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Local actors wait in the wings together

Amateur thespians come out for a chance to play a part in the New Tampa Players' inaugural dinner show this fall.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

TAMPA PALMS -- Her hands were shaking. Ever so slightly. Even in the warm night air.

Finally, with a sigh and a cigarette between her fingers Jessica Watson of South Tampa could relax. The audition was over.

"I was so nervous," said the 26-year-old homemaker.

Back inside Tampa Palms Country Club, auditions for the New Tampa Players first show, Neil Simon's They're Playing Our Song continued.

After her first foray into community theater in six years, Watson still needed a minute to collect herself.

"I'm good when I'm onstage pretending to be somebody else. It's when I'm auditioning as me that's a problem," said Watson, who drove from South Tampa after seeing the casting call notice.

So it went for half a dozen others Monday night -- the second night of auditions that will determine the musical's eight-person cast.

The hopefuls included students, secretaries, nurses, real estate agents, computer engineers and a hotel desk clerk. All answered the call to try out for the Players' inaugural dinner show, which will debut at the Tampa Palms and Hunter's Green country clubs in September and October.

For some, like Watson, it was a liberating experience. For others, the tryouts were the continuation of a favorite pastime.

"I don't do the lead parts; I'm not that brave," warned Diana Ingersoll after scanning the script and singing Send in the Clowns during her audition.

The would-be stars came in with a prepared song and had an opportunity to peruse the play.

A New York resident and community theater member for five years, Ingersoll moved to Richmond Place apartments in May. She rushed to the auditions at 8:30 p.m. after a nephew in Wesley Chapel called her about them.

"I don't have any sheet music," cried the 55-year-old administrative assistant. "He said: Who cares? Just go."

She grabbed her purse.

For some, the allure of community theater overpowers stage fright.

"The fact that anyone from the community can come and act, just test it out . . . is wonderful," said Emily Gail Howell, 24, a University of South Florida graduate student studying music. "People from different kinds of jobs during the day all come together at night and perform."

But between Carrollwood, Temple Terrace, Brandon and St. Petersburg's community theater scene, the New Tampa Player's 30 members face strong competition for audiences and actors.

"Too many people; it's not a problem we have," joked Lydia Massias, membership vice president.

The Players, she said, need volunteers. Actors, singers, sponsors, musicians, props and more than anything a home -- something the New Tampa Cultural Center will provide one day, members said.

In the meantime, "we welcome anyone with a desire," said Doug Wall, the show's director. "They don't have to sing or dance; they can work backstage."

Behind the scenes is where Tampa Palms desk clerk Dave Moreno started to see himself after an impromptu audition late Monday. Launching into a stumbling rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful the 29-year-old Temple Terrace man leaned over the pianist, desperately searching the sheet music for lyrics and laughing when he was less than successful.

"I like Moon River," he said. "I really wanted to do that song, but nobody knew it and I didn't want to sing it a cappella."

His musical career may be thwarted, but "I have no problem coming in and being a part of something artistic," Moreno said. "Every neighborhood needs art and music."

Show times:

The New Tampa Players will perform They're Playing Our Song by Neil Simon, with music by Marvin Hamlisch.

The musical follows Vernon Gersch, an Academy Award-winning composer and Sonia Walsk, a witty, off-beat lyricist of contemporary pop songs. The plot centers on their struggle to make their lives as harmonious as the love songs they create.

Performance dates for Tampa Palms Country club are Sept. 20-22. Tickets can be purchased a month in advance by calling the country club at 972-1991.

Performance dates for Hunter's Green Country Club are Oct. 4-6. The club can be contacted at 973-1000 a month prior to the show for tickets.

For information on the New Tampa Players, contact 386-6NTP.

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