Tampa Bay theaters move heaven and earth so the show can go on, but this time is different

An open letter from Stageworks’ Karla Hartley.

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click to enlarge Tampa Bay theaters move heaven and earth so the show can go on, but this time is different
Gabriel Burgos c/o Tampa Magazine

My dear Stageworks Friends and Family,

These last few weeks have been very difficult for all of us both spiritually and physically as we can only look toward an uncertain future. It is surreal to spend my workdays alone in a place that is typically filled with vibrancy, creativity, excitement, but most importantly, love and passion.

Editor’s note: Multiple Best of the Bay winner Karla Hartley is the Producing Artistic Director at Stageworks Theatre, Tampa's longest running professional theater, onstage since 1983. 

Like many of our theater colleagues across the nation, Stageworks has had to implement several measures to face the crisis which currently engulfs Americans everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, to safeguard the health and safety of our community, we officially postponed the opening of 12 Angry Men. Now, anyone who has ever done theater at any level knows that a postponed opening is something that almost never happens. ‘The show must go on’ is an industry cliché for a reason. We move heaven and earth to avoid disappointing our audiences.  

But on this occasion, things are different. The “new normal” isn’t about me or about you … it’s about us and how together we will get through these trying times.

I've been thinking lately about our mission and how Stageworks can help others in this time of crisis in a way that, we as a theater community, are uniquely equipped. 

As a sometime actor and full time director, my primary job requirement is to be able to set aside myself and understand the path of someone else. Acting is a strange and ethereal skill. It is difficult. It is exhausting. It is exhilarating.  

As actors train and hone their craft they all develop a heightened sense of empathy. One must be empathetic towards their character in order to truly understand them. A by-product of empathizing with your character is the ability to extend that empathy to people in your everyday life. Most actors I know are highly empathetic and highly generous with their emotional energy. They have a natural impulse for understanding and kindness.

It is in that context that I think now, more than ever, our society needs to look at the arts as a means to heal, as a vehicle to learn from ourselves about ourselves. The polarizing times in which we live, and a crisis that has made “social distancing” a necessity, do not need to be a permanent reality. We should not, in fact we cannot, let this become the “new normal.”

The arts need to step in to become that bridge that will allow us to reconnect and give us all a sense of community, led by artists of all kinds who have been preparing for this moment our entire lives, whether we knew it or not.  

At Stageworks, we plan to contribute our two cents to this cause by continuing to entertain and educate in any way we can.

In the coming weeks, we will be creating original content you can enjoy at a safe social distance by following @stageworkstampa on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram. The “Stageworks Staycation” series will feature an entertaining behind-the-scenes look at Stageworks staff showing WFH (Work From Home) solidarity with the rest of you. We are also in the process of planning online classes taught by our resident teaching artists, live streamed play readings and other virtual programming we think will keep the magic of theater alive for all of us.

Whether theater, music, writing or painting, the language of the arts only helps bring society together. The arts are what puts the “unity” in community and what will allow us to once again look at each other in the eye and touch each other’s hearts. It is the only path forward.

Leading with empathy and generosity is the artists’ specialty and we are ready to get started.


Karla Hartley is the Producing Artistic Director at Stageworks Theatre - Tampa's longest running professional theater, onstage since 1983. She has worked exclusively in the non-profit sector for the last 25 years and is passionate about making theatre accessible and inclusive for all. Karla upholds Stageworks' mission to create theatre that respects, ignites, and celebrates the human spirit, and challenges the thresholds of intolerance with her bold, innovative programming choices. Connect with Karla and Stageworks by visiting stageworkstheatre.org and following @stageworkstampa on social media.

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