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Sarasota's Florida Studio Theatre Fosters New Work Despite Coronavirus Challenges

Young African America woman smiles for the camera.
Giancarlo Osaben
Julia Morales is one of 33 artists commissioned to write and deliver a first draft of an original work for FST's Playwrights Project.

Theaters across the region remain closed because of COVID-19. But some organizations have found ways to keep artists employed.

In Sarasota, Florida Studio Theatre used some of their federal coronavirus economic recovery money to launch the Playwrights Project. Local and national artists were tasked with creating an original play, sketch comedy show, or a cabaret.  The material generated will be considered for future productions at FST.

One of the artists hired by the program is Julia Morales, a writer and performer with Chicago’s famed Second City improvisational comedy troupe.

She has also been acknowledged for her efforts to promote diversity and equality through her performances and writing. WUSF’s Cathy Carter recently spoke with Morales about the project and how she’s navigating her career in the age of coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Carter: “Julia, how has the pandemic affected your career?"

Morales: “Well, unfortunately, it ceased everything. I'm on a touring company at Second City and that stopped and then a couple of theaters in Chicago have closed. But honestly, as far as I go, I am a quarantine queen. Actually, it moved me to create my own theater. I'm in the works of creating a safe space for by BIPOC, (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) innovative voices, since a lot of the theaters here are kind of dealing with institutionalized racism. But I think it's time for me to try something on my own.”

Carter :“Second City is very well known as an early training ground for a lot of the Saturday Night Live alumni. But in this era, a lot of institutions have had to revisit how they've treated the training of artists of color. As somebody who's African American and Puerto Rican, what did you see at Second City?”

Three women performing a comedy sketch on stage.
Credit Tim Schmidt
Material that Julia Morales helped develop will be featured in future sketch performances at Florida Studio Theatre.

Morales: “The issue that's happened before is that performers, artists, people who bring that money into that building, we've spoken up before and I think with the events of the movement and with quarantine, people have decided to shout even louder. And then we have allies who are shouting with us. So it's a totally different vibe. Now I know that specifically Second City is working diligently to amend and fix things and they are doing a whole reconstruction on everything. It seems promising but naturally we are reluctant because we've been given these promises before. But people love this art form and I love it very much. So in a sense, it was like while they get their stuff together, I think I just want to work on something that can be a new chapter in my life and so that I can contribute to the community.”

Carter: “That's what creative people like yourself, do. They look at their world around them and create art.” 

Morales: “Oh, yeah it’s so important. I mean, it's unfortunate that George Floyd was the catalyst for this entire event but it is beautiful to see how many people are coming together. I think people are just sick and tired of the same awful misbehaviors and people are just exhausted.  I had a couple of friends who even reached out to me. I had a friend from Sweden who was telling me that he was reading up on black history and the things going on because he didn't know and he felt so bad for not knowing and I said, ‘well, I'm glad you're learning. I can't be angry at you because you didn't know but it's just like thank you for taking the time to learn about this and speak on it.’ So I see a lot of positivity within it. And of course, there's a lot of horrible things that are still happening, but I'm very optimistic about change.”

Carter: “Well I know the Playwrights Project got started before the Black Lives Matter movement that we're experiencing right now. So what have you been working on in your sketch comedy and finding ways of looking at the world and trying to find some humor in it? Because we need that now.” 

Morales: “So I wanted to accommodate something where we all can relate to and that is definitely this pandemic. It is affecting everyone, the Earth is affected. I always like to remind people that comedy is universal and no matter how bad it gets, there's still so much good and try to put a smile on your face because it will get better.”

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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