Venice Theatre Wins Big at State Conference

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY AUG 18, 2017

Each year, the Florida Theatre Conference’s Community Theatre Festival invites community theaters from across the state to perform in a multi-day juried competition, which sees each participating theater present a short production to be judged by its acting, directing and set production. Venice Theatre sent eight representatives to this year’s conference, with the troupe returning victorious, clutching six awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Outstanding Play and the coveted “Spirit of the Road” award.

Traveling light, the troupe comprised a crew of four, Stage Manager Jennifer Kaiser, Costume Designer Jonathan Hall, Scenic and Lighting Designer John Andzulis and John Wyczlinksi, and three actors, Kristofer Geddie, Murray Chase and Morgan Graves, all under the direction of Ric Goodwin. Upon arrival, the team received a 10-foot by 10-foot space to store their set and costumes, waiting for their call, when they would have 10 minutes to set the stage, an hour for performance and 10 minutes to tear it all down again. Competing against the New Tampa Players and Firehouse Community Theatre, the Venice Theatre presented a production of Tennessee Williams’ one-act drama 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. Referred to as a “Mississippi Delta comedy” by the author, a more apt description may be “really messed up,” according to Graves, who won Best Actress for her performance. “The only thing we could come up with [to explain that],” she says, “was that no one dies.”

A three-character drama, the story begins when Jake (played by Chase), a cotton gin owner and terror of a man who regularly abuses his wife, Flora (Graves), burns down the cotton gin of his rival, Silva (Geddie), in a bid to steal his business. Silva, knowing the truth but unable to prove it, takes his revenge on Flora while Jake seems not to care, leaving the three in an unchallenged triangle of abuse.

And though their competitors did “an excellent job,” says Graves, it was the Venice Theatre team that walked away with six awards—Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Scenic Design, Outstanding Play and the “Spirit of the Road” award, given by the host to the team that exemplified positivity, respect and a good attitude throughout the competition. “Out of all the awards, that was the one we were most proud of,” says Graves. “And it has nothing to do with the production itself.”

With this recognition, the Venice Theatre team qualifies to advance to the next round and compete at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Mobile, AL, in March 2018. They will again present 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, incorporating the tips and critiques from judges this round. “It’s all very constructive,” says Graves. “It is a competition, but everybody leaves at least feeling they got to see some good theater, be around people who also love theater and get some constructive criticism.”

Pictured: Morgan Graves receives her award for Best Actress at the Florida Theatre Conference Community Theater Festival. Photo by Jennifer Kaiser.

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