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Actors' Warehouse To Represent Florida In Regional Competition

Some of the cast and crew of “Tshepang” after their wins at the Florida Theatre Conference. Left to Right: Jan Cohen, Steven Butler, Jamaili Tyler and Mandisa Harrhoff. Photo courtesy of Steven Butler.
Some of the cast and crew of “Tshepang” after their wins at the Florida Theatre Conference. Left to Right: Jan Cohen, Steven Butler, Jamaili Tyler and Mandisa Harrhoff. Photo courtesy of Steven Butler.

A Gainesville community theater is taking its show on the road.

Actors’ Warehouse won “Best Play for Community Theatre” at the Florida Theatre Conference on Nov. 14, and has been invited to represent the state at the 2016 Southeast Theatre Conference.

The theatre won performing "Tshepang," which follows a South African village post-apartheid while dealing with the AIDS pandemic, poverty, child abuse and neglect, Steven Butler, the main actor in the show, said.

Written by South African Lara Foot Newton, the play is based on actual events.

“It’s a pretty intense show because you are dealing with a lot of heavy subjects,” Butler said. “However, the character that I play, Simon, is the one who tells the story, and at the same time, even though it’s heavy, there are light sprinkles of humor as Simon reflects on his upbringing and the happy times he had as a child.”

Actors’ Warehouse had performed "Tshepang" during its 2014-2015 season of shows, and used it to kick off the theater’s Performing Acts Educational Series.

Butler, who is also the Artistic Director of Actors’ Warehouse, said they entered the play into the annual Florida Theatre Conference for the first time this year to create a larger audience base.

“We entered it with the idea of trying to spread the word about Actors' Warehouse,” he said. “We didn’t go in with any ideas of really winning anything and winning something was probably a fringe benefit for us. I think I’m still on cloud nine.”

Actors' Warehouse not only walked away with the “Best Play” award, but also won for “Best Actor,” “Best Actress,” and “Best Director” for community theatre.

They will now compete at the Southeast Theatre Conference in March in Greensboro, North Carolina. More than 4,000 throughout the Southeast will attend this conference for festivals, workshops, auditions and job interviews.

Janet Cohen, the director of "Tshepang," said she was shocked to have had the play do so well, that she was nervous before the show began.

This is the first time she has directed a play for Actors’ Warehouse, as she usually in front of the curtain rather than behind it.

“We are so excited,” Cohen said of going to the regional conference. “There are 10 states participating, I believe, and we’re not going in expecting to win anything. The worst that happens is we see all this great work and learn and improve our shows in the future.”

As for why the play has been so well received, Butler said he thinks it resonates with a lot of people because of the current-day issues the story tackles.

In the play, reporters and police converge on the South African village to spotlight the tragedy that is occurring there. No one came to the village to help or even knew it existed until there was a story to tell. Soon, the spotlight was shifted to another story, leaving the villagers to deal with the lack of infrastructure, education and resources.

“It’s really put in the audience’s face to reflect on what we do as a society, of once we put the spotlight on it, what are we going to do about helping to bring some change to these individuals and to this community?” Butler said. “Rather than just put the spotlight on it and once the story dies we move on to the next story.”

Actors’ Warehouse, located downtown at 608 N. Main St., opened in 2011 as a full-season non-professional community theater with a focus on non-traditional and multicultural casting.

“We want to be able to create a truly diverse theatrical organization that allows opportunities for actors in other areas of the Gainesville community,” Butler said.

Kirsten is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.