By Cindy Stovall
A New Arts Partnership Between
Creative Pinellas and American Stage
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March 7 at 7 pm
Gallery at Creative Pinellas
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Collaboration in the arts is not a new concept in Pinellas County. Much of what defines us as a booming arts destination is predicated on collaboration. Creators come together to elevate cultural experiences, feeding our growing appetite for more and more innovative offerings. The cross-pollination of talent from all artistic genres and organizations throughout Pinellas creates new and exciting encounters with excellence – and new opportunities to share that excellence with our community.
Such a collaboration has been struck between American Stage, the area’s longest operating professional equity theater company (est.1977) and Creative Pinellas, the multi-award winning arts advocacy organization for Pinellas County.
First Mondays, a series of free theatrical readings, kicks off on Monday, March 7 at 7 pm at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo. The gallery is located at 12211 Walsingham Rd in the Pinewood Cultural Park, also home to the Florida Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village.
“We are excited to partner with American Stage and host First Mondays” says Creative Pinellas CEO, Barbara St. Clair. “Because we are located close to the center of the county and near the beaches, bringing live performances to the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Pinewood Park creates another way to introduce and reach new audiences, make high-quality theatre experiences even more accessible to residents and visitors and further share the wealth of artistic talent and creativity that defines Pinellas County.”
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American Stage producing artistic director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj agrees. “I’ve always seen the role of the theater to be one of service to all of humankind,” he says. “I have consistently seen Creative Pinellas represent that same philosophy through their outreach to creators from widely diverse communities and the wonderful exhibitions in the gallery. These offerings remind us that we are much more alike than we are different. I knew it would be a perfect partnership.”
Associate artistic producer at American Stage, Paul Wilt adds, “I think this partnership is beautiful in so many ways, but what is most striking is that it gives us (American Stage), the opportunity to reach much further into the communities throughout Pinellas County – these are places that Creative Pinellas serves so well. Students, families and so many others that might not come into downtown St. Petersburg will now see and share in a platform that showcases up and coming voices in the theater. Once a month, they can say ‘Hey, let’s go to a free show.’ Then, if we can just spark inspiration in one soul,” Wilt says, “we have done our job.”
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Like 21st Century Voices, a highly successful annual program at American Stage providing emerging playwrights with a platform to do staged readings of their work, First Mondays will also feature rehearsed readings of excerpts from scripts and short stories with professional actors and artists.
Wilt adds, “Our plan is to offer a variety of material. In addition to new works by emerging playwrights, we’ll explore older works newly rediscovered, and collaborations with other artists of different genres – dance, music, etc. The full schedule is TBD.”
“We plan for each program to last approximately 30 minutes to an hour,” explains Maharaj. “Then we will engage the audience with post-program community conversations. That is so important to me,” he says. “In an ever-divided world where interactions about race and other subjects can be dangerous, we’ll facilitate healthy public dialogue and a safe space for people to share their views or ask questions.”
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First Mondays premiere offering will be an excerpt from the play witness, written and curated by Maharaj.
“witness bears theatrical witness to three immigrant mothers, Zahara, Maria and Famn. Rooted deeply in their faith, they share their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival in pursuit of that ongoing, often elusive experiment we all call ‘The American Dream,’” says Maharaj. “This inspirational play about the power of the human spirit to overcome provides a platform and a unique view into the universal struggle and sacrifices that all mothers, particularly BIPOC immigrant mothers, face in providing an opportunity for their children to dream without a ceiling and live their full potential.”
The portrayal of these characters was derived from a series of interviews Maharaj did with fleeing immigrant mothers, usually in churches where ICE could not apprehend them. “I was raised in the West Indies by strong women,” he explains. “This reality was familiar to me and it was important to me to tell their stories.”
The current plan is for First Mondays to continue through February 2023.
I asked Paul Wilt and Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj what their hopes are for the future of this collaboration with Creative Pinellas.
Wilt begins, “I foresee a continued strengthening of this exciting partnership. I foresee an evolution of integrating artwork and stories and dance and music – presenting it to residents and families all over Pinellas County. I hope to see the program grow and grow each month to the point where it becomes a constant in someone’s life – or in someone’s family’s life.”
Maharaj closes by saying, “My prayer is that this monthly event becomes an opportunity for all of us, through theater and the arts, to come together in fellowship – to inspire and to facilitate meaningful, productive dialogue from differing points of view. Knowing that Creative Pinellas shares this vision makes me believe that the alignment of our two organizations is going to be unstoppable!
“The bottom line,” Maharaj says, “is for us to say to artists and all who come to see and discuss the work – we see you, we hear you, and we know that your story matters. That’s what life is all about.”
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The performance is free, but seats are limited.
Please RSVP on this page by March 6.
Proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test is required
for patrons age 5 and up. See details here.