Bringing up baby: David Frankel, Tampa Repertory Theatre 

The USF professor, actor and director leads his new, acclaimed company into its second season.

Tampa Repertory Theatre begins its second season next week, and Artistic Director C. David Frankel makes it abundantly clear that his new company is no mirage. More than that, he’s working every angle to render it indispensable.

I sat down with the 59-year-old Frankel (who’s also on the USF faculty) to discuss TRT’s potential. We started with the inaugural shows at the Studio Theater of HCC Ybor. “I think that the first season went well,” he told me. “I feel the productions got increasingly stronger and better attended. It’s a challenge, I think, to find your footing, and to get the support, get the news out. But I was very happy, especially with Streetcar at the end, where we had by far our best audiences and a very positive response to every single evening, even the last weekend when we suffered through the deluge of tropical storm Debby.” Frankel said that in Streetcar’s last weekend, TRT was selling about 50 tickets an evening in a theater that seats 70. (Attendance was no doubt helped by the stunning performance of Emilia Sargent as Blanche DuBois; she’s playing Amanda Wingfield in TRT’s Glass Menagerie this year, making it an automatic must.)

TRT launched with an ancient Greek play (Alcestis), a neglected contemporary work (Ronald Ribman’s Cold Storage), and an American classic (Streetcar). How does this mix represent the theater’s mission? “I sometimes tell people that my vision is to sort of be positioned both aesthetically and geographically in between American Stage and Orlando Shakespeare Festival,” said Frankel. “That is, to do plays that cover the whole range of theater history, although we have a commitment to American classic theater, and we want to continue to do that.” As to his theater’s venue, for now he’s happy at the Studio Theater. But “in some ways, another model that I look to is Bob Devin Jones and his Studio@620. If we could find a space like that, that could be our home base but that also could be shared with either other theater companies, or be a venue for people who didn’t have a venue, that would be great. But that’s a couple of years down the road.”

I asked about TRT’s commitment to American classics — who does that mean besides Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller? “Well, Eugene O’Neill,” Frankel said. “I’d like to take a look at Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and another play of hers called The Autumn Garden… Clifford Odets is a playwright who I’d like to do, Awake and Sing obviously, but also I’m interested in Golden Boy and Paradise Lost. Albee fits in there, of course, and people like that.”

And then there’s the coming season: Scott Organ’s recent play Phoenix (Oct. 11-28), Glass Menagerie (Jan. 10-27), and, in a co-production with Hat Trick Theatre, Hamlet (with Jack Holloway in the title role and Ned Averill-Snell as Claudius, April 25-May 12). Tickets will be $20, $15 for students and seniors — unusually affordable as professional theater goes. And Frankel is actively looking for volunteers who might want to help in the nuts and bolts of putting up a production, or with legal work, or with fundraising. Anyone interested should send an email to info@tamparep.org.

Frankel is enthusiastic about TRT2, the “incubator” junior company that last season produced shows at the Silver Meteor Gallery in Ybor. “They’re really focused on the development of new works and new artists. What we wanted to do was provide a means for young actors and directors and designers and playwrights to have a place where they can experience the full production process, and not do a staged reading or a one-shot kind of deal. And also to be particularly focused on things that might have more appeal to a younger audience, either by doing new works or by doing older works in a new approach.”

Will TRT last? It’s had a better start than most. Let’s hope that David Frankel is inspired enough — and stubborn enough — to make his new theater a success.

Phoenix opens Thurs., Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at Hillsborough Community College, Ybor City, and runs through Sun., Oct. 28. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors, and military personnel, and can be purchased at tamparep.org or at the door.

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