When I met with multi-talented Alison Burns, she was putting the final touches on Holiday Party Of One, the mostly-Christmas cabaret she’s writing and performing in for Stageworks.
“It’s light, it’s fun,” Burns, 30, told me. “There are four actors — myself, Heather Krueger, Ricky Cona, and Derek Womack, who’s new to the area — and it’s kind of about how these four people are all kind of [getting] in their own way at Christmas… There’s a husband and wife who are kind of on the rocks, there are sisters who don’t relate at all, and then Ricky Cona’s character brings them all together at one point.”
After the first act (with occasional parodies of Christmas songs), the show becomes “a full-on Christmas cabaret,” Burns said. “We’re going to sing traditional and contemporary songs. A couple of them are still parodies: we have a Jewish parody that’s to ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ but it’s ‘Eight Days of Fire.’ And there’s a menorah involved.” Burns is writing the script at the behest of Stageworks Producing Artistic Director Anna Brennen, who clearly wants to launch a tradition in Stageworks’ still-new space in Tampa’s Channel District.
Burns is not a beginning writer: she’s penned a dozen scripts for students at the Patel Conservatory, where she used to teach and direct, and writes two plays a year for the students at her “Act Up” acting company (6th to 12th-graders). But I’ve known Burns for the last eight years not as a writer but as an actor. That’s how long she’s been appearing on Bay area stages, and I can’t think of a production where she didn’t instantly win my confidence. Her performances are crisp, her voice limpid and entirely professional. No part ever seems to daunt her.
Maybe she was born to be an entertainer.
“My parents met in a band, so we’ve always been musical. My dad plays every instrument. My mom’s a pianist, my brother’s a drummer… I started singing in church at the age of 3 — I think I had my first solo at a Christmas show.”
Burns was an Air Force brat, moving around the country as her father, a recruiter, was transferred. During her high school years in Arkansas, a teacher suggested that she apply to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York, which she did — and won a full two-year scholarship. At AMDA she studied musical theater, ballet, tap, jazz, singing, on-camera acting, theater acting, “everything you can think of that has to do with the arts.” Classes were scheduled to give students free time to audition.
And audition she did: a month out of school she got her first job, with a national tour of Rent.
It was a whirlwind introduction to professional acting. But after two years with Rent, the New York opportunities dried up. Exasperated (and having taken a job at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virgina), Burns was happy to spend time off with her husband-to-be in his hometown of Tampa. They married (and would later divorce) and decided to stay in the area. Burns had a daughter, and took her first local acting job, in The Fabulous Fifties, at the Straz. Not only did she find the experience satisfying — she was hooked.
“I realized, hey, I can make a living doing this here — and raise my kid. So I haven’t left.”
Her credits at the Straz include Holiday Cabaret, Cigar City Chronicles, Jewtopia, Godspell, and Waistwatchers. She parted company with the Straz when one of her favorite associates was laid off, and began appearing at other theaters: in Rent and Rocky Horror at American Stage, Man of La Mancha and Comedy of Errors at freeFall; God of Isaac, The Blue Room, and Listen to My Heart at Stageworks, and New York Nights at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.
And next is Holiday Party of One (directed by Karla Hartley), which opens Nov. 29 and runs through Dec. 16. See it for the usual holiday reasons — or just to watch Alison Burns do her stuff. If her writing’s anywhere near the level of her performing, this should be a fine evening. And I have no doubt that she’ll deliver the show’s holiday songs — straight and parodied — with panache. This talented woman doesn’t give bad performances.
Note her well: She’s the blonde who’s been making it all look easy — for eight years and counting.
Holiday Party Of One runs Nov. 29-Dec. 16 at Stageworks, 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. , 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. 813-727-2708, stageworkstheatre.org.