“All the world’s a stage.”

So says the melancholy Jaque in William Shakespeare‘s “As You Like It.” That speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play, and there is certainly something to the sentiment. Taken more literally, however, the quote could describe the abundance of theatre here on this teeny tiny island. Key West has a small land mass and a limited permanent population but theatre is very popular here, all year round.

“It’s quite remarkable,” says Bob Bowersox, founder of TheatreXP one of four established companies that he says thrive here in Key West. This is in addition to a few newer, smaller experimental groups not to mention more musically inclined entertainment from the cabarets on Duval to the Tennessee Williams Theatre.

“Key West is an amazing place for theatre,” Bowersox underscore as we chat outside the Red Barn Theatre where Theatre XP’s “The Poetry of Heart”s is in final rehearsals.

“The Waterfront Playhouse and the Red Barn Theatre are the two local theatres with brick and mortar walls and a stage,” Bowersox tells me. “The Fringe Theatre of Key West and Theatre XP are two theatrical companies that rely upon the dark shoulder seasons of the aforementioned brick and mortar theatres or other unorthodox spaces to stage their productions.” And, for the uninitiated, a theatre is dark when no shows are happening – between seasons. A shoulder season is that time immediately before and after a theatre like the Waterfront’s season proper happens.

“The Poetry of Hearts” runs through Nov. 22 at the Red Barn in it’s dark shoulder before their season begins in December with “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.”

This seemed like a good opportunity to check in with some of these established companies to see what distinguishes them and to learn what they are looking forward to as they gear up for their 2014/2015 season.

Joy Hawkins, Artistic Director and Board Member: Red Barn Theatre

What distinguishes your company? It has always been our objective to produce “Big Things in a Small Space.”  The intimacy of the Barn (88 seats) allows an audience to be fully involved.  We have always been about finding the balance between risky offbeat productions and those that have universal appeal.

Does your upcoming season have a theme? “Feel more, Laugh More, Live More” is our slogan for the upcoming season.  It’s what we want our shows to inspire in the hearts of our theatergoers.  There does seem to be a “Hollywood” theme in our first two shows, although they couldn’t be more different.

What’s the involvement of local talent? The Red Barn has always used local talent whenever possible.  That is true in all fields, acting, directing, designing and even writing.  To watch actors who live in Key West grow and become more and more confident and proficient in their craft is a true pleasure. Sometimes for a myriad of reasons we bring in an actor, director or musical director. It’s wonderful for our local actors to get to work with other professionals who work elsewhere, be it New York, Los Angeles or Miami.

Bob Bowersox, Producing Artistic Director: TheatreXP

What distinguishes your company? TheatreXP was founded in 2011 for the expressed purpose of producing original work by Key West playwrights (myself included). It occurred to me after that that there are “shoulder seasons”, where theater spaces are normally dark, but there was an audience still out there hungry for theater. So XP has evolved into a “theater company with many homes.”

TheatreXP focuses on original works, as I said, but those usually fall in the November time frame. During the summer, for Summer Stage, we like to look at plays that our sister companies in town would normally not take on. Because we do not have a large bricks and mortar overhead, and are therefore a bit more free to wander the edges, we’ll look at properties that are sometimes edgier. For example, we produced Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio” and Sam Shepard’s “True West.” We also like to look at plays that have not been produced in a while that an audience may have initially missed but would like to see. Plays we’ve produced like that have included Edward Albee’s “Whos’ Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Marsha Norman’s “Night, Mother.”

What’s the involvement of local talent? TheatreXP has always been about local actors, directors, and crew. We do not bring in anyone from other regions, feeling that there is plenty of talent in our own area who are hungry to work and willing to give it their all. We’ve found that to be a winning scenario.

Danny Weathers, Managing Artistic Director: Waterfront Playhouse

What distinguishes your company? I think all the theaters strive to present quality, engaging theater. If there’s something that sets us apart, it might be a matter of scale. We often take on plays/musicals with larger demands in terms of casts, technical aspects of set, lighting, costumes, etc. This places a larger burden on us to finance these big productions, so we have substantial budget requirements to fulfill. Of course, we all have budget demands, but again it’s a matter of scale. I believe our audiences have come to expect a certain level in our productions, which we do our best to fulfill. And with each season, we try to raise the bar.

Does your upcoming season have a theme? The 2014/15 Season will be the 75th season for the Key West Players, the managing organization of the Waterfront Playhouse. This makes them one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continually operating theater companies in Florida. To celebrate that milestone, we’ve put together an ambitious and varied season. It includes: the popular farce, “Noises Off” (with it’s complicated acting & technical demands); “Me and Jezebel” with Christopher Peterson, our renowned female illusionist as Bette Davis and finally, “Monty Python’s Spamalot” which will be one of the most challenging shows we’ve ever done. It has a cast of 14, multiple sets, over 250 costumes, many specialty props (“a life size cow”).

What’s the involvement of local talent? My goal as artistic director is to always use local talent, but we also have a responsibility to fulfill the play/musical’s demands. Key West has a terrific talent pool, but there are those occasions where we can’t find someone locally, so we have to bring folks in. We’re importing the four young leads for “She Loves Me” because of the vocal/type demands of the script. We are also bringing in the two guys in “Next Fall.” The other shows have local casts.

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