Founded by 39-year-old
"I've seen other festivals -- theater and film -- inspire those in the entertainment industry to push their careers to new limits and those who never thought they'd be interested in it give it a try," Lawrence said.
"And I've seen festivals create new fans of their art form. That is what I want this festival to do -- inspire people."
Organizers of similar festivals say they've also experienced a rise in tourism and significant growth in the local theater industry.
Educational workshops will also be conducted throughout the weekend.
Each production brings its own actors, director and certain crew members, supplemented by lighting crews and other technicians from the Straz Center and Stageworks.
"We're ready to go," said Lawrence, who laughed and added. "And if I'm not, you'll never know. I'm an actor."
? ? ?
Lawrence is still considered a new leader in
He has been acting in theater since he was a junior at Polk Country's
"He is a phenomenon," Brennan said. "He is an incredible producer. If anyone can do this, it is him."
Brennan said she's confident
According to its latest annual community report, during fiscal year 2012, the Straz Center hosted more than half a million people at 2,318 events and another 53,000 at its 1,125 educational workshops.
Brennan said this is the first festival she can remember in her three decades as part of the local theater community.
In 2014, the
Lawrence credits the
He has attended since its inception in 2006 and is impressed with how it has grown the local fan base for independent film.
Before then, Lawrence said, independent film screenings here had a scarce audience. Today, they sell out.
"Through their parties, celebrities and films, they created a buzz that got locals hooked on indie film," Lawrence said. "And I kept wondering why we didn't have something like that for theater."
In 2013, his theater company showcased an original play at the
? ? ?
"For as much as
Henson said three theater companies formed in
An estimated 3,000 attended last year, Henson said, 65 percent of them from outside the city.
"Some of those who came personally told me they would come to
Henson expects attendance to grow 15 percent a year over the next few years -- from locals and tourists.
"The longer we are around, the bigger our name will be outside of the city," she said.
The residents of
With a scenic countryside and small-town look, the community draws tourists primarily from
"The experience does not end in our theater lobby," Kaus said. "The region is gorgeous. People want to come here."
The same can be said in
"The out-of-towners were theater fans looking for an excuse to visit this city," Henson said.
Lawrence said he's sure the
? ? ?
Straz Center statistics show theater fans are willing to travel here.
The center's 2012 report claims 99,857 hotel-room nights were tied to its events.
With a limited promotional budget for the first year, Lawrence is relying primarily on the local audience.
Brennan with Stageworks said an eclectic mix of shows would help launch the festival -- gay, romantic, comedy, African-American, musical.
"Each crowd will support their play, giving him an audience foundation right away," she said.
Brennan also said support from other theater groups is vital.
Besides Stageworks, Lawrence said, Jobsite,
"This area's theater community is on the cusp of being able to break forward into the national spotlight," Claridge said. "I am in favor of anything that can help increase that exposure."
Then there is the task of creating new theater fans.
"If we want to grow each year, we need to do that," Lawrence said.
? ? ?
As the founding president of the
"I think the issue the theater festival may run into will be similar to what the film festival had to deal with -- not everyone understands the entertainment value of it," Odum said.
The film festival's founding board of directors was confident
"Our first year, we used two words to promote the film festival, films and parties, and we really pushed the second word harder," Odum said. "Once people came to the parties, we convinced them to see films and they have loved them."
Lawrence is planning to follow this advice.
He has produced eight plays during RL Stage's five-year run -- a mix of original and
"My first-time audience members are usually men who only agreed to go to the play with their girl because of the after-party," he said. "Then they become fans. I try to create an experience that creates fans. That's what I want to do at the theater festival. I'm excited."
(c)2014 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)
Visit the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.) at www.tampatrib.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services