Stageworks Theatre goes virtual until audience can return

Though musicians and actors rely heavily on face-to-face interactions with their audiences, going virtual allows for new opportunities to mingle without inviting people on stage or hearing the audience react. Stageworks Theatre in Tampa is turning up its creativity to do just that with a variety of virtual offerings for folks of all ages.
One such offering involves virtual classes in lieu of in-person classes that traditionally would be held over the summer.
"We typically do a lot of teaching outside, and would have taught the teenagers at the juvenile detention center or Joshua House,'' says Karla Hartley, Stageworks Producing Artistic Director. "A lot of our classes are off-site, funded, or contracted services for those that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do this. We don’t typically do pay-to-play classes, so this is our first crack at it.''
Through Creative Drama classes and even Bucket Drumming courses, for kids and teenagers started at the beginning of August, there is still room for those that want to join. The class is structured so students can jump in at any time and goes through Sept. 26.
“These classes are best taught in-person. [But] that not being available, we pivoted to online teaching. We’re trying to suss out what is the right amount of students for this class, but the kids seem really excited about the class and will start some monologue work next week. It’s been fun,” Hartley says.
Additionally, Stageworks hosts weekly virtual programming with their Wellness Wednesday social media outreach, Saturday afternoon song cycle, and Saturday morning Children’s Stories.
“The Saturday songs and children’s storytime are generally bilingual, since a part of our goal is an initiative to work in the Spanish language and target that part of our community. All of this is honorarium-based since we want to make sure we are paying artists for their work,” Hartley says.
For adults, Stageworks has started its inaugural Virtual Playreading Book Club, which is like a virtual book club but done with plays based on social justice. Spearheaded by Jennifer Scher, who will be leading the discussions, every participant will get a link to the play to pre-read the selection. Zoom gatherings will be held on the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. to discuss the play. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller will be the next play discussed on Sept. 3. 
At the end of August, Stageworks will host a Staged Reading fundraiser.
“We typically do this 3-4 times a year. There are a lot of people out there who are not professional actors, but just want to get out there and have fun. Every quarter we gather the finest talents among lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. The play selected is All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten based on the book by Robert Fulghum,” Hartley says. “It’s been a blessing for us to raise money for Stageworks. It’s challenging since we can’t be open to the public. It’s weird, I haven’t gone this long without making art and I wasn’t prepared for art to be that much of my spiritual balance.”
Though it might not be until early 2021 that Stageworks can open its doors to the public, by the end of August, they will announce their fall and early spring schedule.
“While we’re all adjusting to social distancing strategies, we want to be able to open our doors in a way that’s financially responsible,” Hartley says. “We’re all struggling and all wanting to make it work. We can’t wait to invite audiences back soon.”

Visit the Stageworks Theatre website, or follow Stageworks on Facebook or on its YouTube channel to learn more.

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”
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