ST. PETERSBURG — Audiences gathered March 12, 2020, at American Stage in St. Petersburg, to watch the final preview performance of “The People Downstairs,” Natalie Symons’ poignant family comedy.
The production, scheduled to run through April 5, followed a successful run of Dominque Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew,” the final play in the Detroit Projects, a three-play cycle. “Skeleton Crew” revolves around a group of auto-plant workers facing a bleak and uncertain future due to an economic downturn.
As fate would have it, “The People Downstairs” is still awaiting its world premiere opening — because the world changed on March 12, 2020. March 12 was the day the reality of the emerging pandemic began to come into focus and the need to suspend large gatherings became clear. It was, among other things, the day Broadway shut down.
Things have not yet gotten back to normal, but here in the Tampa Bay area, venues are finding ways to keep the community connected to the performing arts.
One year after American Stage was forced to shutter its theatre in response to COVID-19, the 44-year old Tampa Bay professional theater company is continuing to innovate to provide programming, community connection and arts education. The first half of American Stage’s 2020-21 Reimagine season has included a series of diverse digital productions delivered to audiences throughout Tampa Bay and around the country. As ongoing health and safety considerations evolve, the company is announcing programming plans for the remainder of the season. The season continues to look different than any other in American Stage’s history, as programming is brought to audiences and the community in a new and reimagined way.
Onsite performances are planned for a return in 2021, beginning in May with unique outdoor, Pop-Up! entertainment. These events will employ the highest of safety standards, including masks and social distancing, to protect performers, staff, artists and audiences.
"This spring and summer, beginning with Pop-Up! Performances in May followed by ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in Williams Park and our annual summer theatre programs, the American Stage team is ready and very excited to begin to carefully return to onsite performances,” said Stephanie Gularte, CEO/producing artistic director at American Stage. “By employing high safety standards to protect performers, staff, artists and audiences, and through creative approaches to content and staging, our goal is to begin to restore the joy of joining together for live performance experiences.”
American Stage’s high safety standards also mean setting aside traditions, sometimes. According to a press release, two of the company’s signature annual events — American Stage in the Park and Gala Under the Stars — will be postponed until the spring of 2022. These are the largest events that American Stage sponsors each year by far, boasting a production team of more than 300 artists, technicians, staff, trustees, vendors and volunteers and more than 20,000 attendees coming together at Demens Landing.
“Postponing American Stage in the Park for one more year was a very tough decision for the staff and trustees,” Gularte said. “While we are incredibly eager to move forward with ‘Park’ and ‘Gala,’ we feel confident that a return in the spring of 2022 will provide American Stage and our community the opportunity to restore to something resembling normalcy and to celebrate this Tampa Bay tradition in its full glory.”
Following is an overview of scheduled programming for the remainder of the American Stage 2020-21 Reimagine Season:
• Limited Pre-Recorded Preview Performance of “The People Downstairs” — March 29 through April 4, 2021. As American Stage announces its plans for the remainder of the 2020-21 season, they also reflect on the last live performance presented on stage. On March 12, 2020, audiences and artists joined together for the final preview performance of Natalie Symons’ family comedy “The People Downstairs.” Now, American Stage members are invited to virtually step back into the theater for this funny, heartwarming play that is still awaiting its world premiere opening. This very special recorded performance of the last production presented to a live audience will be made available to American Stage members only. Patrons can still become members by visiting americanstage.org/membership.
• Adult Spring Classes — April 2021. American Stage education classes ignite artistry, cultivate community, and empower personal growth through improv training and theatre classes for adults. Whether curious about the artform, or interested in pursuing it professionally, classes are available for all levels. Outdoor sessions of “Improv Reboot” and “Live, Laugh, Improv!” are back this April, as well as more virtual course options.
• Pop-Up! Performances — May 2021. American Stage’s Pop-Up! Performances offer safe and socially-distanced live entertainment around the community, including at St. Pete’s exciting new creative arts destination, The Factory St. Pete. Digital and intimate members-only performances will also be offered on the theater’s Virtual Stage. These “Pop-Ups!” will include talented performers taking the stage for a fun celebration of the joy of coming together through the magic of live performance.
• American Stage Summer Theatre Programs — June 21 through Aug. 6, 2021. American Stage camp sessions are now open for enrollment. Studying theater not only helps students become accomplished and confident performers and communicators, it also strengthens creative, intellectual and emotional growth. Seven sessions run for seven weeks and include topics like “Hit Songs from Hamilton!”, “Around the World: Dance & Shout,” “Muppet Mayhem,” “Sketch Comedy” and more. All experience levels are welcome, and financial aid is available. Visit americanstage.org/summer to enroll.
• “Romeo & Juliet (The One with The Happy Ending)” — Summer 2021 at Williams Park. This bold and modern retelling of Shakespeare’s most romantic tragedy imagines how two young lovers, caught in the middle of their feuding families, might meet a different fate. Through party crashing, street fights and clandestine encounters, the plot twists and turns toward a stunning new conclusion where love may just conquer all. As part of American Stage’s ongoing accessibility and Next Generation initiatives, anyone under 20 years of age can watch this outdoor production for free.
• 21-22 Season Announcement — Summer 2021. American Stage will announce plans for the 2021-22 season as well as welcome the company’s new producing artistic director.
• American Stage Improv: Return of the Laughs! — August 2021. American Stage Improv is back. Celebrate the joy of live comedy, creative collaboration, and impromptu storytelling in a day and night filled with fun and life-affirming laughter. This one-day, safe and socially-distanced extravaganza brings together favorite local long form, short form and musical improv talent. Attendees will enjoy workshops during the day, and a collection of lively performances in the evening.
About American Stage
American Stage Theatre operates as a nonprofit 501(C)(3) in the heart of St. Petersburg, providing live theatrical productions as a professional regional equity theater since 1977. As Tampa Bay’s longest-running, most critically-acclaimed professional theater company, American Stage seeks 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.
Visit Americanstage.org or call 727-823-7529.