Tampa Bay theater's Mother Gypsy: Lil Barcaski

The director of Gypsy Rep discusses her unique theater company and its upcoming season.

click to enlarge FIGHTING CHANCE: Lil Barcaski runs the nomadic Gypsy theater company. - Kevin Tighe
Kevin Tighe
FIGHTING CHANCE: Lil Barcaski runs the nomadic Gypsy theater company.

Lil Barcaski wasn’t kidding when she named her troupe the Gypsy Stage Rep. Consider Picking Up Sticks, which Barcaski wrote and which opens on Sept. 18 at The [email protected] in St. Petersburg. Two weeks after the show closes at The Studio, it reappears for a two-show performance at Tampa Prep near downtown Tampa, then moves to the New Port Richey Library for a single performance. That’s followed by shows at the Gypsy rehearsal space in Dunedin, the Largo Community Center, and The Center Place in Brandon. All in all, Picking Up Sticks will have 10 performances in six different venues in about a month. Gypsy indeed.

I talked with Barcaski over sandwiches and coffee at Café Kili in Temple Terrace. She told me that her company began about five years ago as Showcase Rep, producing plays at libraries, community centers and art galleries in New Port Richey, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs and elsewhere. The company produced John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, David Auburn’s Doubt, and David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole “anywhere that would have us,” and sometimes was welcomed with “a packed house” and a grateful audience.

For actors, Barcaski used students in the actor’s studio she started in Dunedin. The studio is unique in that it requires no fee: all that a performer needs to do to enter is successfully audition. There are now about 25 actors training there, five of whom will appear in Picking Up Sticks as it travels the area. “And I don’t get paid,” said Barcaski, whose web development company provides her living expenses. “And none of my staff gets paid. And they never will.”

Barcaski herself trained as a director and actor at New York University and afterward worked with “phenomenal” New Jersey acting coach Martin Winkler. As an actor, she eventually appeared in independent films as well as in the movie Monster with Charlize Theron. She moved to Florida in order to do graduate work in Orlando, and fell in love with the weather. She was part of the Stagewrights group at Tampa’s Stageworks for a while, and saw one of her 10-minute plays produced at TampaWorks in 2012. She also wrote a full-length play called Dinner for Six, showed it around the area under the Showcase Arts aegis, and “at the end of the play, people were crying. And that was really cool. A whole lot of people were crying.”

Barcaski explained that the play was really about “having the courage to realize where you belong in the world and to actually maybe take the chance to go do that.” The drama still needs rewrites, Barcaski said, but it also encouraged her to persevere in her writing.

Picking Up Sticks is about a young couple whose 4-year-old daughter goes missing. “It’s about family and loss and commitment and kind of figuring out what you’re really supposed to be doing,” said Barcaski. “A lot of it has to do with kids being too young to have children ... As much as it sounds like a serious subject, it’s not: there’s a lot of humor in it.” Barcaski said that the play, loosely based on events she herself experienced, “turns out okay. It’s not about some tragedy of missing children.” The real focus is on the young parents — in their early 20s — and the lessons they learn from their ordeal. And there’s a lot of ethnic comedy: Barcaski, who’s part Italian, has made sure to include “Italian fighting” in the mix.

Showcase turned into Gypsy in March of this year, and Barcaski’s almost got all of its 2013-2014 season planned. In October, the production will be Amy and David Sedaris’ The Book of Liz, and for the holidays there’ll be an interactive trivia show called “So, You Think You Know Holiday Movies?” David Ives’ Mere Mortals will open in January, followed by Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple in mid-February. The last show of the season, for April and May, has yet to be announced.

Barcaski no longer wants her itinerant shows to fly in “under the radar.” “We want people to get used to the concept that if they want to see a show with us, they need to go online and look at the website [GypsyStage.com],” said Barcaski. “See where we’re doing a show. And if they have an idea for a place where we can bring a show, we’ll come! We did a show in a complex where mostly senior citizens live, and they were having a dinner thing and wanted us to bring a show there. And we did! They had a stage!”

“You’d be shocked how many places have stages!”

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