FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s Dog Days Theatre kicks off with 'Relatively Speaking'.
For 14 summers, the Banyan Theater Company rented the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Cook Theater for its summer season of classic and contemporary theater. Founded by Jerry Finn, the company was a pioneer of summer theater in Sarasota.
When Finn died in March 2016, Banyan Theater closed, along with a chapter in the history of Sarasota’s arts community.
The question also became apparent: Who would continue to offer summer theater programming in the Cook Theatre?
Greg Leaming, director of the FSU / Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, saw the need, and developed a new program: Dog Days Theatre.
On July 11, the program will launch its inaugural two-show season. The goal, he says, is to offer professional-level programming during the summer months that also incorporates current and recently graduated students.
The works will be contemporary, intelligent and, as Leaming puts it, “Just light enough for the dog days of summer.”
The new program offers an outlet for material that might not be a fit for either Asolo Repertory Theatre or the conservatory’s programming.
“A lot of material ends up on my desk that’s not an exact fit here or there,” says Leaming. “But it’s really valuable work, nonetheless. Dog Days is about material that feels suitable for summer audiences — and Sarasota’s audiences are very intelligent. It’s perhaps a little edgier and a bit lighter for the summer.”
The season kicks off with British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's romantic comedy “Relatively Speaking,” which is directed by Brendon Fox and runs through July 30.
The play tells the story of a young couple, Greg and Ginny, who, after just a month of dating, start discussing marriage. Ginny goes to an ex’s house to recover some incriminating possessions, and Greg shows up mistakenly believing he’s meeting Ginny’s family. Chaos and hilarity ensue.
Kelly Elizabeth Smith and Wyatt C. McNeil, both recent conservatory graduates, play the young couple.
“I’m really excited about the inaugural season,” says Smith. “It gives us an opportunity to work with seasoned professionals, which is really valuable.”
McNeil echoes her sentiment, adding that the role will be his first professional one out of graduate school.
“Banyan was great, and it really served Sarasota well,” he says. “This project, especially with Greg Leaming heading it up, is a really good idea. It’s great for students to have another opportunity to act and work during the summer, and it’s something audiences wouldn’t normally see from the conservatory or the repertory theater.”
Running Aug. 8-27 is “Double Indemnity,” a stage adaptation of the crime novel and film of the same name and a staple of film noir. Leaming and Jesse Joi direct this story of love, murder and a highly suspicious life-insurance policy.
Leaming says the play challenges actors to tap into their dark side to bring out the film noir aesthetic — something he’s particularly excited to see unfold onstage. Above all, he hopes to offer summer audiences something to be excited about.
“Sarasota is becoming much more of a year-round community,” he says. “We want to continue to offer high-caliber material to that audience. People can expect to have fun and to be thrilled.”