Sarasota's Urbanite Theatre isn't quite like our mainstays north of the Skyway. That's not to say one is better than the other, only that I'm beyond enchanted with Urbanite and the mastermind behind it, Brendan Ragan. I've reviewed their last two shows and been impressed with the amount of edginess and thought (and conversation)-provoking theater the company packs into a tiny space. I've also been impressed with their ability to come close to selling out shows before the shows open. I asked co-artistic director Brendan Ragan to answer our seven questions. Here's how that went:
OK, first, can you give us the elevator pitch about why Urbanite is different and worthy?
I always like to say Urbanite is theatre for HBO fans. If you're hungry for something new, provocative and challenging from a company that promises to never censor or tiptoe, Urbanite is the experience for you.
What drew you to such a small space — and how small is it?
Our entire theater is 1500 square feet. Urbanite is small by design, meaning we specifically wanted to create an atmosphere where you're breathing the same air as the performers and living in the environment they are. It's an intimate, thrilling experience you just can't get at a bigger theater, and it allows actors to perform with a much greater level of truth, since they aren't tasked with sizing their performance to reach the last row of the second balcony.
Why do you do the reading series?
Since we're dedicated to finding new plays written in the last five years or so, we're in a constant state of reading many new works. A lot of times, we find value in a script that we just aren't able to fit in to a full production, so this gives us a chance to hear it live in front of an audience with professional actors. Many times they are works they we're considering giving full productions, other times they are just works that we feel are worthy of shining a light on.
With the current series, what plays are you considering and for when?
The three plays we're reading are Need to Know by Jonathan Caren, Poison by Lot Vekemans and Boy by Anna Ziegler. Though our next season of plays is mostly selected, these would all be on our radar for future seasons if they work well in the readings.
What’s your biggest frustration with Urbanite?
Rarely at a theater are you so fortunate to have a demand you can't quite satisfy, and that would be our only big frustration so far. Because we're such a small team, we haven't been able to overlap our productions much yet, meaning if you're a seasonal resident in Florida, sometimes you're only here long enough to catch one or two shows. As we grow our capabilities, however, we're starting to overlap the production calendar more so we can offer more performances to these extraordinary, hungry Sarasota audiences.
Whose work in Tampa Bay do you most admire?I deeply respect the quality and professionalism that Stephanie Gularte fosters at American Stage. I love the creativity and individuality Eric Davis brings to shows at freeFall. I'm a big fan of the ensemble energy at Jobsite. Stageworks is consistently producing scripts that I'm excited about. Tampa Rep I have to omit only because I haven't ever been able to make a production yet. Is that a political enough response?
Where do you suggest people go to eat before or after a show?
Lila is my favorite new downtown restaurant, maybe because it reminds me the most of New York. But Boca, State Street and Tsunami are all terrific and just a short walk to the theater. There's a good chance you can find us at Mandeville Beer Garden or Pangea for post-show drinks.
Cathy Salustri is the Arts + Entertainment editor for Creative Loafing Tampa. Know someone in our arts community who we should ask seven questions? Contact Cathy here.