A New Stage for Largo 

New Stage Theatre Company looks to expand professional theater beyond just Tampa and St. Pete.

I’m always happy to welcome a new theater company to the Tampa Bay area, and happier still when that theater is conceived by artists with proven track records. So it’s with some real excitement that I introduce the New Stage Theatre of Largo, started by local theater couple Chris Jackson and Alison Burns along with a producer named Bruce Danielson. New Stage already has a space — a 90-seat black box specially built for putting on plays at the Country Day World Schoolarts (CDWS) — as well as a firmly set 2013-14 season, a projected cabaret series and an acting conservatory for adults and children. The theater opens its doors on Aug. 15 with Maybe, Baby, It’s You, a romantic comedy starring Jackson, Burns, and Matthew McGee.

“What I noticed,” says Jackson as we talk at Eckerd College, “is that we’ve got some great theaters in Tampa, we’ve got some great theaters in St. Petersburg, but in between those two little nooks, there’s one area that’s just missing some really great, passionate, professional theater, and that’s Largo.” As director of theater at CDWS — where Burns is music director — Jackson was able to design a black box theater in a new area of the school’s campus, and convince Danielson that the space could house a professional company. The name “New Stage” was chosen ”because we wanted to bring new thoughts and ideas to Bay area stages,” says Jackson. It would seem that love is the first new idea here, as the theater’s first season tends to highlight romance. “It just organically became all about relationships and love,” Jackson says. “Between spouses, significant others, family members. And so it all kind of wrapped itself in a nice little package.”

Maybe, Baby will be directed by James Rayfield, and Jackson and Burns will be featured in its many scenes, playing 26 different parts. Between vignettes, McGee will deliver monologues written by Rayfield especially for this piece. The next show (Oct. 10-Nov. 3) is N. Richard Nash’s perennial favorite The Rainmaker, about a mysterious man who claims he can end a drought — and who may also bring relief to a desperately unmarried woman.

The third show of the season is Holiday Party of One (Dec. 5-20), which I enthusiastically reviewed when it premiered at Stageworks in 2012. Written by Burns and Karla Hartley, the play shows us three overworked people whose relief comes when they encounter Lucky, the Christmas elf. The comedy will include its original cast and Hartley will again direct.

The first show of 2014 will be the cleverly-named musical [title of show] (Feb. 6-23), about the making of a Broadway musical. That play is followed by Almost, Maine (April 3-27) which takes place in a small New England town and showcases — you guessed it — the myriad love affairs occurring there. The play is constructed as “a series of short scenes that all kind of tie into each other like Pulp Fiction,” says Jackson. It can be produced with a minimum of seven actors — or with many more. Jackson hasn’t yet decided just how large a cast to use.

Almost, Maine ends the first season of full-length plays, and is followed in May, 2014 by cabarets featuring Michael Raabe, Matt McGee, Scott Daniel, Lulu Picart, and Burns. Add New Stage Theatre’s acting conservatory (serving age 2 to adult) and Burns’ “Act Up” summer camps, and you’ve got a sense of this new and ambitious theater company. Let’s hope that it’s as satisfying in execution as it is in planning. And let’s give it a warm welcome.

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