9 new plays to watch at this weekend's Tampa Bay Theatre Festival

“I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, black, white. This festival is for Tampa," founder Rory Lawrence says. "It’s for Tampa Bay."

click to enlarge LARRY HODGE PHOTOGRAPHY, VIA RORY LAWRENCE/TAMPA BAY THEATRE FESTIVAL
Larry Hodge Photography, via Rory Lawrence/Tampa Bay Theatre Festival

When Rory Lawrence launched RQL productions about a decade ago, there weren’t a lot of roles for black male actors in the Tampa Bay area. So Lawrence started his own theater company and wrote his own plays. He didn’t have any experience with production, but he figured it out.

In 2013, Lawrence’s play, Fighting God, made it into both the D.C. and the Atlanta Black Theatre Festivals. It got him thinking, “Why can’t Tampa Bay have a theater festival?”

Lawrence says he first broached the subject at a Theatre Tampa Bay meeting. Every quarter, Theatre Tampa Bay gets together and discusses what they can do to make the Tampa Bay theater scene better. But when it came to a Tampa Bay Theatre festival, our local theater veterans were hesitant.  According to Lawrence, people weren’t sure they could make it work in Tampa Bay. No one wanted to take the risk.

Finally, Lawrence asked his team at RQL productions if they were willing to do this with him. Everyone knew the risks, but they decided to forge ahead.

“A week before the doors opened, we barely had sales,” says Lawrence.

“If we can just get 10 people to come to a show, we’ll be good,” they’d decided.

“But that morning, we could not keep up with the people that were coming,” says Lawrence, “Everything was selling out.”

The Tampa Bay Theatre Festival is now in its fifth year. Opening night still sells out, says Lawrence.

This year’s festival features nine full-length plays, a new musical theatre competition, an acting workshop from Harry Lennix of Blacklist fame, a playwriting workshop from local playwright Owen Robertson, and more.

The plays are chosen by a panel of outside theater experts. These experts are given a rubric to score each of the plays that were submitted for consideration. The plays with the highest scores are offered a slot in the festival.

Historically, the selections have been diverse, says Lawrence. “I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, black, white. This festival is for Tampa. It’s for Tampa Bay, and anybody who loves theater who wants to see plays and see new works on stage.”

THE SHOWS

August 31

Neighbors The festival opens with a new play from Rory Lawrence at the Straz’s Jaeb Theater. Neighbors takes one Hispanic couple, one black couple and one white couple, and sees how they get along as neighbors. It’s straight-up comedy, says Lawrence. Straz’s Jaeb Theater, 1010 N. WC MacInnes Place, Tampa. 7:30 p.m. $27.50 & up.

September 1

Call it in the Air is a relatable tale about relationships and choices set to a soundtrack of catchy original tunes played by a live band. I saw the first hour during Tampa Fringe, and I'm really curious to see how it ends. "People should come to our show to see an original rock musical from Tampa writers, with Tampa actors, at the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival," says playwright Gabe Flores. HCC Ybor Performing Arts Main Stage, Palm Ave and 15th St., Ybor City. 2 p.m. $15. 

Conversations in the Car This comedy by Florida playwright Gretchen Suarez-Pena takes place in a car. “From road trips to errands to traffic tickets, the car is the place where life happens,” reads the official blurb, “The conversations that happen here stay here. Four different cars are on the road, and the conversations that take place set the pace for life." Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. 3 p.m. $15-$20.

Toby’s Game, written and directed by up-and-coming playwright Owen Robertson, tells the story of a wounded vet as he reunites with an old friend. Robertson has acted in several plays in the Tampa Bay area, and is on the board at Jobsite. He teaches acting (independently) at Stageworks Theatre and he's an adjunct professor at Saint Leo University. Carrollwood Players, 4333 Gunn Highway, Tampa. 3 p.m. $20.

Bad Manners at the Dinner Table is an award-winning gospel stage play by Tampa Bay’s Renee Necole. In a 2017 interview with The Charlotte Post, Necole described the play thus, “It’s a Christian murder mystery about a first lady [of the church], who is not quite first lady material. All of her sins are invited to a dinner party, and she dies. It’s up to the audience to figure out which sin killed her.” This genre-crossing play is one part gospel, one part comedy, and one part murder mystery. Carrollwood Players, 4333 Gunn Highway, Tampa. 7:30 p.m. $20.

Not My Brother’s Keeper. Tracey J’s Not My Brother’s Keeper, from North Carolina’s S.W.A.G. entertainment, looks at familial obligation through the eyes of three brothers “who couldn’t be anymore different.” Are we really our brother’s keeper? Not My Brother’s Keeper tackles this question head on. Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. 7:30 p.m.  $20.

Fuck Boys the Musical. Savannah Pederson’s Fuck Boys the Musical is a musical comedy about modern dating and female friendship from Orlando’s Infinite Productions. It debuted at this year’s Orlando Fringe, where it was the Critic’s Choice for Best Musical. Don’t miss the musical Orlando Weekly called “the millennial answer to Sex and the City.” HCC Ybor Performing Arts Main Stage, Palm Ave and 15th St., Ybor City. 8 p.m. $15.

September 2

Amazing Wild Knights is the third musical Martha Velez has brought to the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. They literally added a musical theatre competition to the festival this year just for her. HCC Ybor Performing Arts Main Stage, Palm Ave and 15th St., Ybor City. 3 p.m. $20.

Keeping My Brother. Brotherhood gets the full treatment at this year’s Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. The final play of the event, Donte A. McClaine’s Keeping My Brother, is billed as “a story of love, brotherhood, tragedy, and forgiveness." Carrollwood Players, 4333 Gunn Highway, Tampa. 3 p.m. $15.

Get the full schedule here.

About The Author

Jennifer Ring

Jennifer studied biology for six years, planning for a career in science, but the Universe had other plans. In 2011, Jen was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that sidelined her from scientific research. Her immune system, plagued by Scleroderma, had attacked her lungs to the point of no return. She now required...
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