Urbanite Theatre co-founders Brendan Ragan, Summer Dawn Wallace and Harry Lipstein took a leap of faith three seasons ago when they opened their small black-box theater downtown with a mission of presenting new, cutting-edge work not seen anywhere else on Sarasota stages. The gamble has paid off with a dedicated and expanding audience, and the company has just announced its second full season of productions (after two shortened seasons they initially presented).
True to Urbanite’s calling, they’re all new works to Sarasota, and one of them, Naming True, which opens June 2 and runs through July 2, is a world premiere. That play, about a transgender teen girl from Seattle and Nell, a dying woman who’s lived most of her life on the streets of Detroit, is by St. Petersburg-based playwright Natalie Symons, who’s also an actress who appeared in Urbanite’s production of Reborning in its first season.
That’s followed by Pilgrims, a regional premiere from Claire Kiechel centered on a soldier and a teenage girl who find themselves quarantined on a ship headed to a newly discovered planet. This is only the second production of the work, following a world premiere in Chicago, and will run Aug. 4 through Sept. 10. Co-artistic director Ragan will act in this production.
Next up is a first-time collaboration with Ringling International Arts Festival, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. Ragan, Wallace and Lipstein will all act in this work at different times, taking to the Urbanite stage for just 10 shows after RIAF presents several performances in October. But every performance will truly be different, as the play audiences see is sealed inside an envelope, opened by one actor who has never seen the script and never rehearsed it, either. Urbanite describes it as “theater-entertainment-meets-social-experiment.” Onstage Oct. 25 through Nov. 5.
Ragan will take the helm as director of the next show, Henry Naylor’s Echoes. Another regional premiere, Echoes tells parallel stories of Tillie, a Victorian-era pioneer woman sent to Afghanistan as the wife of an officer of the British Raj, and Samira, a 21st-century Muslim schoolgirl who runs away to Syria to become the bride of an ISIS fighter. Both face tragedy in war-torn lands. Onstage Nov. 17 through Dec. 17.
And Wallace directs Urbanite’s Northside Hollow, wherein a coal miner finds his salvation in the arrival of a young, inexperienced first responder. The play by Jonathan Fielding and Brenda Withers received its world premiere in 2015; interestingly, the script calls for the stage to be lit by headlamps worn by audience members. Onstage Jan. 26 through March 11, 2018.
The last play of the announced season is Sheila Callaghan’s Women Laughing Alone with Salad, an audacious feminist comedy about the unreasonable expectations demanded of women and their bodies. Callaghan, a writer/producer on the Showtime comedy Shameless, was also nominated for a 2016 Golden Globe for her work on the Hulu series Casual. Wallace will appear in the play, whose title refers to a sub-meme of the stock photography cliché “women laughing alone with salad.”
Most of the season’s shows will have longer runs than scheduled in the past, as Urbanite has found it needed regularly to add performances to earlier run dates. Ticket prices will rise $1 each for regular seats, but the theater will still offer $5 student tickets and $20 tickets for those 40 and younger. For more information on the new season, click here.