You've probably noticed that there's been a burgeoning of alternative theater over the last few years — on the Tampa side of the Bay. These days, Tampa playgoers can get their fix from Stageworks, Gorilla Theatre, Jobsite Theater, Alley Cat Players, and Dog & Pony Productions. The same isn't true for St. Petersburg theater-lovers, who had little besides American Stage to choose from until Central Stage Theatre opened its doors a few months ago. Of course, two professional theaters in a city the size of St. Pete is still woefully few. There are a lot of fine plays out there just waiting to be produced, and a lot of spectators who should (theoretically) be willing to buy tickets.Now a third theater is about to be thrown into the mix. The Venue Ensemble Theatre, with Dan Khoury as artistic director, will hold auditions Dec. 9 and 10 for a play scheduled to open at Gulfport's Catherine A. Hickman Theatre next Feb. 28. The play is the late Craig Alpaugh's comedy Theatre Hell, and it's Khoury's hope that the opening will mark the return of VET as a regular presence on the St. Pete theater scene.
That's right, "return"; because Venue isn't really new. It was founded on May Day, 1992, and was specifically designed to provide acting and educational opportunities for local thespians. From the start, Khoury ran the theater arm and Corinne Broskette ran (and runs) the Venue Actors Studio educational arm on Gandy Boulevard.
The theater produced shows for several years, beginning with Bleacher Bums at the old Heritage Hotel in downtown St. Pete. Then Venue moved to a 40-seat house where various works including David Ives' All in the Timing were presented. But the venture didn't last; and Khoury, 54, devoted himself instead to his work as operations manager at the (amateur) St. Petersburg Little Theatre. When he left that position last June, he resolved to get Venue going again.
His original intention was to start this month with A. Paul Johnson's "musical revue of pop psychology" Jung at Heart, but scheduling conflicts got in the way. A second show, a parody of Tennessee Williams plays called The Glass Mendacity also had to be put off. And so Alpaugh's farce, produced a couple of years ago at Gorilla Theatre, got the nod to open the new Venue season. Jung at Heart should follow a few months later.
What further plays might we expect from Venue? Khoury answers the question modestly: "I just want to do good theater, things people haven't seen, things that will make people sit up and take notice, give them something to think about."
Some of the shows he's considering: Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, David Ives' Don Juan in Chicago, Tom Griffin's Einstein and the Polar Bear, Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet Cahoot's Macbeth, Mikhail Bulgakov's Black Snow, Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class, Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Physicists and Jean Cocteau's The Infernal Machine.
"That's the kind of stuff I want to do," says Khoury. "And I think it fits in nicely because none of the other alternative theaters are doing that kind of stuff. So there's room for everybody."
The Hickman Theatre seats 173, not a bad size for an alternative house. And Khoury foresees putting on three or four shows a year. If the above list is any indication, Venue could supply a real need: for modern European and American plays by serious, not "commercial," writers. With American Stage's focus on contemporary American plays and theater classics, and Central Stage's sponsorship of gay-themed plays, there may eventually be some real choices for St. Petersburg audiences.
Of course, money is pivotal — because the royalties for Theatre Hell are low, Venue is able to produce it "on a shoestring." But Khoury is already searching for the donors his theater will need if it's to survive. If he's like most artistic directors, he can expect to spend a good deal of time fundraising.
And with so few theaters currently in St. Pete, you can't help but wish him luck.
For more information about auditions at or sponsorship of the Venue Ensemble Theatre, call 727-321-0350
Elvis Sighting. One of the more interesting theater events this week looks to be a reading of a new play by a well-liked Bay area writer. Elvis' UFO Diet is a comedy written by former Weekly Planet and St. Petersburg Times critic Peter Smith. It's about the trials and tribulations of a young reporter who used to work at a respectable paper and now finds himself at an Enquirer-type tabloid. When the reporter gets hold of a photograph of a major politician in an adulterous liaison, the going gets tough. Smith insists that the play was begun pre-Lewinsky, so don't expect the obvious allegory.The free staged reading of Elvis' UFO Diet will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 2. The Gorilla Theatre is located at 4419 N. Hubert Ave., Tampa. Call 879-2914.
Dance Industry. There's a lot going for Moving Current, the Tampa-based modern dance collective, over the next couple of months.First is Moving Current's "First Night St. Petersburg" show, tentatively scheduled for 8:30 and 9:30 p.m., Dec. 31. According to choreographer/dancer Erin Cardinal, it's "a site-specific work, in, under, around, on a huge kapok tree" just outside the Museum of Fine Arts. "We also have rope hung, so there'll be a little bit of an aerial aspect to it."
Next is a recital at the Emit Music Festival. Moving Current's program will include three new pieces and several repertory works danced to experimental music composed by David Manson, among others. The performance will take place at 8 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Palladium in St. Petersburg.
And then there's a concert to be given at USF's Theater 1 on Jan. 24 and 25. The work will be choreographed and danced by Moving Current members and invited guests.
For more information about Moving Current, call 813-237-0216.