Who is Larissa Fasthorse?

Jobsite Theater’s latest knockout of a show presents the work of Native American playwright Larissa Fasthorse. Obviously, she’s gonna have a few thoughts on Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Play opened in the Shimberg Playhouse a few weeks ago to rave reviews. The play is terrifically funny, especially if you’re looking for someone to jab a sharp stick in the eye of white fragility among self-appointed woke liberal folk. The playwright, Larissa Fasthorse, holds the very dubious distinction of being the first Native American to have a full-length, full production in a major Off-Broadway theater for this very play. When? Last year, in 2018. So, we’re happy to have this chance to introduce you to her. You can get to know her a little better—then, if you haven’t already, go check out her fantastic play, or see it a second or third time.

Caitlin Eason (Logan), Giles Davies (Jaxton), Dana Mauro (Alicia) and Adam Workman (Caden). Photos from a tech rehearsal of Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. Photo by Jobsite Theater.

We’ve edited and excerpted the interview below from a wonderful article by Victoria Myers, for The Interval. For the full article, visit “Larissa Fasthorse on The Thanksgiving Play and More”.

Victoria Myers: I read that you have a background in dance, and film and TV. How do you feel all of that affects your writing? And how did all of that impact how you taught yourself to be a playwright?

Larissa Fasthorse: I was a classical ballet dancer for a whole first career. In a lot of my plays, there are very large sections of physical, visual action as opposed to text, and it wasn’t intentional, but I’m sure that comes from my dance background and my film and TV background. I have a lot of trust in physical action on stage and physicality and seeing visuals without text behind them or involved in them.

I think it has helped me hugely. I sold two TV shows before I was commissioned to write my first play and I had a feature film going to the Sundance Native Film Program. I always wanted to write plays because I came from a stage background, but because every playwright I knew had a master’s degree, I thought that was a requirement, you just had to have one. Because I didn’t even have any kind of degree, I figured I wasn’t able to do that. Then I got commissioned to write my first play and I realized how much my film and TV background has really helped me.

VM: Going to [The Thanksgiving Play] and the idea of the American theatre, I read the play very much as a satire on many, many types of people that I’ve met working in the theatre. Did that ever feel scary to write about or have produced, especially as your New York debut?

LF: I don’t know why people are doing this play. I’m constantly surprised. I said in another interview that I just make fun of white people for 90 minutes and people keep coming. But, like I said, I did make sure that there’s comedy for everybody. Everybody can laugh at something. It’s not like I’m sitting there bopping you over the head with rthings.

I’m just really trying to say, this is what I see. This is what I experience every day in the world, in the American theatre, in white liberal America. I did a play called What Would Crazy Horse Do, where I worked with a Klan member as my research subject for a year and a half. He knew what I was doing, what the play was, helped me inform this character, and interview him about everything—and that was so much easier than working with super, super, super well-meaning liberals. I knew where he was coming from. It was an easy collaboration. We knew what our points of view were, we knew what our goals were, and we could just work forward. But when well-meaning American theatre, which is fortunately changing slowly, but has up until now mostly been white liberal folks, they’re so scared of making a mistake that it paralyzes them into doing nothing, and I can’t do anything with that. I don’t know how to deal with it. I can’t change it, I can’t fix it, I can’t work with you if you’re just sitting there in fear and ultimately doing nothing.

These folks that I’m actually talking about in my play, I hope what they take away from it is: let’s just all make the mistake together, let’s all be ridiculous together, and then that gives us somewhere to go. If I know where you’re coming from, you know where I’m coming from, and you can make mistakes, and I can make mistakes, and we can all get kind of crazy and yell at each other, but keep moving forward, that’s going to change everything. It truly will. I’m not someone who’s like, “Theatre will change the world,” but honestly, if we could all just start talking to each other and make mistakes and be honest, and then move forward and deal with that, it can change the world.

Adam Workman, Giles Davies, Dana Mauro, and Caitlin Eason. Photos from a tech rehearsal of Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. Photo by Jobsite Theater.

VM: Have you found while doing press, now and in the past, that you get asked questions that a white male playwright is not being asked?

LF: All the time. It’s endless. As soon as the announcement came out in The New York Times about this play, immediately I got fellow folks of color saying, “We need to talk to you about your white male director.” And I was like, “Great, I’d be happy to have that conversation after you assure me that you’ve talked to every white playwright that’s hired a white male director, and if you’ve asked them that same question first, then feel free to come to me, the first Native American person ever to be produced in the history of this theatre, who feels like I’m holding on to American theatre by my fingernails, then you can come to me and question me. But until you’ve asked the people that have been here doing this for 50 years, until you’ve asked them that question, then don’t come to me.”

VM: Do you feel that there’s an added pressure of altruism placed on you and your work? The play is a comedy and satire. Have there been people who have wanted to take it very seriously and reverently?

LF: Absolutely. … These characters are doing per formative woke-ness. They want to seem really woke, but it’s very much a performance that they do when it suits them and not when it’s needed and not for the people it’s needed by.

VM: What is your personal relationship like with ambition and have you found that it has changed over the course of your career?

LF: I’m definitely like a Type A. I’m a North, which is like the ambitious, aggressive, overachiever. My 40s have been a gift of being like, “Okay great, I’m a North.” I used to fight that and be like, “Oh, I should be more Northeast or Northwest,” But now I’m like, “You know, I’m just a North, so I’m just going to do that.”

I feel like I’ve always done that in my life. I said I wanted to be a classical ballet dancer from the middle of nowhere South Dakota, and as a Native American woman and there have been very few of us, and I did it. I said I wanted to write in film and TV, and I sold two TV shows. I said I wanted to write plays, and I’ve been really fortunate I can do this. It’s taken me a long time because I come from both the Midwest and the Lakota culture, which is very self-deprecating and everything’s about the community. But I’ve come to realize I’m a very ambitious person. I like to do well. That’s the reality.

Photos from a tech rehearsal of Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. Photo by Jobsite Theater.

I work and live in a white dominant society that values certain things, and what they value is a certain type of ambition, a certain type of ego, a certain type of confidence. Often, it’s different for women, but I don’t know how to adjust myself for gender, so I just go ahead and I’m me. I get called direct a lot. I love it when people are direct. But in women it’s often considered a negative. And I’m like, “Oh well, then I guess I’m not for you, that’s okay.”

I think that’s been a big part of my whole philosophy. I’m just going to go ahead and be me, and I’m going to be ambitious and I’m going to want to do well, and I’m going to want to succeed, and if that’s not for you then that’s okay, there are other people. …

My ambition is my secret weapon to make the seventh generation be able to do this a lot more easily.

I’m standing on the shoulders of so many Native women. We have Spiderwoman Theatre right here in town. Those ladies paved such a hard road. They were moving boulders, they were moving mountains just to express themselves and get to do their work here in downtown New York and have their own theatre company. They had to do such incredibly hard work just to say what they wanted to say in a small space, and they’ve grown themselves into this beautiful, nationally beloved theatre company and this institution. They worked so hard for it and I know that I’m walking on that road that they already created. They may not have been in this space, but I only can walk into this space because they created the road from downtown to here.

The Thanksgiving Play runs in the Shimberg Playhouse until Nov. 17.

Just the Treats, Please

The Straz Center’s self-serve candy station in Morsani Hall is a year-round Halloween dream come true. No tricks here. It’s just all candy all the time, and we love it.

Colorful Jelly Bean options up for grabs at the Candy Bar in Morsani Lobby.

Each year, we buy about 2,100 pounds of candy. That much candy is roughly the weight of two full-sized grand pianos.

Each month, our guests consume around 175 pounds of candy –about the average weight of a six-foot-tall man.

Guest get creative choosing their favorite candies to add to their candy boxes. Photo by Rob Harris.

The four favorites for Straz guests are M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, Swedish fish and a long strip of candy called a blueberry sour belt.

Erika Elias, our concessions manager chooses which candies go in the station. She does take employee suggestions to change up the selections from time to time.

Some experimental candy choices over the years included red hots, gummy sharks, warhead sour tears and candy pebbles.

Occasionally, Straz donors get to pick a few new candies for the jars. Their picks included banana candies, black licorice bites and cappuccino Jelly Bellies.

Erika rolls with the seasons, so candy corn may be in there this month and peppermint will appear for the holiday season.

Candy for all ages! A wide variety of flavors available at the candy bar.

Did You Know It Almost Wasn’t Called Fiddler on the Roof?

Fiddler on the Roof is arguably one of the most important musicals ever staged. Let’s talk a little about this show, and then we have some Fiddler fun facts we’d love to share. The show opens here on Nov. 5.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“You want us to put up how much money for a show about a Jewish shtetl in 1905 Tsarist Russia? Get outta here.”

That’s more or less how we imagine the conversation at Sardi’s going when Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick pitched their latest creation to the producer set. In the early 1960s, they got a lot of no’s, let’s just put it that way. But we can guarantee you all those no-men were kicking themselves later when that same show, under the direction of Jerome Robbins and starring Zero Mostel of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum fame, became the most successful musical on Broadway for the next eight years. For every dollar original Fiddler investors put up, they earned $1,574.

The script, first titled The Old Country then renamed Tevye; Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away; Where Poppa Came From and, finally Fiddler on the Roof¸ was based on a series of stories by Jewish writer Solomon Rabinovich who used the pen name Sholem Aleichem ( “peace be with you”) to create page-turning tales about an irrepressible Jewish Everyman named Tevye.

The musical born from Aleichem’s Tevye stories hit America at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. The show, whose original run lasted for a staggering 3,242 performances, many of which were sold out, is epic on many levels outside of its box office stats.

It was the first monumental commercial success of modern American Jews defining Jewish identity on their own terms. Much has been written in the annals of Broadway history about Jerome Robbins awakening to his own ethnic identity while immersed in Fiddler. The show allowed Robbins to explore the Jewish heritage he had long denied and profoundly changed the great choreographer-director’s life. Robbins fiercely guarded the portrayals of Tevye et al., refusing to let any of them be reduced to vaudevillian caricatures, as Jewish people had been portrayed on stage and screen prior to Fiddler.

Much has also been written about the beef between Robbins and Zero Mostel, who had absolutely no qualms at all about his blinding Orthodox pride. The two men despised each other, but their mutual love of the Tevye stories and grudging respect for the other’s artistry allowed them to bury the hatchet temporarily to get Fiddler on the boards. The upside of their towering personalities being at odds was the authenticity it brought to the central conflicts in the musical:  identity vs. assimilation, traditions vs. modernity, family vs. self-actualization, tragedy vs. comedy. It’s hard to imagine any other odd couple bringing Fiddler to life the way Jerry and Zero did on Broadway.

The universal appeal of these central conflicts propelled Fiddler to international fame. Tevye is every parent who wants the best for a child growing up in a world changing too fast. Tevye’s daughters are every child who wants something more out of life but doesn’t even know where to start looking. Golde, Tevye’s wife, is every woman who has had to sacrifice more than her fair share for love and her family’s safety.

In other words, Fiddler is every bit as relevant this minute as it was in 1964 when it opened. It transcends cultural, racial and economic boundaries. The show is a slice of life from the human story. The show is us.

Important as Fiddler is both in performing arts history and human history, there are some fun tidbits from its legend that we wanted to share as we prepare to present the show this November.

Here are a few factoids we think you might find interesting. We sure did.

1. What’s Marc Chagall got to do with it?

The famous modern painter pitched in for friends in New York, designing costumes for Balanchine at New York City Ballet and such. Jerome Robbins, a huge Chagall fan and personal friend, approached the painter about doing set design for what was then called Tevye. Chagall regretfully declined, as he was too busy with other projects. However, his painting, The Fiddler, is noted as the inspiration for what eventually became the show’s title and the image forever associated with this musical.

2. What’s Gene Wilder got to do with it?

Technically, nothing. But, since we just had Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory onstage, we thought we’d mention Gene (Willy Wonka in the movie version) auditioned for Motel the Tailor in Fiddler but didn’t get the part. Later, though, he starred with Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’s film The Producers.

3. What’s Bea Arthur got to do with it? 

So, you probably just saw our announcement for That Golden Girls Show. Dorothy, a.k.a. Bea Arthur, originally tried out for the role of Yente, the matchmaker, but Robbins thought she looked too modern. Eventually, she got the role. However, Robbins earned the dubious distinction of being the only director to ever break Bea and make her cry. By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a lot of folks had beef with Robbins. You are correct.

4. What’s Japan got to do with it?

One of the oft-told tales proving Fiddler’s universal truths goes back to Tokyo. The show is outrageously popular in Japan, having been mounted in the country more than 1,300 times. The story goes that a well-known Japanese producer asked Fiddler writer Joseph Stein, “do audiences understand this show in America?” Stein, puzzled, replied yes, that they wrote it for Americans—why? “Because it’s just so Japanese,” he said.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF opens in Morsani Hall Nov. 5, 2019 and runs through the weekend.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Come with Me, and You’ll Be, in a World of Pure Imagination

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera teaches students at Burnett Middle School that you can find yourself (and change the world) with a little imagination. Caught in the Act welcomes Straz Center media relations manager Alex Stewart as our guest blogger this week.

by Alex Stewart, guest blogger

Let’s play a theater game. I want you to imagine you have a long, skinny neck. Now, walk around the room as if you have one. Project how that would look. Would it influence the way you walk? Would your voice sound different? How would this change your overall appearance? Next, do the same as if you have a short, fat neck. Does that change your voice? Your behavior? Now, act as if you have long, green finger nails. Does that make you feel like a creepy witch? Or more like Cardi B with her signature blinged out nails?

Do you feel weird yet? Good. Because this is a no judgment zone – and here at The Straz, that’s what we strive for. Be weird. Be yourself. And have fun with it.

This fall, students at Burnett Middle School, a Title I school in Seffner, are learning how to be their weird, true selves through theater games just like this – and discovering how to bring their unique personalities into the characters they are aiming to create.

Joe meets the class in the school auditorium theater where they warm up with theater games.

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera and Burnett Middle School drama/English teacher Cathy Cromar are teaching students acting and characterization techniques using Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as inspiration, just in time for the Broadway show’s arrival to The Straz. This class is made possible by the Straz Center’s Arts Education Partnership Program, which partners with agencies, schools, community organizations and after-school programs to expose children and adults to the life changing benefits of the arts – at no cost to them, thanks to donors and grants. How sweet is that?

Look, it can be expensive to go to the theater. You need transportation, money for parking, and let’s not forget the cost of the actual ticket itself. And what if you want to treat yo’ self? That candy bar in Morsani Lobby is tempting. Simply put, not everyone can afford access to the arts. With arts classes and programs being cut out of school curriculums, some kids might get no exposure to them, which is why the Arts Education Partnership Program is so important.

Coaching individual students on finding the courage to perform.

Burnett Middle School has been a community partner for several years, but this year the program was able to provide students with free tickets to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and cover the costs of transportation to the theater, in addition to the eight-week class Joe is teaching.

“Many of my students have never been to a live performance or ever taken part in one,” says Cathy. “The students come away from this experience with an appreciation for this art form, knowledge of theater etiquette, which we stress in our class, and the ability to step outside your comfort box and perform, even if you’re frightened to do so.”

The class encourages students to explore and discover the crazy characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, using their imagination to create their own versions of some of the iconic characters. The goal being to break these students out of their shells – to use these characters to learn about themselves and to gain confidence and focus in their everyday lives.

Joe shares his expertise from his career as a professional actor in the Anton Chekov technique to build trust and guide students’ acting choices.

“My process into theater making and acting has always been the imagination,” says Joe. “And I think when you look at the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, whether it’s the musical or the film versions or even the novel, there are so many different themes,” says Joe. “But what resonates for me as a human being and as an artist, it’s the idea that nothing’s impossible. It’s tapping into that inner child. And I think that what I’m starting to see more and more these days with kids is that they’re losing their inner child, even at a young age.”

When the class first started, many of the students hadn’t seen the movie or read the book, so Joe prompted them to use their imaginations to create their chosen character based on the character names alone. The students were asked to write a diary entry from the perspective that they were a Golden Ticket winner, to help them understand and explore the emotional aspects of their character. Next, they were asked to add physicality, and imagine what that would look like. “If you were Willy Wonka, how would you walk? Is he old? Does he have a limp? Show me that,” asks Joe.

After the students see the show at The Straz on October 10, they will be asked to draw their character, free form and uncensored. And if it’s nothing like the book, movie or musical? Perfect. “There’s no right or wrong when you’re using your imagination,” says Joe. The class culminates with the students performing monologues based on their diary entries, incorporating the emotional, physical and visual techniques they’ve learned throughout the class.

“You’ll hear me say this a lot – there’s no right or wrong in theater. My goal is to create an atmosphere of fun-ness, so that they can break out of that shell of right and wrong, that they are so used to in school. And there’s room for that – but with art there isn’t. It’s a basis of you. You are the expression of that thing,” Joe says.

Participating in the “silly shapes” games that asks actors to improvise shapes in order to discover their physicality onstage.

And fun-ness, Joe delivers. Students participate in a range of activities and theater games during the class, from creating twisty shapes with their bodies to working together to build a “sound machine” of different noises. The students are active most of the class, learning to make friends with each other and the space.

While theater games and drama class can be fun, kids learn skills from the arts that can help them in everyday life. “I want them to see that this is not just a class ‘to have fun’ … we’re actually learning skills that can benefit us elsewhere, like doing a presentation in class,” says Cathy. “Joe is such a positive, animated actor; this rubs off on the kids. I can see that they trust him and will try anything he asks them to do.”

Each class ends with a round table evaluation of what students learned and what they can take from the class into their everyday lives.

The arts not only boost students’ academic achievements, but they help them figure out who they are. The arts allow them to be creative, collaborate and problem solve, among many other benefits, which sets them up for success in future careers.

“What can theater do? What can the arts do? It can bring out that self-expression,” says Joe. “I explained to the students that there are many different individuals that I’ve come across. They start out in a theater class or an acting class, and yet, they’re not actors. They’re working in other areas. They’re businessmen or businesswomen, they’re public speakers or they’re lawyers. And what it does, is it helps you to identify who you are, number one. And number two, it helps you to communicate so that you can achieve the things that you want.”

Ultimately, Joe wants his students to be able to find their true, authentic selves, and for them to know that nothing is impossible, just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“The golden ticket for you may not be theater. It may not be art, it may not be acting. But what I’m trying to introduce to them is to tap into the inner you. The you that is so pure, the you that is so true, the you that is so authentic. The you that the world needs because that’s why you are here.”

Get your tickets for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory today before the Wonka factory rolls out of Tampa.

What The Heck Is A Spymonkey?

This Q&A from the cast of Hysteria sheds a little light on the renowned British troupe and will hopefully get you even more excited to see this exclusive United States debut at The Straz.

"Cooped", Spymonkey, Liverpool Playhouse, Liverpool, Britain - 05 June 2019

The cast of Spymonkey’s Hysteria. (Photo: Jane Hobson)

How would you describe Spymonkey to a stranger?

Aitor Basauri (joint artistic director, performer): Spymonkey is a unique and original form of funny theatre. You see a theatre play, but you laugh a lot, too.

Toby Park (managing artistic director, performer): A glorious bunch of idiots who like to make seriously ridiculous theatre.

Stephan Kreiss (associate artist, performer): Spymonkey is a highly precise and accurate depiction of what Europe seems to feel like at the moment. Two European countries (Spain and Germany) represented by – two idiots! The U.K. – represented by – two idiots! Three men = three idiots! One woman – also an idiot! But the difference is – we know and have shown to each other on numerous occasions that we are idiots and therefore get along pretty well these past two decades … The world would perhaps be a nicer place if people would admit to their foolishness.

Bill Barberis (performer): Stupid idiots pretending to be wonderful dramatic actors. Or the other way around? Anyway, you’ll laugh your heart out.

Anne Goldmann (performer): Clown, physical comedy, surrealist slapstick, raunch melodramatic Da Da-ism, the-real-edge-of-edgy. Pure delight, a gut-wrenching laugh factory. Everything I always wanted to see a group of people do on stage. World-class brilliantly idiotic performance art theatre group.

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L to R: Aitor Basauri, Toby Park, Stephan Kreiss, Bill Barberis, Anne Goldmann.

Is this Spymonkey’s first time performing in the United States? If not, where could Straz audiences have seen you before?

Toby: Our first visit to the U.S. was in 2001 at the Aspen Comedy Festival (disco dancing with George Lucas anyone?) and at the tiny Theatre LaB in Houston with our show Stiff. We spent two years living in Las Vegas, being the clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s burlesque show Zumanity, for which we created the comedy numbers. And we took our Complete Deaths (four clowns perform all the deaths in Shakespeare in one night) to Chicago Shakes a couple of years ago.

Aitor: I very much enjoyed the time we had in Houston and every time we have played in the U.S.A. So, I am really looking forward to playing in the U.S.A. again as I feel there is a real appetite for comedy at the moment.

Stephan: When I lived in Las Vegas 16 years ago, I did regular late night shopping at Vons at East Tropicana Avenue – so maybe some members of The Straz audience who visited Las Vegas then might have seen me there?

What are you most looking forward to about performing at The Straz and being in Tampa?

Toby: Really looking forward to making Tampa audiences fall out of the seats laughing. Hoping that there aren’t too many hurricanes, as we heard that those are quite impressive, and we couldn’t resist renting a house on a river. Stephan is convinced that we will be fending off alligators every night. There are some big surfing fans in the company, so we anticipate a number of Sunday night dashes across to the Atlantic coast to catch some waves.

Aitor: I am really looking forward to the good weather. It is nice to play where it is hot. I think people laugh more when it is hot. We have been playing Hysteria for many years, and we have never played it in the U.S.A., so I would like to find out how it goes with the new changes.

Stephan: It is just brilliant to play and tour our shows abroad. New audiences, new and fresh audience reactions, new laughter. The excitement when you open somewhere new and you feel the sizzling curiosity of how it will go down. Plus, Florida for me, being German, is such an exotic location. The sun, heat, humidity, palm trees and alligators in kitchens.

Anne: I’m excited to find out what makes the audiences respond and laugh. Every audience is different, and I love to find out what makes each one unique. The best Thai food I ever had was in Florida, so I’m hoping to revisit fine cuisine. And I really love the natural beauty of Florida. I can’t wait to take some walks and enjoy the nature.

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Describe Hysteria in five words.

Anne: Surreal Fantasy Gothic Romance Comedy

Toby: Funniest show you’ll ever see

Aitor: A funny piece of theatre

Stephan: Wet yourself with hysterical laughter

 

SPYMONKEY__Digital Billboard_840x400

Picker, Grinner, Emmy -And Grammy- Award Winner

Steve Martin may have made his way to the spotlight as a star on Saturday Night Live and in films like The Jerk and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. But there’s a lot more to this wild and crazy guy than a genius knack for comedy.

This month, Jobsite Theater launched its new play season with Steve Martin’s give-you-a-stitch-in-the-side funny Meteor Shower. The troupe saw a raucous success staging Martin’s The Underpants a few seasons ago and Picasso at the Agile Lapin a few seasons before that, so they’re bringing in his most recent play to treat audiences to Martin’s signature mix of intelligence and hilarity.

A frequent contributor to The New Yorker – the paragon of excellent writing – Martin eclipsed his own celebrity as a comic actor when the arts establishment noticed he was a sublimely talented writer.

A triple threat, Martin pens plays, essays and novels, each of which requires a different skill set from the writer’s craft. Well, make that a quint-threat: he also writes songs and poems. His long-nosed character C.D. Bales famously states in Roxanne, Martin’s film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, “tell her you’re afraid of words!” Regarding Martin himself, this line seems deeply ironic since he deep-dives into them all, no matter the shape, size, form or fashion.

His writing chops developed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the 1960s, where he netted his first Emmy Award® for outstanding writing achievement. His first short film, The Absent Minded Waiter (1977) was nominated for an Academy Award®. For those of us in live theater, we were thrilled when his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile opened Off-Broadway in 1996 (of course winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play that year).

We were even more giddy when we found out, in 2014, that Martin and alt-pop-folk 90s wunderkind Edie Brickell were collaborating on a bluegrass musical. That show, Bright Star, opened on Broadway in 2016 and earned a subsequent Tony® nod for Best Musical in 2017.

Martin, who had implemented his impressive banjo skills as a gimmick in his stand-up, eventually quit playing around and came out as a serious student of bluegrass and a masterful banjo player in league with  the greats of the bluegrass tradition.

Prior to making Bright Star with Brickell, Martin released two acclaimed bluegrass albums of original songs, collaborated with stars The Steep Canyon Rangers and won the 2011 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. An ardent devotee of banjo history, stylings and experimentation, Martin created the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 through the Steve Martin Charitable Fund.

On Sep. 19 in NYC’s Town Hall Theater, Martin hosts a live concert of bluegrass all-stars which culminates in the unveiling of the 2019 Steve Martin Prize recipient.

Jonelle Marie Meyer (Corkey) and Jordan Foote (Norm). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography.

Meteor Shower, Martin’s latest play, opened on Broadway in 2017 starring Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti, KeeganMichael Key and Jeremy Shamos. Schumer garnered a Tony® nomination and both she and Benanti – a perennial Broadway favorite – landed distinguished performance nominations from the Drama League.

Jordan Foote (Norm), Jonelle Marie Meyer (Corkey), Jamie Jones (Gerald), and Amy E. Gray (Laura). Photo courtesy Pritchard Photography.

To get your seat for Jobsite Theater’s production of Meteor Shower, playing in the Shimberg Playhouse Sept. 4 – Oct. 6, visit strazcenter.org.

Tampa Bay Theatre Festival 2019

The annual festival, founded by Tampa actor, writer and director Rory Lawrence, takes place at The Straz and other locations Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

Rory Lawrence

In 2013, Rory Lawrence stood on the eve of the inaugural Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. After attending similar theater festivals in Atlanta and D.C., Rory thought Tampa needed one. He had no idea if even ten people would show up to the weekend of plays.

To host such an event, Rory and his team, RL Stage, Inc., needed spaces. He approached The Straz, and we were eager to help him at RL Stage make their vision a reality. “Rory is so talented,” says Straz Center programming manager Jeanne Piazza. “He’s a playwright and actor who produced at least three of his shows in the Jaeb Theater here at the Straz Center prior to the festival. We knew how good his work was creatively and professionally. So, when he approached me about creating a theater festival here in Tampa, we were in full support of his efforts.”

That first year, Rory was shocked when actors, playwrights, theater lovers and arts patrons poured into the shows, thanking him for making the TBTF happen for the local community. Workshops, they said—the festival needs actors’ workshops, please. So, the next year, the TBTF had productions and actors’ workshops. Over time, Rory brought in professionals such as The Blacklist star Harry Lennix and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? actress Tasha Smith for acting master classes and boot camps.

This year, The Straz is proud to host several TBTF events including the short play competition; acting, directing and writing workshops; Rory’s full-length play Fighting God and the final night’s awards party. A true community event, TBTF performances take place at several theaters in the area. Catch full-length plays The Consciousness, (RE)UNION and Filthy Gentlemen at Hillsborough Community College. The productions of Filtered, Bobby is Dead and CLAVICO! A Most Peculiar Musical Comedy appear at Carrollwood Players, and Stageworks Theater hosts Paper Walls and Black Women Walking.

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“Our involvement and support of the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival helps foster their vision of uniting artists and theater lovers for an incredible weekend,” Jeanne says. “By opening both our stages and rehearsal spaces for various performances, competitions and workshops over the TBTF weekend, The Straz is able to fulfill our mission of being a place where local performers feel welcome and at home.”

For complete details of workshops, teachers, performances and locations, visit the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival schedule at http://tampabaytheatrefestival.com.