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Theatre festival brings workshops, actors to Tampa

This Labor Day weekend, the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival is hosting a packed schedule of intensive workshops for thespians, and 35 live performances of original plays and monologues for theatre-lovers and newcomers alike.  

Costs are kept intentionally low -- $10 per workshop, $5-$20 for plays -- to encourage broad participation and accessibility.  In fact, the master class by NBC’s hit TV series The Blacklist star Harry Lennix is free of charge. Ticketing for all workshops and shows is required and seating is limited.  

Festival founder Rory Lawrence says the Festival aims to “to create a platform and embrace what we do, for people who love to see theater, who love acting and who love seeing original plays and for networking.”  

He is also committed to supporting diversity in this realm. 

“I just feel people have to come together no matter what walk of life they come from: black, white, gay, straight, atheist, Christian. … Theater can bring you together. Everybody likes to laugh, everybody wants to come together,” he says. “We want to be all-inclusive, celebrate all cultures and see we can all have a great time.”

Lawrence brought in Lennix for the first time last year -- quite a coup for such a new festival: This will be its third year. Lennix’s master class was so spirited that no one was ready to leave the HCC Mainstage at the scheduled conclusion. A play was to take place in the theater, so the whole class picked up and relocated to another venue and continued for another two hours! 

Lennix, also a Broadway actor, was impressed with the event and told Lawrence that it ignited his passion for theatre, and that he was thrilled with the receptiveness of the Tampa participants and what Lawrence was trying to achieve. So much so that he offered to come back on his own dime.  

“Harry is all about the craft,” says Lawrence, who stays in touch with Lennix. 

From improv to musical theatre, there are sessions headed by other top-notch professionals throughout the weekend, including Jayne Trinette, Elaine Pechacek, Patrick McInnis and Erica Sutherlin. Simultaneously there are several original short- and long-form plays competing for best-in-show, with writer/directors coming in from as far away as Alaska. 

Lawrence’s own troupe, RQL Productions, performs opening night, Friday Sept. 2, 2016 at the Jaeb Theare at the Straz with his original comedy, Between Calls, followed by a lively networking party, also at the Straz.   

He notes that beyond the fun and joy of the event, networking works. Last year two attendees were noticed at the festival and subsequently cast in major productions. Alexa McGrory was cast in Soccer Moms and Danielle Harris in a Hollywood movie, not yet released called Revival, written by Lennix. Harris has since moved to Los Angeles. 

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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