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Scott Swenson is a diverse talent on the Tampa theater scene. In addition to working as a director, he also has a cornucopia of experience as an actor and writer. Swenson has worked in theaters, on TV, and at attractions like Busch Gardens Tampa and the Florida Aquarium, and he’s currently the board president for Theatre Tampa Bay. He’s just coming off an interactive Halloween production and is working on several Florida Aquarium projects, but Swenson took some time to share his thoughts on the Tampa theater scene.

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How did you get started in theater?

I started performing at the age of 12 in Chicago in live theater and also as a magician. I’ve been everything from an actor to a clown to a puppeteer. I studied theater at the Goodman School of Drama at DePaul and got my bachelors degree at Northern Illinois University.

How did you come to Tampa?

After working as a freelance director in Chicago for several years, I became involved in theater at theme parks. I worked for two seasons at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, then came to Busch Gardens Tampa in 1993. Over and above the theme park work, I was also lucky enough to be the puppeteer on the All New Captain Kangaroo on Fox.

What do you like best about being a director?

I’ve always enjoyed telling stories and getting people emotionally involved with whatever story I’m telling. Whether it’s as a performer, writer or director, I love making that emotional connection with my audience. Theater gives me a lot of options and different ways to tell stories. As an actor, I tell someone else’s story, and as I writer I tell me own. When I work as a director, I get to do my own interpretation of either my own story or some else’s.

How would you describe the Tampa theater scene? What are the best things about it?

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I think Tampa has significantly more local theater than it realizes. It’s on the cusp of having a really vibrant theater scene with several new and several established theaters. It gives local theater goers an opportunity to seek and find their favorite theater companies over and above the large touring shows that come through. Smaller theaters can tell different stories because they don’t have the financial restrictions of the larger shows.

Does the Tampa theater scene face any specific challenges?

The main challenge is communicating what’s here to the people who want to see it. When you mention theater in Tampa, people think of the big touring shows that come through. One of the things Theatre Tampa Bay is trying to do is to communicate as many different theater options to the audience as possible. We’re also working to train and motivate theater professionals in the area to continue to improve their skills so the quality of the shows gets better and better.

What are some of your most recent projects?

I did Vault of Souls for the Halloween season. It was designed to be an interactive adult way to celebrate Halloween, and it was unlike anything that’s been done before. It started off as an elegant cocktail party and moved into an interactive performance art piece with a dark twist, where guests could make contact with and interact with the actors and spirits from the 1920s. Then they emerged in a gin joint with music and dancers and could end the night on a calm note with an espresso bar and psychic readers. It was an interactive performance piece that provided a full night out. I’m also working on new projects for the Florida Aquarium involving new mascots and iconic characters, and we’ll continue to enrich guests there through entertainment.

You mentioned that Vault of Souls was very interactive. Do you see that audience interactivity as a growing trend?

Yes, it’s happening at theaters across the country, whether it’s interactive at the moment or through online interfacing to get the guests motivated. People want to interact with their world, so theater, as it moves forward, will become less passive and more of an overall interactive experience.

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Barbara Nefer is a freelance writer covering all things Orlando Her work can be found on “