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We Are Theatre brings free theater to Tampa

Four hundred years later and an ocean away from England, the bright lights and noise of a Friday night in Ybor City are interrupted by a group of actors performing a William Shakespeare play. In homage to Shakespeare’s ideals, the We Are Theatre company is offering free performances of Hamlet to the Tampa Bay area.

“The main point of this project is free theater,” said Arrianna Thompson, co-founder of We Are Theatre. “Back in Shakespeare’s day, theater was a public thing, and even the poorest of the poor were able to go and see a show. We want to present plays how Shakespeare, at least in part, wanted them to be seen.”

In December, USF student William Glenn, along with Thompson, a recent USF graduate, began the theater troupe.

“(The troupe feels) that the industry standard is elitist theaters that overcharge for admission and, in many cases, provide an inferior product,” Glenn said.

Glenn added that another goal of We Are Theatre is to diversify the theater experience by incorporating diverse actors to participate in each production.

“People from other walks of life bring a perspective to theater that you don’t get when you stick solely with traditional theater people who have been in the field their whole lives,” Glenn said. “We have a little bit more of a down-to-earth feel to our shows because the people involved work regular jobs and lead regular lives, and are grounded in the real world.”

Hamlet is the first production We Are Theatre offers. The piece has been performed one act a time, each Friday night in May at the courtyard of Centro Ybor, directly across from Muvico. Act V, the final act, will be performed at 9 p.m. Friday.

“We chose Hamlet as our first show because it is one of the most recognized and quotable plays in all of history,” Thompson said. “Everyone knows ‘To be or not to be,’ but how many people have actually seen the play?”

Because Hamlet has no admission charge, the company depends on the actors to donate time and community sponsorship.

“The lights were made in-house by our techs, and the sound equipment was either made or donated by Coda Sound. Centro Ybor allows us to put on our play free-of-charge and even does some advertising. The rest of the play was funded by Arrianna and myself,” Glenn said.

As Hamlet is wrapping up, We Are Theatre is starting the pre-production process for its next piece, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, which is scheduled to open in late September. Auditions for this play will begin in mid June.

“Midsummer’s has a large cast, so we are going to need to diversify and get a lot more people involved,” Thompson said.

Also in the plans for A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the use of a few artistic components that Hamlet lacked.

“We are in talks with the music and dance departments, so if all goes well, we should be incorporating some of those elements into the show,” Glenn said. “Then, once Midsummer’s has finished production, we’ll probably try to get some more contemporary projects going.”

As for long-term goals, the company has applied for a National Endowment for the Arts, which would grant it non-profit status and offer opportunities for funding and grants.

“If the application gets accepted, (the company) would be able to rent or purchase equipment and pay our actors,” Thompson said. “It would allow us to avoid the lack-of-budget we faced on our current project.”

The company would also like to offer more productions, more often.

“The frequency of future productions will depend on the reception we receive, not only in terms of public response, but also in terms of getting actors, equipment, and a space we can use,” Glenn said.

While plans are being made for future of the company, both co-founders hold steadfast to the reasons they started the troupe.

“You do theater because you love it,” Glenn said. “It’s not worth your time if you don’t really enjoy it.”

Glenn added that the real value of each show is not necessarily found in the performance.

“The success of our shows, as with any show, is not necessarily dependent on the skill of the actors or the control of the leadership, but more on the efforts of the participants — the actors, the technicians, the audience members,” Glenn said.

For more information about the We Are Theatre company, call 679-7951.