, diverse, theatrical, and inspirational, “For the Love of Theatre” will be a season that invites audiences back to sharing a space with open hearts and with open minds.
“Just like making a favorite recipe, artists lovingly craft their work to please an audience,” Clippard added. “We are excited to get back in the kitchen and cook up some theatrical fun and adventures from scratch with a hefty dash of love.”
Following is a look at the American Stage 2021-2022 season lineup:
“Around the World in 80 Days”
Adapted from the novel by Jules Verne, “Around the World in 80 Days” will run Oct. 27 through Nov. 21. In a time where travel was the trending obsession and innovation was on the rise, Verne’s novel captured the spirit of exploration and adventure. The timeless tale gets a refresh with a new adaptation where Phileas Fogg and Jean Passpartout make a mad dash around the world and meet colorful characters along their journey. A newly commissioned play, this production will feature all the excitement and hijinks we love told with a new perspective.
“Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”
Written by Tom Mula, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” will run Dec. 8 through Jan. 2. Charles Dickens wrote a short story that has become one of the most adapted pieces of literature in history. The story of Scrooge is well known, but what about Marley? How did his haunting afterlife begin? In his version of the carol, Marley is escorted by a spritely creature along the pathway to redeeming his soul — by helping to save the one man on earth who was more greedy and sour than himself. We come to find that self-sacrifice can make a difference in the end.
21st Century Voices: New Play Festival 2022
Breathing fresh life into the artform, the annual 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival will bring the unheard works of playwrights to St. Petersburg, providing a first look into contemporary plays. Running Jan. 7-9 and 14-16, the festival will explore original scripts in development and usher in the narratives for future audiences. Readings of brand-new plays will be accompanied by panels and workshops that celebrate the creative spirit and foster the growth of untold stories.
“School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play”
Written by Jocelyn Bioh, “School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play” will run Feb. 2-27. It’s 1986. In an all-girls school in Ghana there’s a new girl in town, an American, who challenges the reigning queen bee. There’s a prestigious pageant on the line, which could provide the opportunity to move up in the world to the lucky winner. This is a funny and touching story about the universal teenage struggle, and the need to feel like you belong.
William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” will run June 29 through July 31. Shakespeare’s final masterpiece centers on an island where the powerful Prospera exacts a plan of revenge upon her foes and reconciliation with her loved ones. Elements of the sea and air wrap around the shipwrecked royals and drunken clowns while the magical Ariel orchestrates love at first sight. The journey’s romantic conclusion brings a heartfelt end to years of isolation.
All mainstage productions are presented in the Raymond James Theatre, 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg. Mainstage performances times are Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees are offered Saturdays and Sundays, at 2 p.m.
In addition to these mainstage productions, American Stage also will present “Footloose,” with music by Tom Snow; lyrics and original screenplay by Dean Pitchford; stage adaptation by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie; and additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman. Presented as part of the American Stage in the Park program, “Footloose” will run April 6 through May 8 and will be performed at Demens Landing Park, at First Avenue Southeast and Bayshore Drive in downtown St. Petersburg.
‘The People Downstairs’ finally gets its world premiere
Before American Stage officially launches its 2021-2022 season, there is some unfinished business: “The People Downstairs,” by St. Pete playwright Natalie Symons, was supposed to make its debut in March 2020. The show was halted due to the pandemic.
American Stage will present the world premiere of “The People Downstairs” as the finale of the 2020-2021 season. The production, directed by Chris Crawford, will run Sept. 15 through Oct. 3.
“There is something particularly special about collaborating with a writer and a creative team on a brand-new play,” said Stephanie Gularte, outgoing CEO and producing artistic director at American Stage. “The playwright entrusts a team of artists with her work. The director is the first to stage and sculpt the story. The designers are the first to create the physical world of the play. The actors are the first to breathe life into its characters. And the audience is the first to transform the work into a dynamic, visceral shared experience that only live theatre can offer.”
Gularte went on to say that American Stage is grateful to have been a part of the journey of “The People Downstairs,” since its very first intimate table reading over two years ago.
“Our team is proud to present the world premiere production of this story of two awkward social misfits who hilariously stumble together toward something extraordinary to a live theatre audience for what will be the very first, but certainly not the last, time.”
The play was read during American Stage’s 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival in 2019. It was written while Symons was the 2018-2019 American Stage playwright-in-residence.
“American Stage went dark just hours before opening night of the world premiere of ‘The People Downstairs,’” Symons explained. “During a time of darkness and uncertainty, the cast and creative team stood in the theatre as a ghost light was lit. My heart broke that day. But there was always a glimmer of hope that our comedy about family, love and the healing power of laughter would return when the world was not so bleak. Over a year and half after the theatre shuddered, Scott Cooper’s magnificent set is still standing like a dusty museum piece and the actors are waiting for places. And now, finally, we will dim the ghost light and share this story about loneliness, isolation and the importance of human connection.”
In Buffalo, New York, aging funeral home custodian Miles lives with his middle-aged daughter Mabel, who spends her days writing letters to prison inmates. When a court-appointed guardian threatens to take away their home, Miles sets out to set Mabel up with Todd, an inept mortician. It is a father’s fierce determination not to accept his daughter’s fate that ignites an endearing human comedy about love, loss, loneliness and the healing power of laughter.
The cast includes Allen Fitzpatrick as Miles, Teri Lazzara as Shelley, Matthew McGee as Todd, and Sara Oliva as Mabel. This production is recommended for audiences age 12 and older.
American Stage Theatre has operated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in the heart of St. Petersburg since 1977, providing live theatrical productions as a professional regional equity theater. As Tampa Bay’s longest-running, most critically-acclaimed professional theater company, American Stage Theatre’s vision is to be a vital arts leader, connecting the community to world-class productions that celebrate the most powerful stories of the moment and the most defining stories from the past.