Shaping the local theater scene: Emilia Sargent at Tampa Repertory Theatre

For the producing artistic director of Tampa Repertory Theatre, the onset of COVID was a well-disguised gift.

“I don’t think anyone expected this opportunity for us to reset, to put everything on pause and to give me time to ramp up,” Emilia Sargent says. “2020 was a time for the reorganization of the company, for rebranding, for doing special projects in new media in order to continue producing and giving back to the community.”

Tampa Repertory Theatre, which bills itself as “innovative, provocative and classic,” started in July 2011. They staged one of the most venerable plays in the Western canon, Euripides’ “Alcestis.” Company co-founders included the late C. David Frankel, a USF faculty member, and his wife Connie, as well as well-known Tampa actor Ned Averill-Snell.

Besides staging Ancient Greek plays and Shakespeare, Tampa Rep stages great American dramas like Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire” and Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.”

However, in response to the pandemic, the company recently produced an online streaming production of Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You” with two Generation Z actors portraying contemporary classmates.

“I work with Generation Z,” says Sargent, noting that Generation Z refers to folks born between 1995 and 2010. “They have a front-row seat to what was going on during the pandemic. They have been disconnected from friends. They had no prom, no graduation ceremonies. They did online school from their bedrooms. The social-political atmosphere had a great effect on them.”

The theater company navigated its own COVID-related disruptions with the assistance of grant funding.

“As we came out of the pandemic we received a grant from the Gobioff Foundation so we could offer free tickets to our production of “Every Brilliant Thing” at Hillsborough Community College,” Sargent says.
That show ran last fall, with a cast featuring Averill-Snell, the popular Tampa actor who co-founded the theater.
“Community engagement is at the center of our efforts as we bring the company into the next decade,” says Sargent, who is just finishing up her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Idaho. 

She pursues her studies remotely, focusing on directing and arts administration. This follows her longtime career on Tampa stages as an actor and singer.

“We are aiming to be more inclusive in our storytelling as well as addressing different perspectives and audiences of diverse backgrounds,” Sargent says. “The last season included mental health awareness and an aging society.” 

She notes their production of “King Lear” in particular.
“We want to be an advocate for those with disabilities,” Sargent adds. “We featured an autistic actor in last November’s production of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime.’ We had relaxed performances for people with sensitivity to sound and light.”
In the near term, Tampa Repertory Theatre is an itinerant company, staging shows around Hillsborough County, including the University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College and Stageworks Theatre.

“Our goal,” she says, “is to find a permanent home. I believe we can do that by producing real quality theater.”
Tampa Repertory Theatre’s production of John Patrick Stanley’s “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow “ runs in USF’s Theatre Center from June 2 to June 19.
For more information, call Tampa Repertory Theatre at (813) 556-8737 or email [email protected]

This is the third in a series about local theater directors. To read more follow these links:
David Jenkins at Jobsite.

Karla Hartley at Stageworks.
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Read more articles by Joanne Milani.

Joanne Milani is a Tampa-based freelance writer and former art and theater critic for The Tampa Tribune. After leaving the Tribune, she served as the executive director of Tampa’s Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and remains a member of the International Art Critics Association (AICA). She graduated from Vassar and worked in New York museums before moving to Tampa.