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The Scenestress meets the freshest faces in local theater

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Chessi Phillips, co-star of Thea's Secret, is congratulated by Eduardo Anaya (R) and fellow SOURCE actor Joey Clavelli after the show.

Chessi Phillips, co-star of "Thea's Secret," is congratulated by Eduardo Anaya (R) and fellow SOURCE actor Joey Clavelli after the show.

It didn't matter that I couldn't spot a familiar face in the room at Tuesdays pre-show reception for friends, family and sponsors of the SOURCE Productions. I'd been invited as a guest of Assistant Director Zara Barrie, who was "backstage" in the Polo Grill's (10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch 34202) ballroom wing, psyching up an eight-member cast of 16 to 25-year olds for a soon-to-be full house. It was my first time seeing a SOURCE show, and despite my stranger status, I was made to feel welcome with a warm greeting at the front door from Barbara Zdravecky, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

A glass of champagne and a plump shrimp cocktail made me feel even more at home among all the new faces. After a few snacks I caught up with Eduardo Anaya, who is my go-to guy in these kinds of situations because the man simply knows everybody, and is more than gracious about making introductions with his fabulous circle of talented artists, beautiful fashonistas and chic tastemakers.

 After the show, guests were invited to design posters displaying the "SOURCE of their happiness" to share on the production company's Facebook page. Answers ranged from "my children" to "my hair."

After the show, guests were invited to design posters displaying the "SOURCE of their happiness" to share on the production company's Facebook page. Answers ranged from "my children" to "my hair."

Later on I found myself at a table chatting up Joanna Brown, the mother of Tommy and Michael Klauber and energetic matriarch of the family whose name is synonymous with hospitality in Sarasota. She leaned on the arm of her granddaughter Mikayla as we filed into the lavish Fête ballroom, many of us still toting cocktails and wine glasses.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a youth theater company, but the moving opener -- a staged poem about how desperately difficult it can be to get through teenager-hood -- disarmed me of any preconceived notions that we'd be subjected to over-acting, amateurish timing or listless commitment to character. These student actors were good, very good, and they demanded we take them and the issues they grappled with -- bullying, acceptance, self-love -- very seriously.

Thea's Secret, the centerpiece performance written by SOURCE Director KT Curran, explored some dark territory within being a teenage girl. The honest performances by juniors Chessi Phillips and Alexis Calderon took me back, way back, to high schools' agonizing moments, especially those in front of a mirror. An onstage food fight that catapulted pizza boxes and cheese puffs into the front rows reminded me of the most gleeful moments, too.

The stage got totally trashed in a food fight during the final scenes of Thea's Secret.

The stage got totally trashed in a food fight during the final scenes of Thea's Secret.

I had forgotten how intense it felt, being 16 or 17. The SOURCE cast reminded me that it's too easy to take teenagers lightly, too easy to write off their giddy heights of joy and their black pits of despair as just a passing phase. I mean, thank god it really is, right? Tuesday night's actors put strong voices, earnest faces and real, huggable forms to that experience, and their performances concretized what they live through day in and day out.

Austin Hampson (L) played the "Skater" and Matt Almeida played the "Jock" in a poetic performance titled "To This Day."

Austin Hampson (L) played the "Skater" and Matt Almeida played the "Jock" in a poetic performance titled "To This Day."

As I shook hands with the cast over sodas and bite-sized desserts in the foyer, not once did I think, Oh, to be your age again! As far as being a teenager goes, once was more than enough. What I did think was how fortunate the community is to have a place like SOURCE where young people can have a safe space to work through the experiences of growing up, and develop the confidence to educate their peers on how to face the tough stuff with courage and character.

The company will take a couple months off for a summer break, picking back up with the development of original plays and performance tours in July. You ought to watch for what they do next. 

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Last modified: May 16, 2013
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