As actress, director and associate director of Florida Studio Theatre (FST), it’s fitting that Kate Alexander uses a frequent analogy: Life is like a script.
She expands on this philosophy as she describes the plot of her upcoming acting endeavor, the two-character production by celebrated playwright John Murrell, “Taking Shakespeare.” She says it follows two characters who meet at a time when their scripts for life just don’t feel right.
Her character, known simply as Prof, is an erudite professor who has alienated herself from the world.
When Prof signs on to tutor Murph, a videogame-obsessed slacker and son of the dean who’s failing freshman English, in Shakespeare, they both learn a lesson about finding their passions in life. The production opens July 23; it’s the first time Alexander has acted in a production at FST in four years.
Alexander’s own life’s script wasn’t exactly the linear path she had planned, but it feels right. She came from New York to Florida Studio Theatre as a leading actress to anchor a new resident company in 1980. She never imagined her direction would involve setting permanent roots here and founding an education program at FST in 1982.
At first, she didn’t know if she even wanted to start a children’s program. But eight children had signed up for her summer camp.
“All my friends laughed at me, like, ‘How can you teach children?’ because classically trained actors just don’t do that,” Alexander says.
Alexander taught them exactly the way her professors taught her. On the first day she fiercly informed them that to be a good actor, you must have truth.
“If you’re going to cry on stage, you can’t just put on a sad face; you have to show your own sadness,” she told them.
Then she had her students volunteer.
Eventually, a 6-year-old student asked to try. The child climbed on stage, and, instead of sitting in the prop chair, he lay on the floor clinging to one of the chair’s legs while in a fetal position. Tears slowly rolled down the child’s face.
Time stopped. Alexander could see everything in this seminal moment: Children understand emotion far better than some adults in the world and have the same powerful feelings as a 20-, 40-, 60- or 80-year-old.
As she discovered this new passion, her script changed. Within three years of beginning her children’s acting program, she says a line wound out the door when it was time for mothers to sign up their children for her class.
Her educational program expanded when she founded the Write A Play program in 1991. Today it reaches more than 55,000 children around the world annually and teaches them how to tap into their creativity through writing original plays.
Currently, there are conversations about taking the Write A Play program to Tel Aviv, Israel, in March — the third time the program will travel to Israel.
But her job includes so much more than programming. She doesn’t like being pigeonholed into one role.
“People tend to narrow you into being an actress or director,” she says.
But Alexander directs, acts and creates programming for whatever feels right.
For instance, last season she developed post-performance discussions to help connect the community to the theater’s productions. During the run of “Thurgood,” a play based on the life of Justice Thurgood Marshall, FST hosted discussions, including exploring how far we’ve come with civil rights and how far we need to go.
In her role as director of “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” which closes July 27, Alexander spends eight hours of the day directing, in addition to overseeing all the other design elements.
She says she uses a knot in the back of her head to gauge how the performance is going. The bigger the knot and headache — the harder she needs to work. There’s always a knot because directors have so much for which they are responsible.
But with acting, she doesn’t have to be in control of the entire production. She can spend her mornings enjoying coffee while she studies her script on the bayou near her house before rehearsal. It’s exactly what she’s doing these days as she prepares to open “Taking Shakespeare.”
She, of course, relates to her character in that she has had to find her own way in life — to adjust her script.
“I think at all points in life, we have to re-create ourselves,” she says. “So often, American culture tells us that our script is A to B to C to D — but things happen to people, and you have to reexamine everything.”
IF YOU GO
When: Opens 8 p.m. July 23 and runs through Aug. 17
Where: Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave.
Cost: Tickets $32 to $36
Info: Call 366-900 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org for tickets and more information.