DIY Show-at-Home Theater Game for You and the Kids

The Patel Conservatory theater department presents a great idea for an easy, fun, at-home performing arts game you can do as a fam.

If you’ve got random household objects plus a restless young’un or two running around, then you’ve got just about everything you need for this quick-to-arrange, easy-to-cleanup theater game from our pros in the Patel Conservatory theater department. It’s DIY arts education at its quarantined best.

Matt Belopavlovich, theater department artistic director, pulled this activity, Personal Prop Stories, straight from the lesson plans of our performing arts school just for you. Plus, we have a specially-recorded demo from our Patel Conservatory theater managing director Audrey Siegler showing you how this game works—recorded from her house with her kids because, hey, we’re all at home right now with 24 hours to fill.

The instructions below are best suited for ages 3-10, but you can adapt it easily by using a more challenging title, the addition of dialogue and a more complex prop selection for a great storytelling improv for older kids.

Here we go!

Lets-Get-Started

Personal Prop Stories
This activity usually fills 15-20 minutes of our drama lesson plan.

What is a prop? An object used on stage by actors during a performance.

What You’ll Need:

Two or more players. The more the merrier!

Something to write on like computer paper, sticky note, used envelope, etc.

Something to write with—i.e., fancy pen, standard pencil, colorful marker, etc.

5 to 10 household items

  • Ideas: stuffed animal, kitchen utensil, piece of home décor, piece of clothing, pantry item, office supplies, gardening tool
  • Suggestion: Try grabbing one or two things from each room in your home.

What-You-Will-Need

Setup:

1. Set out all the props on the floor or a table.
2. Clear a small space to be your stage.
3. Write “Title,” “Characters” and “Opening Line” on your writing material.
4. Choose a Scribe (writer) and Director (activity moderator).
5. Assign a “prop discard” area.

The-Players

Time for Fun:

1. The Director asks the group of actors for a random story title. This could be something silly like “Purple Banana Goes to the Mall.” The Scribe writes down this title on the paper.

  • The title will help everyone stay “on story” as the activity continues.

Title

2. The Director asks for two main characters and an opening line. The Scribe records these on the paper.

  • Main characters example: Purple Banana and Brown Pear (protagonist/antagonist)
  • Opening line example: “Purple Banana needed a new shoe and went to the mall.”

3. The Director counts to three and everyone says the opening line together.

First-Line

4. All actors act out the line.

  • For example, everyone looks at their imaginary old shoe and walks in place as if they are headed to the mall.

5. Each actor gets a turn to be the narrator by choosing a prop and adding a line to the story. Their story moment should be inspired by the prop.

  • Example: If Mom chose a winter hat she might say, “Purple Banana stepped outside and realized how cold it was. He ran back inside to grab his winter hat.”
  • The Director should encourage actors to introduce the second character as the story progresses. For younger actors, encourage the conflict and second character connecting somehow.
  • Example: “Brown Pear stole the winter hat from Purple Banana’s head and ran away.”

Second-Line

6. All actors would then act out the story moment actions such as pantomiming a door and running inside to put on a pantomimed hat.

  • Discard the prop after it has been used in the story.

7. The final actor’s prop should somehow conclude the story. Once their full turn is complete, the Director counts to three again and everyone says, “The End.”

The-End (1)

Prop Story Teaching Tips:

  • Review some simple parts of the story with younger kids such as Beginning, Middle, End, Conflict, and Solution.
  • If playing with only two players, each take two turns, creating four total story moments.
  • Disinfect all props before and after your storytelling journey.
  • Rotate Director and Scribe roles with each new story.
  • Repeat the game as much as you wish with different props.
  • Make up new elements that could be added to the story such as random lines written before the activity and selected out of a hat during or after each story moment.

Most of all, have fun.

Stay tuned: We’ll be back soon with a new performing arts activity you can do at home.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes … an Audition?

Jobsite Theater’s latest production, Doubt: A Parable, features wife-and-husband team of Summer Bohnenkamp directing and David Jenkins in a lead role. How do they do it?

This week, Caught in the Act welcomes back guest blogger Alex Stewart, Straz Center public relations manager, who was brave enough to do a deep-dive into the working-life-partners relationship of Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins. She sat down with the pair to talk about the tricky business of work-life-love balance and how they manage to pull it off so well.  Summer and David’s most recent theater production, Doubt: A Parable, opens March 11.

By Alex Stewart

If you’re a part of the theater or arts scene in Tampa Bay, chances are you know the creative couple Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins. Married for almost 20 years, and working together for more, they’ve built a life together while simultaneously building successful theater careers.

Their next collaboration is Jobsite Theater’s upcoming production of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley, with Summer directing and David playing the role of Father Flynn.

David M. Jenkins (Father Flynn). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.

Summer, the vice president of marketing and programming at the Straz Center, and David, the producing artistic director and co-founder for Jobsite Theater, met while working on a show at The Straz in 1999.

“Summer was in [The Straz’s] group sales office at the time, and she was enlisted along with a couple of other staff members to play minor characters,” says David. “She wore this crazy Viking outfit, a skimpy thing with big Viking horns. We met doing that show, and we started doing the ‘we’re not dating, we’re just hanging out’ thing.”

Before we go any further, we have to ask, who doesn’t love a female Viking?

As we mentioned earlier, that “just hanging out” thing blossomed into 20 years of marriage. They’ve since worked together on multiple theater productions, both acting and directing, as well as alongside each other in the marketing office at the Straz Center for nearly 10 years before Jenkins moved into his full-time role at Jobsite. They know each other intimately, especially when it comes to theater.

“I don’t think I could ever direct a highly stylized piece or a period piece. That’s all David’s wheelhouse,” explains Summer. “But he’ll hand me scripts that he thinks will suit my sensibilities.”

Co-directors David Jenkins and Summer Bohnenkamp, Paul Potenza (Ulysses) and Angela Bond (Emma). Jobsite Theater’s production of Annapurna. Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.

And David did just that. He knew that Doubt was a favorite of Summer’s, her having seen the show with three different casts, twice on Broadway and once when it came to Tampa on tour. “I think she’s somebody who has an incredible perspective on the show, and she’s a very good director,” said David. As you can imagine, David and Summer talk a lot about theater. David listened to Summer’s thoughts about Doubt each time after she saw it, and she always had thoughts on what was done right or what could have been done differently to leave her with more ambiguities about the characters and the story.

“The structure of the play is one that interests me because it’s really about more than what actually happens in the play, but about this intense conviction versus what may or may not be accurate,” says Summer. “The play doesn’t have a clear conclusion. And oddly, I very much like ambiguity and a situation where people can make up their own mind about what is happening.”

David has directed Summer several times in previous Jobsite productions, but Doubt is only the second time Summer has directed her husband. Having worked together for so long, the actor/director dynamic doesn’t change much for them.

“For the most part, being directed by or directing him is fine,” says Summer. “I probably get more easily frustrated with him as a director. Not always, it’s hard to say, and it depends on the show and the role and everything else.”

While their marriage has had a positive impact on their theater careers, it’s also come with the perception that they play favorites – especially when it comes to casting. But their 20+ year tenure as colleagues has allowed them to treat each other like any other fellow actor or director when they are working in those capacities.

“It’s very normal for us to compartmentalize,” says Summer. “Work is work and personal is personal, and we don’t really mix those two things up. We’ve passed each other up for roles if we thought another actor was better suited.”

Summer Bohnenkamp and David Jenkins.

For Jenkins, who has a BA in theater performance and an MFA in acting, it’s a treat to have his wife directing. “Because my first love [in theater] is acting and I don’t get the chance to do it that often, I appreciate doing it with a director who knows what she’s doing. And that works out really well with Summer because her style is one that I get.”

Jenkins, who oversees all daily operations for Jobsite and directs many of the shows each season, explained how the trust they’ve built through their relationship allows him to step back from his role as “the boss” and enjoy acting.

“I appreciate working with her and our relationship because it allows me this gift,” he says. “It’s hard for me to be an actor with my own company because if stuff is going wrong, I’m still in charge, right? So, it’s really nice to be in a process where I don’t have to worry. And if something happens and I do need to step outside of being just an actor, I can do that, but I feel like I’m a lot more relaxed knowing she’s the one in the chair.”

“We’re both really big on keeping personal stuff at home,” says Summer. “We are never going to be the people who get into an argument in front of other people. We’re not going to talk about anything personal, ever. If I’m getting the note [as an actor], I’m getting the note like anybody else. If I have a question about the note later, I might ask the question later. But all actors do that all the time, right? I wouldn’t act any different than if anybody else was directing me. And David is the same. He takes the note and moves on.”

No matter what show they’re turning into a success, work is work, play is play, and sometimes work is play—but work is never personal. Trust me, there will be no doubt that these two will make John Patrick Shanley’s script into a very unique Jobsite experience.

David M. Jenkins (Father Flynn) and Roxanne Fay (Sister Aloysius). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography.

Doubt: A Parable plays the Shimberg Playhouse March 11 – April 5.

Little-Known Facts about the Widely-Known Songs in SHOUT! The Mod Musical

SHOUT! The Mod Musical opens tomorrow, so now is the perfect time to take a strut down memory lane with a few of the show’s mega-hits from the 1960s. We put together this fab list of choice info to give you the skinny on some of the most popular songs in the show. It’s a gas, baby.

Photo By Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

  1. Wishin’ and Hopin’

The *other* 60s throwback, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery¸ put Burt Bacharach back on the screen in one of the best scenes in the movie, a cameo featuring “What the World Needs Now.” Because, what’s a swingin’ Sixties story without Burt Bacharach? The smoother-than-a-lounge-sofa composer first wrote “Wishin’ and Hopin’” for Dionne Warwick (aunt of Whitney Houston). Dusty Springfield heard Dionne’s recording and loved the song so much she went out and recorded her own version two years later. Dusty Springfield, of course, is best known for another song revived by the movies …

  1. Son of a Preacher Man

Welp, we dare you to hear Dusty Springfield’s version of this song and not think about Pulp Fiction. We’re pretty sure the scene of Vincent (John Travolta) picking up Marsellus Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman) at their house would not have been as fraught with temptation had Tarantino picked any other song. In fact, Tarantino claimed later he wouldn’t have shot the scene had he not be able to set it to “Son of a Preacher Man.” The song sits at slot 43 of the greatest singles of all time according to the writers at New Musical Express. Dusty Springfield, of course, is a stage name. She was born in London as Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien. That’s a lot of names, kind of like the woman who sang …

  1. To Sir, With Love

… who was Lulu, born Marie McDonald McLauglin Lawrie. Lulu is certainly easier to remember. “To Sir, With Love” hit No. 1 in 1967, the theme song of the film To Sir, With Love starring Sidney Poitier as a teacher doomed or destined (depending on your perspective) to save a class of wayward youths at a school in dodgy east London. Lulu made her film debut in the movie, going on to win bit parts in other films including 2016’s Ab Fab: The Movie.  Don Black, the lyricist for “To Sir, With Love,” also wrote the lyrics to the 60s hit “Born Free” and the theme songs to the Bond films Diamonds are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough.  Which brings us to …

  1. James Bond Theme/Goldfinger

Probably one of the most recognizable movie theme songs next to Jaws, the James Bond Theme carries a bit of intrigue around its creation. Credited to Monty Norman, whose been earning royalties from the music since 1962 when he composed the piece for Dr. No, there’s been some pushback from John Barry, who wrote “007 Theme” for From Russia with Love. {Some will argue the circumstances for Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love were much more dangerous than for Sean Connery in same title except From Russia]. John Barry indisputably wrote “Goldfinger” for that Bond film with the unashamedly over-acting diva Shirley Bassey belting out the theme song with her unmistakable “GooooldFINGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” which has been a joy to replicate for everyone covering the song thereafter. As of this writing, the great diva Dame Shirley Bassey is still alive and performing this very song.

  1. Georgy Girl

As long as we’re talking divas, let’s start by mentioning Lynn Redgrave starred as Georgy Girl in the film, which was her breakout role about a young woman coming-of-age in Swingin’ London. It’s a perfect song for SHOUT!, which is all about women like Georgy. The theme song “Georgy Girl,” performed by The Seekers, made them the first Australian folk group to get major success in the US and UK. The song hit No. 1 in 1965, and, in 1967, The Seekers were named Australians of the Year. And, guess who wrote the music to “Georgy Girl”? Tom Springfield—Dusty’s brother. His birth name was Dionysius P.A. O’Brien. At this point, we’re beginning to suspect Dusty and Tom had very interesting parents. And you know who did have interesting parents …

  1. These Boots are Made for Walkin’

Nancy Sinatra. Eldest daughter of Old Blue Eyes Frank and mom Nancy, this woman was destined for the charts. Her No. 1 hit, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” has been covered by a surprisingly diverse crowd that includes Billy Ray Cyrus, Megadeath and Ella Fitzgerald. Lee Hazlewood wrote “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” and he’d later write the theme song for Frank Sinatra’s detective movie, Tony Rome¸ which he got Nancy to perform. Lee and Nancy collaborated all the way up to 2004. Hazlewood confessed in an interview that the catch phrase of this song, “one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you” came from a conversation he was eavesdropping on in a bar.  That proves 1) be careful what you say in a bar and 2) inspiration comes from all kinds of places like …

  1. Downtown

… the ginormous 1964 Petula Clark hit that came after songwriter Tony Hatch went to New York City to find new material for Clark. Before “Downtown,” Clark was unknown in the United States even though she was a huge British star. The single skyrocketed her to the top of the U.S. charts and “Downtown” was covered by Frank Sinatra, Patty Duke, and, most notably, by Dolly Parton on her The Great Pretender album. In a very 90s turn of events for the song, it featured prominently in “The Bottle Deposit” episode of Seinfeld, when George and Jerry decide to use the lyrics of the song to try to decipher a message from George’s boss because George, of course, is too anxious to ask his boss to clarify the message directly.  So, George and Jerry head, well, downtown—where all the lights are bright—and a bunch of hilarious nothingness follows.

  1. Shout!

Talk about your songs that have been covered and covered and covered. This Isley Brothers ditty barely had a chance to become one of their signature songs before everybody in the 60s … then 70s … then 80s … then 90s to now covered it for their own albums. Only one month after the Isley Brothers dropped the record, Johnny O’Keefe did the song in Australia and got it to #2 on the Aussie charts. After that, Chubby Checker recorded it, followed by Dion, Lulu, The Shangri-Las, The Beatles, The Kingsmen, The Shondells, Otis Day and The Knights, Joan Jett, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Green Day, Panic! At the Disco, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Alvin & the Chipmunks and the cast of Glee. And that’s not even a complete list. In an interesting side note, the Isley Brothers also wrote and recorded “Twist and Shout,” also recorded and made famous by The Beatles.

Wiggle Room

The Straz Center’s Wee Folk series is designed specifically for the toddler set. Welcome to the room where wiggling is allowed.

You may not know this, but on the ground floor behind Morsani Hall, we have a large, tall rehearsal room that regularly sees Opera Tampa rehearsals, ballet classes, chamber music practices and the occasional special event.

Children enjoying a show in our Wee Folk Series.

However, three times a year we roll out a cart filled with multi-colored foam squares and interlock those bad boys on the floor of the rehearsal hall for one of our favorite audiences: toddlers.

If you or anyone you know has ever tried to perform for kids—especially tiny tots designed to meltdown easily and go into wild mode with a little bit of sensory overload—then you know it’s a tough gig in show biz. Getting a fun, smart, successful act together for two-to-four-year-olds requires a special skill set, a special personality and a special sense of humor.

Fortunately, we have some great local performers who do an excellent job with this age group, so we book them for our youngest theater-goers. The Wee Folk series features clowning, storytelling and song in a way that little ones love. Plus, we set up the whole environment in the rehearsal hall specifically for performing arts patrons who love to get up and run around, make crazy noises and are relatively new to the whole life-on-earth business. Toddlers get to be toddlers, and parents get a super-affordable live performing arts experience for their kids without the weird social pressure for their kids to behave like adults in public. It’s a win-win.

Lippo The Clown

“The Wee Folk series is as much for the parents as it is for the kids,” says Joel Lisi, who programmed the Wee Folk series for several years, now serves as the Straz Center’s senior programming manager and is the proud parent of a seven-year-old. “We know parents want to bring their children to live theater, but this age isn’t meant to sit still in a dark theater and be quiet. So, we created this three-performance series and designed it with toddlers and parents-of-toddlers in mind. It’s a safe space, you don’t have to be embarrassed if your kid gets up and runs. Or shouts. Or screams. There are other toddlers there, so parents are free to not worry and let the kids be kids.”

This Saturday, we have the second Wee Folk show of the season, Lippo the Clown’s One-Man Family Circus.  “Lippo’s got a certain classic art,” Lisi says. “He’s not creepy, let’s put it that way. He comes from a classic vaudevillian sensibility that shows the beauty of clownship, as it were. He’s a real character that the kids just gravitate to, and he’s great. We’ve also had his other show, The Franzini Family Science Circus here, so we appreciate his philosophy of teaching children while entertaining them on their level. He’s just a class act.”

Katie Adams, Animal Safari Stories

Another Wee Folk hero, storyteller Katie Adams, wraps up the series in May with one of her best-loved programs, Animal Safari Stories.

“All these performers are specialized,” says Lisi. “They don’t get shook because the audience might get a little unruly. Their shows are interactive, short and they know the tricks of the trade for managing an audience of toddlers. It’s really a fun experience for everyone.”

Silly Sam The Music Man

To get your seat on the foam floor, visit strazcenter.org. Our other Family Fun series, Kid Time, is for ages five to eight and graduates kids to Ferguson Hall. If that’s of interest, check it out here.

Mean Girls 101

The essential guide to cult classic catch phrases

This week, Caught in the Act welcomes guest blogger Alex Stewart, media relations manager for The Straz and a big fan of the Mean Girls movie. Our resident subject matter expert on the most memorable lines from the film, Alex agreed to take us through this Mean Girls primer to get us ready for the upcoming musical adaptation.

By Alex Stewart

Get ready to leave the real world and enter Girl World when Mean Girls comes to the Morsani stage February 18-23. The Broadway musical is based on the 2004 film, both written by Tina Fey. The film, now almost 16 years old, has become a modern cult classic and one of the most quotable movies of our time. In honor of the upcoming burn fest, we wanted to share some of the most fetch phrases from the film – because when it comes to quoting Mean Girls, the limit does not exist.

 “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” – Karen Smith

Arguably one of the most recognized and quoted lines from the movie, Karen excitedly tells Cady Heron what to wear in order to sit with the Plastics (the most popular girls in school) the next day at lunch. This line has inspired an insane amount of merch, as well as countless women across the internet documenting a week they spent living by the Plastics’ rules, which are as follows:

  1. You can’t wear tank tops two days in a row.
  2. You can only wear your hair in a ponytail once a week.
  3. You can only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays.

Don’t forget that hoop earrings are Regina’s thing, and you wouldn’t buy a skirt without asking your friends first if it looks good on you, right? And in the Plastics’ world, if you don’t follow the rules …

“YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!” – Gretchen Wieners 

The ultimate representation of girl-on-girl crime and bullying, Gretchen shouts this line at Regina when she walks up to the table wearing sweatpants on a Friday, which is against the rules of the Plastics. We’d bet that most people have jokingly shouted this line at someone, many without even knowing it’s from Mean Girls.

“On October 3rd, he asked me what day it was. It’s October 3rd.”

Thanks to this iconic line, October 3rd has unofficially become Mean Girls Day. Cady Heron is so into Aaron Samuels that she notes the exact day that he asked her what day it was, obviously making it one of the most important days of the year.

“She doesn’t even go here!” – Damian Leigh

One of the most well-known references in the film, Damian shouts this at an all-girls assembly wearing a hoodie and sunglasses in reference to a girl who doesn’t go to their school but won’t stop talking. The best part about this line? There are so many ways to integrate it into daily life:

Did someone give an opinion no one asked for? SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!

Is there a rando interrupting your conversation? SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!

Now, you try.

“That is so fetch!” – Gretchen Wieners

Even though Regina told Gretchen to “stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen!”, fetch did happen, despite the odds. Now it’s part of our vernacular, thanks to the film.

“Four for you, Glen Coco. You go Glen Coco! …And none for Gretchen Wieners.” – Damian Leigh

In the film, Damian, dressed as Santa, is handing out candy cane grams to students in class. Glen Coco receives four candy cane grams from someone, while Cady receives one from Regina and Gretchen receives none. This is part of the plan to take down the Plastics – and while Glen Coco has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the delivery of this line has made him live in infamy.

Fun fact: Glen Coco was played by David Reale, who was uncredited in the film. Reale was not cast; he walked onto to the set to watch the filming and get free lunch. You go, David Reale!

“Get in, loser. We’re going shopping.” – Regina George

This iconic phrase has inspired endless memes. From dogs and llamas in cars (our favorites) to Dr. Who and the TARDIS to so many more. The possibilities for using this phrase are endless.

“Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.” – Regina George

One of the most relatable quotes from the film for pretty much anyone, Regina declares this after she says she’s only eating foods with less than 30% calories from fat. We’ll take cheese fries over math any day.   

“I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.” – Mrs. George, Regina’s mom

Regina’s mom says this line to Cady after the Plastics are invited to Regina’s house. A suburban housewife, Mrs. George tries to maintain her youth by wearing hip clothes, partaking in plastic surgery and offering to allow the girls to drink alcohol—if they do so in the house.

One of the most quoted phrases by moms of humans and pets alike, this line has cemented itself in modern culture. There are currently over 20,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #ImNotaRegularMomImaCoolMom.

“It’s like I have ESPN or something.” – Karen Smith

This phrase is solely responsible for making ESPN grool. Karen, described as “one of the dumbest girls you’ll ever meet,” explains to Cady that she has a fifth sense. Mixing up the psychic ability ESP with the sports channel ESPN, this is one of the most obvious and ridiculous jokes, making it one of the most quotable phrases in the film.

“That’s why her hair is so big, it’s full of secrets.” – Damian Leigh

Used today by beauty influencers everywhere, this phrase is another brilliant line delivered by Damian. He uses it to describe Gretchen, whose dad invented the Toaster Strudel.

There you have it. Now that you’ve brushed up on the most fetch Mean Girls quotes, don’t forget to grab tickets for the show.

Silver Linings

Opera Tampa, the resident opera company of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, celebrates its 25th anniversary season with three electrifying main stage performances.

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Tampa Bay Magazine. We are happy to have permission to reprint it for our blog, in honor of the upcoming performances of Opera Tampa’s  Carmen Feb. 7-9.

Carmen. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

A 25th anniversary is symbolized by silver, a lustrous metal that carries the highest capacity to conduct heat and electricity. Such characteristic seem fitting for the current Opera Tampa season, the grand opera company’s 25th, which boasts productions of Carmen, The Pirates of Penzance and Aida for this hallmark occasion.

“We wanted this season to make a statement since we know how important opera is to this community,” says Straz Center President and Opera Tampa General Director Judy Lisi. “There are so many people who live here who grew up listening to great opera around a radio or record player with their parents and grandparents. We also have a new generation of young opera fans who know the music from movie scores, cartoons and popular remakes and are discovering the excitement of the original material. We are putting up an epic season to honor the best of what everyone loves about great opera.”

Lisi, a Puccini aficionado and classically trained singer, launched her first successful opera company in Connecticut with Maestro Anton Coppola acting as artistic director. The pair ushered in a revival of great opera for the Shubert Theater in New Haven, building a loyal following and stellar reputation for excellence in programming and production. The duo reprised this success in Tampa, when Lisi and Coppola created Opera Tampa, producing Madama Butterfly to complement a Broadway tour of Miss Saigon, a musical adapted from the opera’s story.

“When we introduced grand opera at The Straz, we knew we wanted to work with what audiences who may not be familiar with opera already knew and loved, which was Broadway,” says Lisi. “The first year we started with Madama Butterfly; the second year RENT was on our Broadway season so, naturally, we staged La Boheme, the inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s hit musical. Our original plan was to put up one opera a season, but we quickly found out we had a strong audience for the art form here. Before we knew it, we were staging three huge productions per season.”

Pirate King, Pirates of Penzance. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

Over the years, Opera Tampa has drawn internationally-renowned singers to Morsani Hall in the Straz Center to portray the towering characters that populate the opera canon. For the past quarter of a century, the company breathed life into the masterworks of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, Wager, Bizet and Donizetti with outstanding local talent performing onstage with singers from The Met and La Scala. As the reputation and popularity of Opera Tampa grew, the organization decided to institute an annual recognition to someone in the field. After Maestro Coppola’s retirement, Opera Tampa unveiled The Anton Coppola Excellence in the Arts Award, bestowed each year at the Grand Gala. Recipients include such luminaries as Placido Domingo, Denyce Graves, Sherrill Milnes, Diana Soviero, Carlisle Floyd and Paul Plishka.

In November 2019, Opera Tampa held the inaugural D’Angelo Young Artist Vocal Competition, helping to establish Opera Tampa as an entity that not only produces great opera but also cultivates the next generation of opera performers. Through their extensive arts education program, Opera Tampa has also cultivated the next generation of audiences by bringing professional singers into school classrooms to get kids excited about opera music and stories. “When I look back over the past 25 years and assess the ways Opera Tampa has impacted this area culturally, educationally and artistically, I almost can’t believe how much has happened,” says Lisi. “What started as a hope that people would like this art form has grown into a full-fledged cultural institution. We have a solid name in the professional opera world; our successes in one of the most acoustically gorgeous theaters in America has people sitting up and taking notice of what’s happening in Tampa. We couldn’t be happier to have reached our 25th anniversary season with such momentum and excitement about what’s to come.”

Aida. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

Under the baton of newly-appointed artistic director Robin Stamper, who has been with Opera Tampa as a director, choral master and pianist for several years, the future of the company looks rosy. “I have seen so much incredible talent appear with Opera Tampa in my 4 1/2 years with the company, not just onstage but with our extraordinary production crew and musicians,” says Stamper. “I am deeply honored to steward this magnificent company and to direct us into an exciting future.”

The 25th anniversary season promises to be lustrous with plenty of heat and electricity, starting with George Bizet’s Carmen in February, continuing with Gilbert and Sullivan’s madcap genius The Pirates of Penzance in March and concluding with Guiseppe Verdi’s iconic Aida in April. “We’re so grateful for the support and enthusiasm we’ve seen over the past two-and-a-half decades,” Lisi says. “We’re honored to be able to give such exemplary artistic works to everyone in this community.”

The Two Best Reasons to See A Tuna Christmas Right Now

There are two stars in this Christmas story, and they’re actors Spencer Meyers and Derrick Phillips.

Derrick Phillips as Arles Struvie and Spencer Meyers as Thurston Wheelis. Photo by Rob Harris Productions

The first wave of the Tuna, Texas two-man laugh-a-thons roared through theaters in the 90s, drawing tons of attention to the original actors, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. The guys concocted a series of stage plays about a fictional town and its deliciously eccentric inhabitants, traveling the country with Greater Tuna; Red, White and Tuna and the Straz Center’s current holiday gift to you, A Tuna Christmas. Two of the Tampa-area’s own comic geniuses—Spencer Meyers and Derrick Phillips—tackle the daunting script of 20+ characters. Caught in the Act grabbed a few minutes of their time to gab about the show.

Caught in the Act: What in the world made you audition for a show that has more than 20 characters but only two actors?

Spencer Myers: I love playing multiple characters in a comedy. I get such an adrenaline rush.

Derrick Phillips: These types of shows are dreams for actors. It is a wonderful challenge to take your training and apply so much of it into one show. Each character has a different physical, vocal and mental space. To be able to showcase that into one show is amazing. And who doesn’t like to do a show like this that is filled with so much fun and laughter as well as heart?

CITA: How many total characters do you play in the show, and which are your top two faves to play? What is it about those two characters that make them your favorite to perform?

SM:  I love all my characters in some way. My favorites are Bertha Bumiller and Inita Goodwin. Bertha’s storyline is wonderful and fully fleshed out. It’s nice to have one of my characters have a story arc and hit all the emotions. Sometimes I just want to give Bertha a big hug.

DP: I play 11 characters in the show. As the play has progressed, my favorites seem to change on a daily basis. They all have a special place in my heart. If I had to pick two … I think they would be Vera Carp and Petey Fisk. Vera is a favorite to perform because of the multiple layers of her personality. I have met this lady, not in Texas, but I have met her. She has sharp edges and interacts with not only the other actor on stage but the people who live in her house whom the audience does not see. Once you see the show, I think you will understand why Vera is fun to perform.

SM: Inita is just plain fun—a fantastic and energetic way to start Act Two. She’s mentioned in the first scene of Act One and not actually seen until the top of Act Two. Act Two is a whirlwind of quick changes for both me and Derrick. Fun and fast comedy in the beginning to then settle into some of the more heartfelt storyline conclusions of the characters of Act One.

DP: Petey Fisk is a pure and loving soul that has a lot of heart in this show. I enjoy performing as this character because he is different than the rest of the town (other characters even say that). He has a lot of hilarious lines, but they come from such an honest place. He’s quirky and will not only fill the audience with laughter but also warm their hearts. He is like an adult Tiny Tim.

I have to also mention how enjoyable it is to play Helen Bedd. She is one of the waitresses in the Tastee Cream and she is just a delight to play. Her demeanor and physicality are so fun to step into and live out.

CITA: Seems like this would be an easy show to blunder … have you ever gotten your characters’ lines confused, accidentally saying Helen Bedd’s line while you were playing Didi Snavely type of thing? Have any identity crisis stories or funny mix-up moments you’d like to share with our readers?

SM: Oh, now you just want me to give away secrets? Yes. The accents have blurred before. You sometimes have 15 seconds to change your costume completely before barreling onstage as another character. Bertha and her Aunt Pearl are very similar, and sometimes I have started the scene as the other. If it happens it’s usually a word or two. This has also happened in the rehearsal process with one scene where two of my characters fight with each other off stage. You can also imagine the looks people gave me while I was rehearsing this scene quietly to myself in public.

Spencer Myers as Bertha Bumiller and Derrick Phillips as Arles Struvie. Photo by Rob Harris Productions

DP: This is a show that if you didn’t have your backstage costume changers you could easily get mixed up. Sometimes the character changes are so fast that I have to really think about who am I next, where is my physical and vocal placement, what mental state am I at this moment. These are all considerations that the actor ha to make in 10-15 seconds. Most plays you have a moment off stage, not this one.

DP: There have been times as Vera, where I have meant to talk to Virgil (son not seen) and shouted at Lupe (the maid, also not seen). The dynamic of backstage and onstage really help not having any mix-up moments. There is a choreography on and off the stage that is necessary for a show like this.

CITA: What’s your favorite line in the show?

SM: This is too hard because I have so many. Bertha’s lines are some of my favorites. They have that Mama’s Family cadence to them. Okay, let’s see if I can choose one.

Bertha: “Oh Didi, it’s so hard to hold up when the entire town knows my husband is as useless as an ice tray in Hell.”

DP: This is a tough one – and I am sure it will change as the play continues.

Charlene: “I don’t want to waste my artistic integrity on a pathetic little shrub” … but to be honest, this is a very hard question. There are so many.

CITA: Let’s say you have to move to Tuna, Texas. Who are you going to get along with best? Who are you going to steer clear of?

SM:  I think I’d get along with Thurston and Arles. I WANT to be friends with Aunt Pearl and Dixie! There’s no way I could be friends with Vera Carp. We all know a Vera, bless her heart.

DP:  I would absolutely hang out with Helen Bedd. I would probably steer clear of Vera Carp at all costs [laughs].

Spencer Myers as Bertha Bumiller and Derrick Phillips as Arles Struvie. Photo by Rob Harris Productions

CITA: Finally, the major drama in A Tuna Christmas happens around the unholy desecration of the annual Yard Display Contest.  If, since you’re imagining living in Tuna, you had to create a yard display for this esteemed event, what would yours be?

SM: Let me tell you, there is some stiff competition in Tuna. I would love to see some of the displays that are mentioned in the show, especially Aunt Pearl’s display from the previous year.

I wonder if I could pull off a Christmas Haunted House? I wonder if that would stop the Christmas Phantom.

DP: Think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but with sound synching to the lights. I also would want it to be as inclusive as possible. Maybe even a snow machine.

See Spencer and Derrick don the many faces—and accents—of Tuna, Texas from now until Dec. 22.