When Gorilla Theatre opened in the late 1980s, its purpose was mostly to present the plays of its founders, Aubrey Hampton and Susan Hussey. But now the small theater in the Drew Park area of Tampa produces or coproduces scripts by Wallace Shawn, Willy Russell, Tracy Letts and other important contemporary playwrights, supports fledgling authors with the annual Young Dramatists Project and plays host to Tampa Jazz Club concerts eight times a year. Gorilla is one of the smallest theaters in the area — only 76 seats — and doesn't always attract a full house to its stage plays. But the theater is dependably funded by Hampton's Aubrey Organics, which usually invests over $200,000 a year in the enterprise. "It's not a loss," says Hussey, "because we feel that we're reaping an artistic benefit. I mean, we're giving a lot of local actors and designers and directors work. ... And the audience that comes, they get a unique theater experience."
But there's more to Gorilla than theater; there's also the impressive jazz series run by Jimmy Lyons, president of the Tampa Jazz Club (like Gorilla, a nonprofit). Lyons, who's also a deejay on WMNF, seeks out the best instrumentalists in the country; last season that included the Ira Sullivan Quartet, saxophonist Jed Levy, pianist Kenny Drew, Jr. and guitarist Jorge Garcia playing with violinist Federico Britos. There are eight shows a year from October to June, always on Sunday afternoons ("We try to dodge the Bucs games," says Lyons), and each concert lasts about two and a half hours, including intermission. The shows tend to pack the house; in fact, 115 crowded in to see Garcia and Britos. But even so, "If it weren't for Gorilla Theatre, we wouldn't have made it," says Lyons. "They give us the facility, they let us use it for nothing. ... because Aubrey's a jazz fan, and he loves jazz, and he wants culture. And the plays and jazz, they kind of fit hand in glove."