Best Of 2012

"I have always thought that I was a bit weird and silly and he totally appreciates that about me" —Meg Heimstead, w. Shawn Paonessa.
Photo by Todd Bates
"I have always thought that I was a bit weird and silly and he totally appreciates that about me" —Meg Heimstead, w. Shawn Paonessa.

Watch: Meg Heimstead & Shawn Paonessa — Best Theatrical Talent Merger in this year's Best of the Bay — talk to CL's David Warner about why Shawn had to compete with Al Roker when he proposed. Taped during The Loafies, Sept. 19, at Creative Loafing.

The soon-to-be-married Shawn Paonessa and Meg Heimstead had these answers to CL's questions about their relationship:

CL: How and when did you meet?

Meg: "Shawn and I knew each other for a few years before we started dating. He actually cast me in a show shortly after I moved here from North Carolina, but the show didn't really 'speak' to me so I turned down the role. We got to know each other a bit better when we did The March of the Kitefliers the first time in 2005. We liked each other but the timing wasn't right. Shawn asked me out for the first time on closing night of the second Kitefliers production in 2007. He was so sweet about it! We had just finished strike and he told me that he wanted to speak to me for a minute privately. I had no idea that he was going to ask me out. I was a bit shocked, and my answer was a bumbled, 'Um…Yeah…Uh…Okay.' It wasn't exactly the response he had hoped for but the rest is history."

When did you get engaged?

Meg: "We got engaged on my birthday, eight months ago. We had been talking about it so it wasn't a complete surprise but I didn't know when he was going to ask. On the morning of my birthday I was sitting in my pajamas watching the Today Show and checking my email. He asked me if I wanted my present now. I told him that I could wait until after work. He told me that it was something that I would really like. He tried for a few minutes to convince me that I really wanted it now. I saw that he was intent on giving it to me right away so I agreed. He got down on one knee and popped the question. I was so excited! I said yes right away. I kept hugging and kissing him [so] that I didn't pay a lot of attention to the ring that he had designed himself. He had to stop me for a moment and get me to focus on the ring. I never expected to get engaged in my PJ's but that's how it happened and I wouldn't change a thing."

What drew you to one another?

Meg: "I was immediately drawn to his sense of humor. He is soooo funny! He would always make me laugh backstage. He still makes me laugh on a daily basis. Shawn is also so smart and well read. I love that. He likes a lot of the same things that I like; music, art, travel, books. I also respected him (still do) as an actor, writer and director. I admired his work and thought that he had great creative impulses. I have always thought that I was a bit weird and silly and he totally appreciates that about me. Other men that I have dated thought that I was too weird. Shawn has always liked me just the way I am.

…"For many years I swore off dating actors. I felt like they were either too unstable or I worried that we would be too competitive with each other. I wanted to have a work/life separation. But all of those relationships didn't work out because they couldn't understand my career. They resented the long hours that I would put in. Many of them hadn't been to see a play in years. They just didn't get it. Shawn totally understands why I do what I do because he does it too. I sometimes work seven days a week. I work nights and also bring a lot of work home with me. So does he. We understand that what we do is fueled by love and a great compulsion to create. It is wonderful to have a partner that respects and supports who you are and what you do. I can't imagine spending my life with anyone else."

Shawn: "For me, I think it was a combination of Meg's senses of humor and fun with her work ethic and common sense. Like her, I was sworn off actors, because… well, they're almost all crazy. Actually, we're all mentally deranged; it's just a matter of degree. Meg and my versions of crazy border about as close to normal as possible, so the chemistry started there. That, and a lot of serendipitous commonalities: what we do, art, photography, music – it all just fit.

"…It works surprisingly well. Like Meg said, there's a mutual understanding of our schedules, and that goes a long way. Because we work in the same field and know so many of the same people, but don't work at the same companies, we can bounce a lot of ideas and projects off each other. There's no metric for creative success, so you have a lot of 'Am I deluded, or does this work or not work?' moments. To have someone you can trust with a fresh set of eyes/ears is really invaluable. We have very similar standards and tastes, and a lot of complimentary experiences. We're very good constructive critics."

How do you help each other with your respective work in the theater — with writing, acting, company-founding, etc.?

Meg: "Shawn helps me all of the time. He just finished the sound design for the American Stage School Tour show that I am directing. He proofreads grants and play guides that I write. He runs lines with me and also helps with my audition pieces. He is a great sounding board for ideas, and he gives helpful advice about managing people. We compare notes about challenges that he has had with Jobsite and that I have had with A Simple Theatre or American Stage."

Will you be working on any projects together in coming months?

Meg: "The biggest project that we will be working on next is our wedding. It's now just over three months away and there is so much to do! I have cleared my fall schedule of shows so that I can focus on planning. Our wedding is what this year is all about for us. I did a lot of shows these past few years and I told Shawn that this year I would slow down a bit and focus on us."

"I would love to act in a play with him again. We haven't been onstage together since Kitefliers. However, when both of us are in a show at the same time, managing regular life gets difficult. It's easier if we take turns. I am also waiting for the day that he and Neil write a part for me in one of their films. But the truth is that we work together all of the time in little ways. I couldn't do my job at American Stage or with A Simple Theatre without his support and wise advice."

Shawn: "The wedding is a pretty big production. Shy of that, I don't know when I'll be on stage next. I miss performing immensely, but I'm devoted pretty heavily to getting Kitefliers off the ground. I'm sure it'll happen again one day, but nothing's set in the foreseeable future."

Arts & Entertainment

CAUGHT OFFSTAGE: The dancers in Moving Current.
CAUGHT OFFSTAGE: The dancers in Moving Current.

The University of South Florida’s dance company in residence, led by Artistic Directors Shelley Bourgeois, Erin Cardinal and Cynthia Hennessy, is that stellar example of why Tampa is a little more culturally sophisticated than many think. When your friends from the big city pooh-pooh our metro, pop on a vid from and show them MC’s vivid dance narratives told through poetically inspired movement. No doubt they’ll see how masterfully the moods range from light and mischievous to intense and heart-wrenching. After getting that taste, take ‘em to see Moving Current live during their 15th anniversary season. The collective’s “current” is inspired by the idea of electricity, and Moving Current’s performances continue to electrify. 813-237-0216, [email protected]

Best Actor

Sorensen was all over Bay area stages last season, playing multiple lovers in Stageworks’ The Blue Room, a naïve young American threatened by omnisexual ghouls in The Rocky Horror Show, a smug would-be rescuer of females in Becky Shaw, and an earnest American come to Weimar Germany to find something to write about in Cabaret. And in every role, he was just about perfect.

Watch: Recently married Natalie Symons and Jim Sorensen — Most Promising Playwright and Best Actor — talk w. CL's David Warner during the Best of the Bay awards reception Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing, and Natalie almost spills the beans about a part she just might be writing for her husband.

Best Actress

Sargent had a near-impossible mission in Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Streetcar Named Desire: to make the audience forget Vivien Leigh’s iconic performance in the film. But Sargent did it: her Blanche DuBois was skittish, vain, manipulative, self-deluding, fragile and tragic. She dominated the play and brought down the house. Amazing work.

Best Album

An album 10 years in the making, Tin Year is an impeccably crafted LP by veteran local musicians and New Granada Records leaders Keith and Susie Ulrey, plus Brian Roberts, Melissa Grady and Michael Waksman. Longtime collaborators Susie and Michael whittled down years of songwriting to the 13 tracks that were recorded, mixed and mastered by this year’s Best of the Bay-winning sound engineer and studio, Mark Nikolich at Atomic Audio. Tin Year is a thoughtful and stunning collection easing between buoyant folk roots, warm indie pop and gently-driving alt rock. Susie's pure piping vocals soar bright and vibrant, or glide delicate and serene over shimmering cello-fused instrumentals, complementing the delicate masculine vocal harmonies and occasional turns on lead by Keith and Michael. Overall, salve to the soul.

Runners-up: Morean Art Center, Florida Craftsman Gallery

Best Artistic Director

With remarkable rapidity, Davis has made freeFall Theatre into a jewel of a venue, a place where incisive straight plays and potently re-imagined musicals (this season’s Cabaret) are consistently offered on the highest levels of theatrical art. In Davis’ capable hands, first-rate Shakespeare has again become an annual event (The Comedy of Errors) and he’s shown an openness to local playwrights (Rip.Tied.) and a fine instinct for contemporary triumphs (Becky Shaw). He deserves our thanks.

Best Arts Festival

Runners-up: Gasparilla Arts Festival, Florida Craftsman

Best Badass Debut
Phil Bardi

I'm not sure exactly what San Francisco composer/multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge and his "Venice Dawn" band played during their set at Antiwarpt 2012; aside from some cuts off latest release Something About April, it was all a blur of unadulterated badassness. A natural showman in hip aviator-style eyewear, Younge traded off instruments with his bandmates, from bass to organ and synths to flute and sax, then back to bass again. He expressed his excitement about being in Florida, struck a bargain at the beginning of the set — "Give us your all, and we’ll give you our all. Do we have a deal?" — and left both sides feeling like champions as the near full-house at State Theatre got the fuck down. Now that’s what I call a Sunshine State debut.

Best Band Resurrection

Weezer’s Pinkerton and Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister both dropped in 1996. It was also a good year for Tampa area music, as evidenced by the formation of Spiller and the release of their debut recording that year, Gold Leader EP, which features a catchy, sunshine-drenched mix of alt-rock and power pop. The reunion on April 7 at New World Brewery featured original members John McNicholas and Marcus McCord with new drummer Vinnie Cosentino. The Semis and Jensen Serf Co. opened, demonstrating the delightful progression of Tampa Bay indie rock through the years. Gigs at Heatwave and Antiwarpt have since followed; new music and more shows in the works.