Guest blogger Erica Goldman shows OUR TOWN some major love!!

matthewFebruary 9th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

In the days of commercial overload, it was thrilling inside my unconventional little soul to see something so experimental as the production of Our Town I saw last night at the bold, daring, unexpected theatre company St. Petersburg has grown to know and love called freeFall. Eric Davis, in his compelling manner to always remind you that anything you see at freeFall will never quite be the way you expected it (even if you’ve known and seen a piece a handful of times) has done it again. For this production of Our Town was laden with modern dance, almost reminiscent of when I studied Japanese Noh drama in college, in the sense that the use of stylized gestures illuminate a deeper understanding into the soul of each carefully crafted character we meet. In a play that explores the beauty of mundanity and ritual, choreographer Leann Alduenda’s dance allowed that notion to flow through the black box with an energy of uniformity that in the modern day of political debate; you couldn’t help feeling united to our fellow human beings going through this nutty thing called life.

To speak on the nature of sameness, I would like to applaud Davis for his exquisite use of color-conscious casting. I look forward to the day where I don’t have to mention this because it’s expected on every stage in any play, however while racial equality, especially in the arts, is at a moment of new awakenings, I take a moment to mention the beauty of seeing many raced actors take the stage as family.

I was most taken by Bob Devin Jones in the role of the Stage Manager. I’ve often seen this role performed in perhaps a more boisterous ring-leader fashion, and Jones’ laid back omnipresence was a soothing breath of fresh air; he didn’t have to convince anybody that he was in character. I don’t normally make celebrity comparisons because I don’t want to suggest in any way that I believe someone famous suggests that they are better performers, but I will say there was something Morgan Freeman-like in his narrative tone. After a few hours of Jones’ story telling, it was easy to tuck in for a good night’s sleep.

The other actor I’d like to touch on (and if I didn’t, I’d be quite worried) was Sarah Beittner’s honest and compelling Emily. Alongside the sweet, crushable George (played geniously) by Taylor Simmons, Beittner’s superb twisting of vulnerability and wisdom was something we, the audience, allowed ourselves to get completely wrapped up in until tears were squeezing themselves from our eyes. Talk about a girl who is in her element on stage.

It was an interesting production all around, and even the audiences who found its style uncomfortable would probably agree that the disconnect they felt was more due to their personal lack of exposure to such entertainment far more than a true dislike. I sincerely hope you take the time to make it down to freeFall and let this beautiful cast take you to down to Grover’s Corners for a few short hours, you may just learn something about yourself.

Our Town runs until February 14.

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Happy Birthday freeFall!

matthewFebruary 3rd, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FREEFALL!!

Wow! It’s been 5 years since freeFall opened its doors at 6099 Central Avenue! Thanks so much to all of our fans, friends, supporters and donors for an amazing 5 years. Here’s to many more.

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ENJOY THE MOMENT WITH OUR TOWN by guest blogger Mitzi Gordon

matthewJanuary 26th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

St. Petersburg’s freeFall Theatre is known for unconventional renditions, and their latest offering is no exception.

In three acts punctuated by ten-minute intermissions, freeFall’s new production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town offers up a metaphoric vision of past, present and future under producing artistic director Eric Davis.

One of the most-produced plays in America, Wilder’s story ponders the human experience through the lens of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, a fictional small town set around the turn of the 20th century, population 2,642 persons.

From 1901 to 1913, the town’s doctor and constable, editor and milkman and their families and friends grow up, marry, live everyday lives, and die against the low whistle of passing trains, dreamy moonlight, and the smell of heliotrope.

It’s “a very ordinary town” in very ordinary costumes – espadrilles and sweatpants, ball caps and blue jeans. As in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, these are “just folks.” They find their awe in the sun, birds and seasons, seeming always to be gazing up at the night sky.

With homespun wit and wisdom, its themes remain relevant, even though it was penned in 1938—a fact that does sometimes affect its pacing. Those were slower times, but the characters hold interest with their quiet grace and simple charms, their very realness, hopes and dreams.

As Davis points out in his program note, freeFall’s rendition takes its tone less from bucolic nostalgia and more from Einstein’s theories: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Time has fluidity in this Grover’s Corners; it’s revealed in cross section.

Scenery is spare in the original script – “for those of you who think they need scenery,” as Wilder wrote – and freeFall’s production is notably bare as well, with an open stage flanked by audience on both sides. Trellises, metal chairs and tables, and tall ladders under softly hued light stand in for everything from kitchens and porches to soda counters, with actors pantomiming everything else. Stringing beans, leading a horse, tossing a ball, all take place in the air and in the mind.

Moments of stylized dance further emphasize this nonverbal expression, as actors elevate ritual and repetition through haunting choreography by Leann Alduenda. Beginning with brief, poignant gestures and subtly humming sounds, the movements build into a carefully timed dance as wedding chairs are replaced with funeral chairs. Viewers are reminded of every gesture ever expressed –a wide embrace, or entwined hands—as movements are repeated throughout a lifespan.

The character of Stage Manager, played by Bob Devin Jones in a warm but matter-of-fact baritone, breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience to describe the town where these characters live out their joys and troubles. Through his descriptions, we are collectively transported.

Sarah McAvoy was moving as Emily Webb, the picture of vulnerable and passionate youth. Now living in New York and working off Broadway, McAvoy performed Juliet in freeFall’s 2012 Romeo + Juliet, and returned to St. Petersburg to play Emily.

Resident company member Kelly Pekar as Mrs. Gibbs, in her ninth freeFall show, and Taylor Simmons as George Gibbs, Emily Webb’s sweetly fumbling farmboy paramour, also evoked tangible emotion.

With timeless simplicity and modern touches, freeFall’s Our Town drives home a call to action for all who go through life ignorant of its joys, blinded by daily routines or petty grievances: Live in the moment. The future will be here fast, and it may not be what you expect.

Our Town runs tohrough Feb. 14 at freeFall Theatre Company, 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. Evening Q&A sessions take place with director, staff and cast after shows on Jan. 29, Feb. 5, and Feb. 12. For tickets and more information, call (727) 498-5205 or visit www.freefalltheatre.com.

- See more at: http://www.articulatesuncoast.com/blogs/performing-arts/8-performing-arts/1981-enjoy-the-moment-with-our-town#sthash.lc3Ugaea.dpuf

 

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Backstage Drama: Our Town By T. Saunders

matthewJanuary 21st, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

When Thornton Wilder’s Our Town first premiered at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre in January of 1938, both the sold-out house and the critics had little love for the unconventional new play.  This damning review from Variety didn’t help the show’s prospects: “It is not only disappointing but hopelessly slow.  Jed Harris has endowed it with a superlative cast, headed by Frank Craven, and it will probably go down as the season’s most extravagant waste of fine talent.” Wilder was furious—the reviews confirmed his suspicion that Jed Harris, the influential and successful Broadway producer-director, was ruining his play. Initially their working relationship had been amicable.  Wilder was willing and eager to complete the revisions that Harris requested, believing him to be the man capable of transforming his new play into a powerfully-realized production. The relationship began to deteriorate, however, after rehearsals began and Harris continued to further cut, adapt, and even add new material to the play.  Wilder’s trust turned to apprehension as he realized that Harris didn’t actually understand the play as he had written it.  He felt that Harris’ interpretation was overly nostalgic and sentimental (a criticism often lobbed the play’s way in subsequent productions to this day, and one that we think freeFall’s production avoids handily) while Wilder had always intended for the actors to play against that impulse.  His prefacing “Suggestions for the Director” make this abundantly clear, beginning thus: “It is important to maintain a continual dryness of tone,—the New England understatement of sentiment, of surprise, of tragedy.  A shyness about emotion.”

Harris brushed aside Wilder’s objections and incurred substantial financial losses when Our Town moved to the Wilbur Theatre in Boston for its second trial run. It was so poorly received there that Harris cancelled the second week of the run.  At this point Wilder wrote to his friend Gertrude Stein: “It’s been one long fight to preserve my text from the interpolations of Jed Harris and I’ve only won fifty percent of the time.  The play no longer moves or even interests me; now all I want out of it is money…The play may be a failure.  The whole blame of my state rests at Jed Harris’ door.” Still, as much as Harris may have missed the point of Our Town, he knew his way around the business of theatre.  He gambled on New York audiences championing the play and was able to negotiate, despite the bad press, a one-week Broadway run at the Henry Miller Theatre. Arguably, the play might have died in Boston had it not been for Harris’ influence in New York.

By all opening night metrics the play was shaping up to be a disaster.  Wilder and Harris were no longer speaking.  The union of stagehands (IATSE) informed Harris just hours before curtain that he would have to hire two additional crew members.  Despite the fact that the script expressly required actors to move furniture around on stage, an argument ensued.  When one stagehand began moving a chair before the show, Harris demanded that he put it down.  When the man refused, Harris erupted, “Why, you slimy, contemptible oaf, you ignorant pediculous loafer, you untalented, worthless, parasitical bloodsucker, I’ll give you one more chance to put the chair down.”  The man again refused.  Harris punched him, knocking him unconscious.  Untangling that altercation might have been bad enough, but the situation in the dressing rooms wasn’t great either.  Evelyn Varden, the actress playing Mrs. Gibbs, wasn’t feeling well.  Just as the curtain rose, she fainted.  She was revived with only a minute to spare before her first entrance.

Much to Thornton Wilder’s surprise and delight the New York audience and reviewers loved Our Town, pointing out that its unconventionality might breathe new life into the American theater. It was given a four-month run at a larger theatre on Broadway. Respectable houses swelled when the play won Wilder an unprecedented second Pulitzer Prize in a separate discipline (he had previously won in the fiction category for The Bridge of San Luis Rey).  Harris’ gamble had paid off, yet his relationship with Wilder would never recover, putting the playwright in the company of many others who tangled unhappily with the polarizing impresario. Laurence Olivier called Harris “the most loathsome man I’d ever met” and subsequently based his Richard III makeup on Harris’ face.  Katharine Hepburn called working with him “a slow walk to the gallows,” and the playwright George S. Kaufman expressed his hatred by saying “When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Jed Harris’ face.” When the run of Our Town was extended again, Wilder himself took a turn in the role of the Stage Manager, stipulating, however, that Jed Harris never be allowed in the theatre while he was onstage. He would also remove most of Harris’ revisions in the published script we know and love today. If the popular theatre adage is true, Our Town has been performed somewhere in the world every single night since 1938.

 

 

 

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NOT MAYBERRY: FREEFALL DOES ‘OUR TOWN’ – Andrew Meacham

matthewJanuary 13th, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

Every day of the year, someone is performing Our Town somewhere in the world. Freefall Theatre starts its run of the Thornton Wilder classic this weekend with Bob Devin Jones in the lead role.

“Because it is such a seminal American play, it’s a play that you do,” said Eric Davis, Freefall’s producing artistic director. “So it’s on that list of the plays that we want to do but also that we mustdo, much like there are pieces of music that every orchestra must play.”

That said, the company aims to make this show unlike the others.

It is a reunion of sorts. Freefall got its start in 2008, putting on The Wild Party at The Studio@620, which Jones founded a dozen years ago as a performing space and gallery. In Our Town he plays the Stage Manager, who narrates the action in the self-aware setting of a theater, surely a groundbreaking notion in 1938 when it was first performed.

“The decision to cast Bob came very naturally out of reading the play, appreciating its metatheatrical qualities and blurring that line between what’s real in our community that we live day to day and what’s real in the play,” Davis said.

Our Town uses no set, just a bare stage. The Stage Manager addresses the audience from time to time, and narrates the action from the balcony and elsewhere. Within all of that, characters in the mythical Grover’s Corners live out their lives, have dreams and undergo changes. The barrenness of the stage and small-town feel have led many to interpret the play as a sentimental slice of Americana — something these actors are determined to rise above. For Davis, it evokes the revolutionary discoveries of Albert Einstein.

“Einstein showed us that space and time are a fabric that’s intertwined,” he said, “and that we could potentially move freely through both.”

A note in the script by Wilder asks that players avoid sentimentality. Freefall’s Our Town will communicate much nonverbally, through choreography by Leann Alduenda.

“Something that’s really cool about our production is that the inner life comes out through this movement and this expressive dance,” said Kelly Pekar, who plays Mrs. Gibbs.

As for Jones, an accomplished actor long before The Studio @620, the role is a chance to accept direction.

“I like things that stretch me,” Jones said. “As I told Eric the very first day, ‘Use me, mold me, push me.’ At 61, I like to reach. And this is definitely a reach.”

Our Town runs Saturday through Feb. 14. 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $21-$43. (727) 498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.

 

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Character Creation Workshop with Kelly Pekar

matthewJanuary 1st, 2016UncategorizedNo Comments

 

“When you create a character, it’s like making a chair, except instead of making something out of wood, you make it out of yourself. That’s the actor’s craft – using yourself to create a character.” – Sanford Meisner

I did my first play when I was about eight years old – a community theatre production of A Christmas Carol, in which I played one of the Cratchit children. As I bobbed around the stage helping Tiny Tim to Christmas dinner, I remember this experience cementing in me a deep desire to explore the details of what it might be like to move through the world as a different sort of person. In preschool I would arrive dressed as characters from movies – Fern in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, or Tiger Lily from (the Mary Martin) Peter Pan - complete with simply and thoughtfully crafted costumes that my mom put together (accurate hairstyling was also a requirement of mine, and my hair would need to be re-done until I felt secure in our re-creation).  I would write the names of these characters at the top of my pre-school papers instead of my own.  I was lucky to have a lot of patient and open-minded adults in my life.

My mom being a great sport... (My mom being a great sport)

My parents and I knew nothing about the “acting scene” in Cleveland, where I grew up.  We didn’t know about classes, or which ones would have been the best to take, so I did many community theatre productions, instead. Mostly, rehearsals for these plays involved knowing your lines, standing in the right place, learning the music, projecting loud enough to be heard, and of course – forming deep bonds that would leave me inconsolably tearful at the end of each experience. I learned an incredible amount performing in these productions, but always felt like there was somehow a deeper exploration of the work to be had.

In high school I was fortunate enough to discover a place called Near West Theatre, and it changed my perspective on what acting could be. I learned about bringing myself to a role. About the idea that creating a character might be less about “playing someone different,” and more about finding the commonality in what appears to be different, discovering a part of myself there, and playing it truthfully. That a good actor is a curious actor. That empathy, openness, and understanding can be some of the most powerful tools for an artist to possess. That creating a fully formed character could actually affect change in an audience who might recognize a piece of themselves in the person I was living as for those two or so hours.

When I went to college and studied acting, I was lucky enough to take classes that stretched me in a variety of ways, including one called “Opposite Character,” in which we learned, essentially, that there is no such thing. That the possibility for almost any character is already lying dormant in each of us, waiting to be explored.

My goal with this character creation workshop on Jan 4 is to offer the kind of class I would have loved to have taken as a child or young adult. A class that combines practical tools and guideposts with creative activities and games, and plenty of imaginative play. Discussions about ourselves and the world. There is no one right way to “create a character,” but my hope is that the students who participate in this workshop will walk away excited to learn more about the people around them. That they will feel empowered to be curious and empathetic both on and off the stage.  Confident that when they are cast in their next school play they will have a little toolbag of ideas to pull from when they are hungry for an added layer that extends past memorizing their lines. Want to come out and play with us on January 4th? Would love for you to join us!

https://www.facebook.com/events/927143514028089/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Casting announced!! Bob Devin Jones headlines freeFall Theatre Company’s OUR TOWN!

matthewDecember 28th, 2015UncategorizedNo Comments

freeFall Theatre Company presents Thornton Wilder’s classic play OUR TOWN, opening on January 16 and running through February 14, 2016 with added performances on Wednesdays at 7pm.

St. Petersburg’s own Bob Devin Jones will play the Stage Manager; he will be reunited with director Eric Davis, who started freeFall Theatre Company at Jones’ performance space/gallery Studio @ 620 with the smash hit THE WILD PARTY in 2008.

“We feel Bob is an excellent fit for The Stage Manager in our production of OUR TOWN”, says Outreach Director Matthew McGee. “His deep connection to the Tampa Bay arts community and his keen ability as an actor and storyteller make him the perfect narrator for this timeless classic.”

Jones will be joined by Taylor Simmons as George Simms, Kelly Pekar as Mrs. Gibbs, Sarah McAvoy as Emily Webb, Jim Braswell as Doctor Gibbs, Jim Wicker as Professor Willard, Nick Lerew as Simon Stimson, Trenell Mooring as Mrs. Webb, T. Robert Pigott as Mr. Webb, Nicholas D’ Andrea as Wally Webb, Antonia Krueger as Mrs. Soames, William Garrabrant as Si Crowell/Joe Crowell, Jr., and Natalie Cotrill as Rebecca Gibbs.

Since its premiere in 1938, Thornton Wilder’s haunting play has remained one of the most frequently performed works in the American canon. Its longevity is a testament not only to the wit and simplicity of Wilder’s words. But to the questions it ponders, which are at the very root of the human experience.

Taking place in the very theatre in which it is being performed, this startling American classic is a powerful and deeply personal call to action.

Tickets can be obtained by contacting the freeFall box office.  There are discounts for seniors, teachers, students and members of the military. Group rates and information can be obtained by contacting Matthew at 727-498-5205 X 7.

For more information and tickets visit www.freefalltheatre.com or call (727) 498-5205.

 

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Sarah McAvoy returns to St. Pete for iconic role in OUR TOWN!

matthewDecember 21st, 2015UncategorizedNo Comments

Our Town is a perfect play. In my experience both as an audience member and a performer this show encompasses the idea that life is something that passes before us all too quickly. The very natural way that we as people overlook the so called mundane and common things; how people are always seeking the next step, the new, the exciting. This play demonstrates the importance of stepping back and enjoying every moment, because life is precious and as we live and breathe we can be blind to that.

In high school I was cast as Emily Webb’s understudy. As a Sophomore, it was incredible just to be cast in any MainStage show, so I was ecstatic. I can honestly say I didn’t know the journey I was on, until we got started. Our director gave us a mantra, a quote Thornton Wilder’s A Bridge Over San Luis Rey, that I still carry with me today, 11 years later, “There is a land of the living, and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

One fateful day I was lucky enough to get to be Emily during a rehearsal where we were running the whole show. I had never been more ready, every line, every movement I had studied so closely I felt as if I could do it all in my sleep. When we started I was sure to absorb every minute every single second of this experience because as far as I knew it would be my only time stepping into Ms. Webb’s shoes. I relished in the dialogue with every character, every laugh, every tear and by the end I was exhausted in the best way possible. I suddenly realized THAT is the whole point of the show. Experience every moment to the fullest, enjoy every minute. This was when I fully understood Emily, Our Town, and the full effect a show can have on my life.

When I was cast as Emily at freeFall I was a little nervous. The teenager inside me who played the understudy rejoiced, and then the idea of actually stepping into the role for real this time and not just in the safe place of rehearsals, scared me. Emily has nothing to hide, she is one of the most personal and vulnerable characters I have ever played. There is a fine line between childishness and maturity, a fine line between happiness and grief, a fine line between living and being in the moment. All of which I was responsible to convey. All of which are so simple, almost like breathing and yet there was nothing so challenging. Emily’s character reflects us all. She shows us that you can’t have happiness without fear and you can’t live life without giving in to it. Much like being on stage you have give up your inhibitions and allow yourself to be 100% open.

In the interim of time since my last show at freeFall I have gotten married to the love of my life, gotten a dog, moved to the suburbs, and faced many hardships along the way. I feel that with each day, each week, each month, each year, time becomes more precious and these moments are so fleeting and yet when we recall them, they show us who we are, they show us our reason for living. I am glad I get to have the chance to share this show with my new husband, family, and St. Petersburg. I hope we can all walk away with a sense of wonder, a sense of peace, and a feeling that love is what makes each second worth it. All of which Our Town teaches within the confines of a short show. This is the true meaning of theatre magic.

 

 

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Hey last minute shoppers! Support freeFall when you shop this holiday!!

matthewDecember 16th, 2015UncategorizedNo Comments

In addition to freeFall gift certificates, freePasses, and gift packs, Amazon will give to freeFall for every purchase you make through smile.amazon.com this holiday season and throughout the year!
Follow the link below and do all of your Amazon shopping with smile.amazon.com to know that every purchase is making a difference for freeFall. If you are interested in giving freeFall tickets as a gift, peruse the options by clicking here or call the box office at 727.498.5205.

http://smile.amazon.com/ch/26-4251761

 

 

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Review: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ delights at Freefall Theatre – Tampa Bay Times

matthewDecember 9th, 2015UncategorizedNo Comments

ST. PETERSBURG — The open beams, which bear the weight of a sailing ship, catch the eye even before Peter and the Starcatcherbegins at Freefall Theatre.

The smell of burlap and canvas hangs in the air like the inside of an old tent. Whether that scent existed beyond my imagination really doesn’t matter. The scenic design by Charles Murdock Lucas is that convincing.

A prequel to J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan,Starcatcher began as a young adult novel by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry. Rick Elice adapted the book as a stage play, which won five Tonys in 2012.

Some productions want to entertain and skip anything too deep or troublesome. Others go for meaning and intend to challenge the audience.

This one, directed by Freefall’s artistic director Eric Davis, does both. Scenes shift in seconds, with minimal costume or set changes. A dozen actors make it happen, some playing multiple roles or even forming part of the set itself, as when several of them link up to become the prow of a ship. Even a carefully held coonskin cap gets a cameo as a nuzzling cat.

The scenes jump in quantum space between ships on the high seas, an island inhabited by cannibals who can’t decide whether they want to be entertained by their guests or eat them, above and below the decks and under water.

There’s a plot, something about steamer trunks and pirate treasure. But that doesn’t matter either. This show is almost a spoof of traditional structures, down to an absurdly funny chorus line of mermaids familiar to those of us who remember Weeki Wachee or Webb’s City.

The most significant story line is the direction of Peter, whose experiences have cheated him out of the childhood he will soon outgrow. Molly, the older teen who is drawn to him, is the counterargument to never growing up, the central choice Peter will have to make.

Scenes between Peter (Lucas Wells) and Molly (Kelly Pekar) on the ship’s deck provide the show’s sweetest and most captivating moments. It is a credit to everyone involved that none of this wonderment comes across as the least bit cloying. A lighthearted touch throughout delves into silliness, including jokes about flatulence and vomiting (most of the central characters, after all, are adolescent boys) without turning this into a silly play.

Challenging Peter, Molly and Molly’s kidnaped father, Lord Leonard Aster (played with charming sadness by Daniel Schwab), is pirate leader Black Stache. As the flamboyant Captain Hook corollary, Chris Crawford keeps the comic relief at a high level.

As sometimes happens at Freefall, the staging at times extends into the audience. Even when it doesn’t, watching the characters try to walk on stage during a storm could give you motion sickness.

Musicians Michael Raabe on piano and Burt Rushing, who plays a slew of percussion instruments, deserve special mention. The pair supply a running gallery of sound effects worthy of an NPR radio show, consistent with the numerous fun elements of this show.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

If you go

Peter and the Starcatcher

The show runs through Dec. 24 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $33-$48. (727) 498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.

 

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