May 12, 2021 | By Talia Fish
American Stage Uncages Theatre!
The Factory St. Pete
May 14-16 at 7 pm
I think we’ve reached the point in this pandemic where we’ve gone through every stage of grief. Denial of having to alter your daily life and habits, anger towards others who may not see things the same way as you, bargaining with yourself as you take steps to go outside again, depression as we go through an entire year of distancing and isolation – and finally, the kind of acceptance that only comes when you can faintly see a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s hard to believe that there may be an end in sight when we first anticipated this time and thought it might last two months, but here we are. We’ve grieved what was and what we knew to be. Maybe it’s for the best and we can now take these lessons we’ve learned and move forward into an era of rebuilding and rebirth. What do you think happened after the plague hundreds of years ago?
Theatre prevailed, as it has always done. In its own stubborn way, theatre is like the wad of gum stuck to your shoe in that it molds to new environments, adapts to change, and refuses to give in. Theatre will always be here despite all odds and it will adapt in ways that shock both professionals in the field and the community of audience members. All we can do now is watch the magic of theatre as it comes back to life from closer than what our screens have given us over the past year.
It’s been a hot minute since you’ve sat in the regal, velvety seats of a theatre, but you may be waiting a little longer. Theatres have spent the last 12 months creating resourceful ways to present their art, and the creativity has not stopped flowing! Why do a show inside when you have the beautiful Florida sky as your stage lights and elegant palm trees as your backdrop?
I remember a time when outdoor venues and outdoor shows were the Plan D, last option, and cheapest avenue of operation – especially working as a university student with a minimal budget. Add a global pandemic and some eager artists and the perspective suddenly shifts. Just like everything, there is always another way to do something.
While it’s true that we’re all itching to get back into theatres, I think we need to continue to remind ourselves that this is a lovely moment to take a breath and take in the beauty of everything theatre can be. It’s not always about bright lights, moving DMX lights, exorbitant scenery, regal costumes and inflated acting – sometimes theatre is a quaint night of intimate sketch comedy scenes and songs that take place outside in St. Pete.
American Stage has announced their partnership with The Factory St. Pete, a creative arts destination at 2622 Fairfield Ave. in the Warehouse Arts District, for their reemergence into live and on-site performances. American Stage is beginning their summer of Pop-Up! Performances to pop back into the live theatre scene again with in-person audiences.
The first of these performances is Uncaged, a night of celebration and laughter as performers bring to life songs, sketch comedy and scenes, May 14-16. Of course, with safety measures and social distancing at the forefront of any production, American Stage has selected the perfect venue for getting back on the scene. The Factory St. Pete is an artsy, wonder-filled, and bright space to perceive, and that’s just from the outside. American Stage hints for future Pop-Up! Performances that there will be both digital and “intimate members-only performances” that will be offered on their Virtual Stage. So, if going out still isn’t your cup of tea, stay tuned to the options Bay Area theatres continue to offer!
The Factory St. Pete is a new venue and creative arts destination that houses featured artists in their 6.5-acre space. You can visit the Fairgrounds, a 15,000 square foot immersive arts experience that features over 60 Florida-based artists. Daddy Kool Records and Black Crow Coffee will soon be housed in The Factory, as well – so keep an eye out for caffeinated sips and good music all in one place! If you’re an artist in need of space, they’ve got that for you, too. A wonder for community-building, opportunity and space to create, The Factory offers members a Hot Desk, Designated Desk, Private Studio or Flexible Creative Space to work in.
As Kristin Clippard, the Associate Artistic Director at American Stage, says in the promotional teaser of the event, “It’s here. It’s finally happening.” Just like the socially distanced hangouts many of us enjoyed from lawn chairs spaced six feet apart in abandoned parking lots or from the windows of our cars, Uncaged celebrates the joy of laughing with friends on the lawn. In fact, the show takes place on the lawn in front of The Factory! Bring a chair, some snacks and a drink, and you’ll be set to sail as you watch the actors sing and laugh in front of you.
This night of fun and laughter was conceived by Ricky Wayne and Gavin Hawk – no strangers to the Bay Area or American Stage. Both perform at American Stage’s After Hours Improv Shows on the improv team “Hawk & Wayne.” They combine their powers to create a give and take of training, mixing both Chicago and West Coast long-form improvisation styles.
Though they were trained in two very different and distinct styles, their comradery, comedy and creativity shine through in their work. Brought together again for American Stage’s Pop-Up! Performances, they worked to create something true to “our normal” that still holds to the life and light we experience just being around friends.
I prodded Gavin Hawk as to how his comedy training added to this piece and he came back to me with insight into his process. “There’s a bunch of different templates you can use when you write sketches and an infinite number of ways you can play with them.” But what helped him most was his comrade in comedy writing, Ricky Wayne. “Sketch comedy writing is a natural extension of the way we improvise together. The best part about creating with Ricky is he can take a ridiculous premise I throw out there and find all these hilarious ways to play it out.”
Just hearing how the two of them work off of each other makes me want to book it down to St. Pete this weekend. Bring your friends, bring your teens, bring your dog – though, it is recommended by American Stage that the age of patrons attending be at least 14.
The actors in Uncaged are faces from the Bay Area you may recognize. In fact, Julia Rifino just starred in Leonard Bernstein’s New York over at freeFall Theatre a couple of weeks ago! You also may remember her as a certain bride-to-be in an Abba Jukebox Musical that American Stage put on just two seasons ago. Patrick A. Jackson, American Stage’s Adult Education Associate, also stars in this. You may also recognize him as Clarence from American Stage’s virtual rendition of It’s a Wonderful Life or from A Raisin In The Sun, which was on the brick and mortar stage at American Stage just a few seasons back. The cast of five includes Bonnie Agan, John Perez and Donovan Whitney, all frequent flyers in the Bay Area Theatre scene, and you can find their credits and bios at americanstage.org/popup
Now, you may be wondering what the draw is to this show, and I have the answer for you – mystery and fun! What more do you need? I mean, what else are you up to this weekend, binging another reality show on Netflix again?
Let Gavin give you a bit of incentive with the piece he’s most excited to put in front of an audience this weekend, “I’ve written a series of short sketches called “The Optimistic Survivalist,” which has Bonnie Agan playing a kind of demented Martha Stewart.” Now if that doesn’t get you packing the beach chairs and popcorn into your car, then I guess I’ll have to incentivize you with the exclusivity… It’s three performances only! You may miss out on the best experience of the week if you miss Uncaged, and you’ll miss American Stage’s return to live in-person performances, too.
Let’s be real here, nothing can replace the feeling of losing yourself in a performance with actors bringing to life extraordinary circumstances as the audience and performers alike light up with laughter. Take a moment this weekend to let go and laugh with the performers of Uncaged and just enjoy live theatre again.
Don’t forget to buy your tickets beforehand, though! Tickets must be purchased in advance online or by phone at American Stage’s website. Tickets can also be purchased 12–4 p.m. on Friday, May 14 at the American Stage Box Office. You can find ticket information here.
And if this show has uncaged a hunger in you for more theatre in the Bay Area, stay tuned for what’s to come at the “Raise the Curtain Gala” that American Stage is hosting at The Factory St. Pete on June 11. In support of this resilient theatre, the night entails live entertainment and the unveiling of their 2021-2022 season. There may even be a few surprises along the way. You can find out more here.