BWW Previews: ONE-NIGHT ONLY THEATRE EVENT SHAKESPEARE ON THE STAIRS  at Oxford ExchangeIf you've ever dined in the historic building from 1851, Oxford Exchange in South Tampa, you know the regal dark wood and literary Ivy League appeal of the beautiful European-styled restaurant, book and gift store.

Oxford Exchange and concept creator Matt Belopavlovich are giving theatre patrons and lovers of Shakespearean works of all ages a Valentine's Day gift a week early.

One night only, on February 7 at 6:30 PM, Oxford Exchange will close to the public and reopen to ticketed patrons for a live theatre showcase. The atrium, sweeping staircase and balcony will become the set for local professional actors dressed in costumes that evoke the scholarly spirit of the design of Oxford Exchange to celebrate Shakespeare's most famous love sonnets and monologues in "Shakespeare on the Stairs."

The ensemble features Emily Stephens, an accomplished Steinbrenner High School student; Peter Lynch, a spokesperson for Busch Gardens; Suzanne Livesay, the VP of Education at the Straz Center; Matthew Frankel, a really well-known Shakespearean artist, and Matt, a playwright, producer, director and Lead Theatre Teacher for the Straz Center's Patel Conservatory.

Featuring two 30-minute acts and a short intermission, from "Romeo and Juliet" to "Love's Labour's Lost," "Shakespeare on the Stairs" offers a highly-approachable taste of Shakespeare for the Bard-aficionado and sonnet-lover to someone less experienced in his works.

This original concept, the brainchild of Matt, "Shakespeare on the Stairs" is not a full-blown play, rather small family-friendly snippets of Shakespeare's works to create a new and unique experience for all types of theatergoers.

"The audience is not watching an entire play, rather we are finding pieces that are connected through a theme of how we all experience love. This is theatre presented in an intimate setting, meant to be an experience, more than 'I'm going to the theatre. I'm going to sit down and watch the play," he explained. "As a theatre educator and practitioner in Florida, I wanted to continue to push the boundaries of how people experience theatre in this part of the country."

In New York and other parts of the country, patrons experience theatre not just in a proscenium setting, but in a cabaret setting or a found space. Matt's visits over the years to coffee and lunches at Oxford Exchange planted a seed, that possibly a collaboration could showcase the extraordinary works of Shakespeare in an equally extraordinary setting.

"They were doing book readings and book signings, but there wasn't any theatre happening there and I thought it was a cool space to do some theatre."

Matt arranged a meeting with program director Laura Taylor to discuss his vision. In a happy coincidence, the owner of Oxford Exchange loved theatre and Matt's idea. Matt and Laura collaborated over coffee and came up with the concept of the Shakespearean performance.

"We came up with the idea of presenting Shakespeare in the open area by the coffee shop, presenting it a way where we are using the top of the stairs as a balcony for Juliet, the stairs as a mountain, a hill or a place a character is walking, and using the lower platform as a room where these characters are discovering love letters and hashing out their passions," said Matt. "I'm so grateful that Oxford has this trust in me."

At the start of this special theatrical experience, guests will enter through the bookstore to view a curated collection of Shakespeare items in the bookstore available for purchase at a discounted price. As they move through that space, they will enter an area for mingling. Coffee, cocktails and small food options will be available to purchase. At 7 pm, everyone will sit down to watch the performance and a love letter pulled from Shakespeare's work will be waiting in their chair. At the conclusion of the performance, the actors will mingle with the guests to discuss the experience.

With the predicted success of "Shakespeare on the Stairs," Matt and Laura have discussed future theatre events in the atrium space. "This show is testing grounds of what could be in that space as a found theatre space or a unique theatre space. Not only are shows like this not happening a lot in Tampa Bay, but it's also something that allows patrons to experience Shakespeare in a unique and easy way."

"Shakespeare on the Stairs" is a one-day-only event on February 7 at Oxford Exchange, 420 West Kennedy Blvd. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the show begins at 7:00 PM. Tickets are $15 and available at -

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From This Author Deborah Bostock-Kelley

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