While some theatre companies still have their doors closed or are just beginning to re-open after a year of being shut down during the pandemic, Stageworks Theatre in Tampa is collaborating with community partners to get their audiences to participate from home in more personal ways via a virtual Playreading Book Club.
“This program came out of us brainstorming with Stageworks’’ staff and actors, says Jennifer Scher, Board Member of Stageworks Theatre. “We were wondering how we can keep our audience engaged during the COVID crisis. We’re not a social justice organization, but we do try to address issues in society.’’
The Playreading Book Club started out last August 2020 in response to the pandemic by just picking a play each month that everyone could access, read in advance, then chime in online with a relevant professional as the discussion leader.
“We’ve started partnering with other organizations to connect with other groups and really develop this program,” says Scher.
On Thursday, March 4, at 7 p.m., Stageworks is teaming up with Ruth’s List Tampa, a group of political junkies who recruit women Democrats to run for political offices in Florida and other major states, to present a Playreading Book Club discussion of “What the Constitution Means to Me” by Heidi Schreck. The story follows Heidi as a teenager as she talks about her and her family’s past experiences with the law and U.S. Constitution as it relates to women’s rights and pro-choice issues. Guest speaker Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman will lead the discussion for the evening.
“Anyone that’s been watching TV knows that there’s a lot of talk of constitutionality these days regarding the impeachment,’’ says Karla Hartley, Producing Artistic Director of Stageworks Theatre. “Civics as a whole is being lost on a generation of young people. This is a perfect opportunity in March, Women’s History Month, to engage with younger people who could learn a little bit more.”
While the pandemic has thrown a loop in the plans of many arts organizations, Stageworks is finding niches of silver lining in the digital realm to make audiences feel safe but also focused on online platforms. Because Zoom fatigue is a real thing, interacting and participating in discussions with a professional can help bring more context to a play.
“People have gotten out of the habit of reading a play without the performative aspect of it,’’ Hartley says. “With Amazon Prime, you can read a play critically, then see a performance and experience it emotionally. Our business relies on human-to-human connection, which is hard to do virtually.”
“But what has happened through the digital space is that we have garnered a younger crowd because we are meeting them where they live,’’ Hartley continues. “We’re also finding new communities in places like Australia and India, and reaching people who have disabilities and can’t come to live shows. People have now come to expect digital options and we have a duty to give it to them.”
To learn more, visit the Stageworks’ Playreading Book Club or follow Stageworks on your favorite social media platform.