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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

West Coast Players festival packs entertainment into one act

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Published:   |   Updated: July 20, 2014 at 06:31 PM

Hidden behind an unassuming strip mall storefront, lawyers, college kids, retirees and children as young as 9 brought their dreams to life Sunday afternoon, performing for their final sold out fundraising show.

Clearwater’s West Coast Players community theater group closed out its fifth annual One Act Plays Festival on Sunday, but the 10 one-act shows were a far cry from grandma’s community theater.

The 10, plays that ran between 10 and 15 minutes covered topics from gay romance to nursing home sex, re-imagined Shakespearean works to a final phone call from the World Trade Center on September 11.

“I’ve worked with other community groups, but this one reminds me so much of New York theater,” said Leo Salerno, director of the festival’s only drama, “…last and always,” and a former actor from New York City. “They’re willing to do stuff that other groups won’t do, not the usual musicals. And we have a good audience; they’re embracing it more and more.”

The drama, written by a playwright from Austin, Texas, dropped viewers into the middle of the last phone conversation between a gay couple before one jumped to his death from one of the smoldering Twin Towers.

The West Coast Players have earned a reputation for not shying away from potentially controversial material, said Salerno, a retired ballroom dance instructor. Salerno was on a six person board that chose the 10 one act plays from about 140 scripts mailed in from across the nation.

While some patrons have been shocked by the players’ controversial shows, most have embraced the theater, said show producer Rick Kastle, a retired hearing aid specialist from Clearwater. As the theater has grown, community organizations like the St. Petersburg Pride Festival have also reached out for events and partnerships. Thirty local actors participated in this year’s festival, most novice actors with a flair for the unusual.

The troupe had just about two months to prepare for their performances for an audience of about 400, Kastle said. The one-act shows are the perfect breeding ground for new community actors looking to try their hand at the stage, he said, though the theater recruits year-round.

“Doing plays like this is a little hard, because you have to connect with the audience in so little time,” said Brad Brady, the theater director at East Lake High School. “I do maybe one show a year hear, and every year the audience has grown. A few of my students have even performed here or helped build sets, and I love that this exposes them to so many great works.”

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