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    Avenue Players exiting Tarpon

    Despite the decision, the city plans to continue hosting classic plays at the Performing Arts Center.

    By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000


    TARPON SPRINGS -- When the curtain came down on the final production of Amadeus at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center Saturday, it was also the final show at the center by the Avenue Players acting troupe.

    It was the end of an 8 1/2-year era that has seen the audiences for the classic shows the troupe has presented grow and become more and more loyal.

    "We're disappointed about it," said Kathleen Monahan, the city's community affairs administrator, who is in charge of scheduling acts at the theater. "We hoped that this wouldn't happen."

    The news isn't all bad. The Players will continue to act under the direction of founder Diana Forgione, only at other venues. The Tarpon Springs theater will continue to have classic plays, only under different directors.

    Ms. Forgione has already received offers to direct shows at two others theaters, and a third "is in the offing," she said.

    "Being at the center was a tremendous experience," she said. "But there were artistic differences. There were too many problems to work out."

    One was space. The success of the center's performing arts season has meant more local and traveling shows are being booked in the theater. That combined with the fact that the theater doubles as a meeting place for the City Council left few evenings for the Avenue Players to rehearse, which Ms. Forgione found more and more frustrating.

    Ms. Forgione's departure probably means there won't be a spring play by a local troupe at the center, as planned. Ms. Monahan is hoping to have a new troupe in place by late spring so there can be an audience participation mystery in the summer similar to the ones that have been so popular for the past two years.

    "We're going to form a committee to select plays," she said. "And we're going to solicit resumes for directors" for future plays.

    Experienced directors should mail resumes to Ms. Monahan at Tarpon Springs City Hall, P.O. Box 5004, Tarpon Springs, FL 34688-5004.

    Whoever the new play director or directors will be, Ms. Monahan intends to continue doing classic plays.

    "We're not equipped to do musicals," she said. Besides, other theaters in the area are doing musicals, and Tarpon Springs has developed a tradition of offering high-quality shows that are unique. Classy plays such as the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Mask of Moriarty, the Moss Hart/George F. Kaufman comedy You Can't Take It With You, William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Steven Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster and Amadeus that Avenue Players have done in recent years fit right in with that tone and quality. Ms. Monahan wants to keep that winning streak going.

    "We don't want to lose our audience," she said. "We want to stay with the classics, do things that need to be performed."

    Tarpon Springs has a distinct advantage over the usual community theater groups. Because the theater is in the City Hall, there are no mortgage, no rent and no utilities to pay. City employees pitch in to help build sets and do lights. The actors are paid small stipends, and there are other expenses. But even so, there's not tremendous pressure to make a huge profit to pay the bills. So, the acting company can choose good, solid plays that might not necessarily draw audiences in droves, but are very satisfying for a select -- and selective -- audience.

    "We want to do things that interest actors as well as what will please the audience," Ms. Monahan said.

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