Innovocative Theatre’s third season, devoted to examining violence and bullying among American children and adolescents, has left Tampa audiences stunned and the region’s critics unanimous on its achievements. Creative Loafing’s Cathy
Innovocative Theatre’s third season, devoted to examining violence and bullying among American children and adolescents, has left Tampa audiences stunned and the region’s critics unanimous on its achievements.
Creative Loafing’s Cathy Salustri called our hard-hitting January production of Columbinus “a tremendous production.” Peter Nason’s Broadway World review of the docu-drama based on the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School praised “one hell of a cast that takes us on one hell of a ride” in a “brilliantly realized and immensely powerful” show. Groove Magazine’s Deborah Bostock-Kelley raved, “You can’t just see Columbinus, when this cast makes you feel every breath of it… Everything – from casting, blocking, set, sound and lighting – came together in a way that was illuminating, heartbreaking, and completely and utterly disturbing.”
The gutsy young Tampa troupe follows that success by focusing on grade-school bullying in The Hundred Dresses, a children’s literature classic that remains on the National Education Association’s “Top 100 Books for Children” after winning the John Newbery Honor Award in 1944. The family-friendly drama closes Innovocative Theatre’s 2019 season with a run August 2 – 11 at Tampa’s Stageworks Theatre.
The time is September 1938, and tumultuous social and economic forces, at work across the globe and in the United States during the Great Depression, are being felt in a public school classroom in a rural Connecticut town. Ten-year-old Wanda Petronski is trying to fit in among the other students in Miss Mason’s class, but that isn’t easy. For starters, she’s shy, and a slow reader. Her family’s poor, and they live in a shack on the outskirts of town. But the added stigma Wanda faces as a member of a Polish immigrant family comes to a head when she claims she has one-hundred beautiful dresses—though she’s only ever been seen in one.
In this unique stage adaptation, Wanda’s story unfolds through the eyes of another student: Maddie, who’s the best friend of the headstrong Peggy, the most popular girl in school. When Peggy and other students start to make fun of Wanda, Maddie is confronted with an uncomfortable choice—one that will affect her life and the lives of those around her.
“There are many points in our lives when we are forced to decide: Do I speak up, go with the flow, or walk away,” notes Staci Sabarsky, Innovocative’s producing artistic director. “It is harder to speak up and open yourself up to the potential consequences, but that’s exactly what this play is asking Maddie – and us in the audience – to do.”
“Anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new to our culture,” says director Dawn Truax, director of education outreach at Tampa’s Stageworks Theatre. “It seems to peak in times of fear and uncertainty—like the Great Depression. The question is, how will we handle the instances of anti-immigrant behavior that we witness?”
Research indicates that fostering empathy and timely peer intervention are two key strategies in addressing bullying. The Hundred Dresses emphasizes both. “As artists, the most powerful thing we do is cultivate empathy,” Truax observes. “If you tell a story well, with sympathetic characters, that’s a real starting point—and that’s what we as theater types do best.”
Truax leads a multi-generational cast including Georgia Grenon as Maddie, Emery J. Wynne as Wanda and Madison Levine as Peggy. The cast also includes Alec Anderson, Preston Maeda, Alyssa Black-Diamond and adult actors Larry Corwin, Madeleine Krebs, Staci Sabarsky and Blake Smallen.
Innovocative Theater continues its tradition of partnering with civic organizations and community leaders to address the social issues raised in our productions and extend the conversations about them off stage.
The Hillsborough County School Board and the Seminole Heights Branch Library, a member of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System, have provided substantive production support for The Hundred Dresses.
In addition, the Friends of the Seminole Heights Branch Library are sponsoring a special benefit performance on August 1, and two free “Anti-Bullying Lunch and Learn” workshops for families, led by school psychologist Dr. Donna Berghauser, July 20 and August 3. Free copies of The Hundred Dresses will be distributed at the workshops.
Post-matinee performance talkbacks with experts and activists in the field, another Innovocative tradition, continue during this production. After the August 3 matinee, Dr. Oliver T. Massey from University of Southern Florida’s Child and Family Studies department and the Hillsborough County Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee will host a dialogue with Cameron Burris, MSW, from The Centre for Women, Inc.
On August 10, psychiatrist Dr. Marketa Wills joins executive director Freddy Barton from Safe and Sound Hillsborough.
Stageworks Theater, Tampa’s longest-running professional theater company, hosts Innovocative Theatre’s productions at its Channel District venue on Kennedy Boulevard.