A late-night run of The Vagina Monologues as a boost for a theater facing hard times? Doesnt sound likely, especially in Tampa Bay, but thats what happened at American Stage. The company staged the Eve Ensler play as part of its After Hours series; according to Artistic Director Todd Olson, almost 1,600 people came to see the show, each paying an average of $10 per ticket (the series is pay-what-you-can). On three nights, there were so many would-be spectators, people had to be turned away, and on average the show brought in 65 audience members per performance. Local celebrities took turns as guest monologists throughout the run, among them CL Publisher Sharry Smith and Events Editor Leilani Polk.
"We knew going into this year that we had to have our main asset, which is our stage, work for us more if we were going to counter all of these cuts that we were getting from various places. And that's how the After Hours series was born, out of necessity," Olson told me.
The cuts were significant. The state cut us about $29,000 from what they normally give us, this year, said Olson. The city has cut our grant money about $15,000 over the last two years. And the kind of money we would get from a bank or a developer, those sorts of things, they're just hard times. We've had to lay off some staff this year, and either do staff salary freezes or decreases, and it hasn't been good in that way. So we're trying to make adjustments that seem sensible and still allow us to carry out our mission."
Coming up next in the After Hours series is Reefer Madness (November 14-30), followed by Santaland Diaries, starring the estimable Brian Shea, and Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing). American Stage continues its mainstage season with Lysistrata in April, moving to Demens Landing after that with Altar Boyz. The first show at their new theater, now under construction opposite Williams Park, will be Tuesdays with Morrie in June.
The After Hours series will continue at the new theater; since it's not trying to satisfy a subscription audience, says Olson, it can be "a little more off-the-wall."
More daring choices on a regular basis? Sounds good to me.