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BACKSTAGE PASS: Literary Device

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 2, 2012
"I'm young for a literary manager," Amanda Cayo says. "I haven't read everything in the canon. I think that gives me an advantage, in a way. It puts me in the same position as most of the audience."
"I'm young for a literary manager," Amanda Cayo says. "I haven't read everything in the canon. I think that gives me an advantage, in a way. It puts me in the same position as most of the audience."
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Amanda Cayo is swimming in scripts.

Scripts that need to be read, scripts that haven’t been read, scripts that beg to be re-read and scripts that should never be read again ­­­­— not that Cayo would ever say this.

As Florida Studio Theatre’s literary manager, she’s too polite and too cheerfully constructive to totally dismiss a play without saying at least one positive thing about it.

“Even the stinkers deserve nice feedback,” Cayo says.

Given the number of plays currently piled on her desk, it’s hard to believe most of the work she receives is stored in a massive digital library on her Kindle.

“Sometimes I’ll print out a hard copy with teeny tiny font just because I like having the physical script in my hand,” Cayo says.

She can get it dirty; mark it up and dog-ear pages. As convenient as the Kindle is, the technology zaps the romance out of reading through a two-act play.

A 25-year-old graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Cayo joined the FST staff three years ago as a literary intern. She quickly moved up the ranks to literary manager and now oversees a staff of four interns who work out of a small library in FST’s administration department.

The space is packed from floor to ceiling with books, spiral-bound scripts, clipboards and folders. The top shelves are so high the only way to reach them is with a ladder.

For a playwright, the collection is a feast.

For Cayo and her crew, who read 300 to 400 scripts a year, the materials are familiar and lived-in. Often they arrive after a show has received rave reviews by theater critics in other cities.

“We read all the newspapers,” Cayo says. “And then it becomes a matter of, OK, how can we find the playwright? Who’s the agent? Will it be right for our audience?”

Cayo is especially concerned with the audience.

Unlike most theatergoers who sit in their seats engrossed with the show, Cayo is so preoccupied with watching the audience that she sometimes misses things in a play.

“I want to know what’s landing and what isn’t landing,” she says. “You can tell right away by looking at people’s faces.”

She’s perceptive and she’s got good instincts. She knows the FST audience skews older and that its members come from cities all over the country. She knows they can handle some edgy material, some salty language and some whimsy.

“The term I use a lot is ‘universal,’” Cayo says. “We try to find plays that can reach all people from all walks of life. I try to be mindful of inside jokes and literary references. I want the guy waiting tables down the street to relate to the story as well.”

Right now Cayo is focused on the Richard and Betty Burdick Play Reading Series, which kicks off Monday, May 7, in FST’s Keating Theatre.

The series, which is part of FST’s “Sarasota Festival of New Plays,” is one of her favorite projects of the year.
Why? Because it strips down a production to its bare bones. No set, no costumes and no music; simply actors reading from a script on stage.

“You’re feeling the emotions and following the story,” she says. “It’s a much more raw experience.”

This year the program will present three new plays by contemporary American playwrights.

Each piece is in varying stages of development from draft to post-premiere, which means the plays are still malleable and the audience’s opinion is still golden.

The playwright talkbacks are Cayo’s favorite segment. Rather than sneak glances at the audience to see whether they like what they’re hearing, she’s able to provide an opportunity for them to interact with the author.

“Sometimes, as a literary manager, you can feel weird giving a playwright feedback because you’re not sure if you’ve just got a different artistic vision,” Cayo says. “If the audience collectively feels a kink, then you know it’s not just you.”

The Richard and Betty Burdick Play Reading Series begins at 7 p.m. Monday, May 7, with a reading of Dana Lynn Formby’s “American Beauty Shop” and continues with John Walch’s “In the Book Of” at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 12 and ends with Matt Schatz’s “The Tallest Building in the World” at 7 p.m. Monday, May 21, in the Keating Theatre at Florida Studio Theatre. For more information, call 366-9000 or visit

Neil Simon
“He writes such fun, relatable characters who explore such traditional American themes. ‘Biloxi Blues’ is one of my favorites. It’s very youthful. It explores the loss of innocence.”

George Brant
“I first saw his stuff as a college undergrad. The depth of emotions in his plays is so strong. The one I love, love, love is ‘Elephant’s Graveyard.’”

Deirdre O’Connor
“‘Jailbait’ is one of her best. I remember seeing the title of it and wanting not to like it, but the characters are so honest and it’s such a simple story. It completely blew my mind. Any time her stuff comes in I’m always excited to read it.”


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