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A bloody good tragedy

The young actress playing Lavinia enters the stage area. Lines of fake blood stream from her mouth almost like the lines on the face of a marionette. The chest of her costume is covered with fake blood, as are her sleeves.

She and her director converse about the amount and distribution of the fake blood on her costume. The director concludes that it’s a start.

“I should be dripping,” Sara Collins says.

She puts her arms out, ghoul-like, to demonstrate this idea. The costume is bloodied because the character she plays has been raped and mangled in an act of revenge. Her tongue has been cut out. This is only the beginning of the violence in the play.

And it’s Shakespeare.

Collins, a Blake High School senior, portrays Lavinia in Titus Andronicus at the Shimberg Playhouse in the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. She said she is very excited to have her role because of her love for acting and Shakespeare.

Keeping in mind her character can’t speak for much of the play, it’s strange to see her talking and smiling.

“I love it,” Collins says. “It’s so fun. Just being a part of it has been a wonderful experience.”

The performance runs through Nov. 3 and is co-produced by the Jobsite Theater and Center Theater Company.

Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s first attempt at writing tragedy and is often criticized for its gore and lack of poetic merit.

David Jenkins, the play’s director, sees it somewhat differently.

“It’s a young playwright’s first stab into the world of tragedy, and you can see the themes and imagery that will come back later on in his other works,” Jenkins said.

For the Jobsite Theater, the play is third in a tradition of Halloween productions.

Jenkins, a tall red-haired man with a tiny wooden bear around his neck, said they continue to do Halloween shows because the demand for them is great.

As for the bear around his neck, he said he wears it because he identifies with the animal.

“You know, big and furry, like me,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins, a founder and current director for the Jobsite Theater company, earned his B.A. in theater at USF. Several Jobsite members are also USF alumni. The company started in November of 1998.

Jenkins said he was attracted to the play because of the amount of brutality, because it’s experimental and because they had never done a full-length Shakespeare play before.

“It seemed to be a good fit,” Jenkins said.

He faced a few challenges in bringing the work to the Shimberg Playhouse. Not only did he face doubts from critics, but he had to direct a full-length Shakespeare play for the first time.

Jenkins said he also went through about 10 rewrites of the script, cutting the longer sections and taking out references a modern audience wouldn’t understand.

“What I hope we’re left with is the core of the play,” Jenkins said.

Unlike many modern productions of Shakespeare, Jenkins didn’t create an off-the-wall setting for the play.

“We didn’t set it in Nazi Germany or on the moon,” Jenkins said. “It’s a nondescript past period.”

Jenkins said that another challenge in directing Shakespeare is trying to make the actors and the work come off in a real way. The small size of the Shimberg Playhouse made this more difficult.

The playhouse is a tiny black-box theater slightly larger than a large living room. The smell of fresh paint fills the air, likely from the stage. Green sponge-painted foliage and red handprints cover most of it.

“Acting huge and presentational doesn’t work in a space that size,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins concludes there is some difficulty in directing Titus Andronicus.

“It’s taking it into a space and making it real, making it honest,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the audience can expect to see a great story, great acting and a surprising amount of technical theater for a space the size of the Shimberg Playhouse.

The Web site for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center cautions that the play is recommended for mature audiences only.

Contact Kristan Bright at