QVC host R. T. “Bob” Bowersox talks about bringing his TheatreXP to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival this September

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Michael Marrero

You may know R. T. “Bob” Bowersox as the host of QVC’s “In the Kitchen with Bob,” a long-running show on the home shopping television network. When he left the channel in 2008 for a move to Key West, Bowersox- who is also a well-established professional actor, writer, director and producer- decided to launch TheatreXP and create original theatre content in the Florida Keys. Now, he’s returning to the Philadelphia region to bring Fresh Ink Shorts, an evening of fast-paced new short plays, to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival from September 8th to 18th. Find out more about why Bowersox created TheatreXP and what audiences will see when they sit down to enjoy Fresh Ink Shorts at The Skinner Studio / Plays and Players (1714 Delancey Place).

Q: Tell me a bit about Fresh Ink Shorts and what the Philly audience can expect at a performance.
A: Fresh Ink Shorts is an intriguing, fast-paced evening of original short plays. The name comes from an inside joke among the playwrights — “Plays so new, the ink’s still wet.” The concept literally came together during a discussion among my writer friends about where we might get the shorter plays we’d been writing produced. I had formed TheatreXP a few years earlier to produce my longer works, so putting together the evening of shorts seemed an obvious solution. The plays in this production run the gamut- the comic, the dramatic, the poignant, the wondrous strange. Some are very quick one-minute shots (usually on the comic side), others take a bit longer to take the audience on a more involved journey. What makes the evening unique is how we move from play to play: we use the lighting and some very energizing drum rhythms to take the audience from one play into the next. There’s no lull to reset the stage. It moves continuously from start to finish. While there are 11 plays in the show, it actually seems like one whole.

Q: What inspired you to launch your own theatre group (Theatre XP) and why in the Florida Keys? 
A: When I first went to the Keys in 2008- after leaving a 23 year stint in the top-rated show on QVC- I was looking to just kick back and relax. Key West seemed the right place to do that. I’d been doing theater and film for over 30 years, and there was a lot of work down there at the time, so I was immediately doing shows. But the theaters all went dark during the hotter summer months, which I thought was an opportunity. So I formed TheatreXP and made deals with the brick and mortar theaters to rent their spaces in the summer. They made money when they normally wouldn’t have, and I got a fully-operational theater space to do productions. Key West Summer Stage was an immediate hit and ran for the next nine years. I expanded into what we called the “shoulder seasons” of May and November, doing mostly original works. Being from Philly, I knew the theater community here was very vibrant, so when it became apparent we’d done all we could in the Keys, we moved everything back here.

Q: How did the writers become involved with Fresh Ink Shorts? Have you worked with this group of people before?
A: There are four writers who contributed to this particular production- Melody G. Moore, Neal Ruchman, Stephen Olsen, and myself. Melody is my wife, and had adapted one of her father’s short stories into a play. I met Neal when he took my screenwriting course a number of years ago. He’d written a very good script that he adapted into a full-length play, and when the Fresh Ink Shorts idea came up, he penned a number of shorts that we liked. Stephen actually came out of the blue — he came across the TheatreXP FaceBook page, and reached out, sending me a number of really good short plays. And of course, I had a number of shorts. And voila, we had what we needed to bring Fresh Ink Shorts to life.

Q: What’s next for Fresh Ink Shorts after the run at Philly Fringe Festival? Or what would you like to see happen?
A: I’d like to see Fresh Ink Shorts become an annual production. As I said, there are a number of very good writers out there who can’t get their full-length plays produced, but who have a lot of talent. And because an evening like this requires 10-12 plays, we can give those writers a stage to show their works and give us a show. When written well, shorts can be a lot of fun — and evenings of them are great for the audiences too, because if one play isn’t to your exact liking, a few minutes later, you’re going to get another one that will be.

Q: Is there a certain genre that you enjoy writing about the most?
A: Not really. If my feet were held to the fire, I’d probably say drama, but I’ve written ribald comedy, intellectual comedy, crime, romantic comedy, fantasy. I’m more intrigued by an idea, and I just follow where that idea takes me, rather than choosing a genre and trying to find an idea that may work within the confines of that genre.

Q: What are some upcoming projects you’re currently working on? Where can we see your stories come to life next?
A: One of my newest plays has been commissioned by Fever Dream Repertory here in Philadelphia. It’s called Crossing the Veil, and I’ll be co-producing it with them. We’ll be doing it at Skinner Studio Theatre as well, running Wednesdays through Sundays, November 3-27 (dark on Thanksgiving). It’s about a recently-deceased man’s spirit finding itself at his funeral viewing, where, though he can’t be seen or heard by his family, he can see and hear them, and what he learns about his life — from their perspective — is not at all what he thought it was. It’s an unusual story told in monologue within dialogue, and I think audiences will find a lot of it relevant to their own lives. I’m also working on two new screenplays, which I hope to get out to production companies early next year. 

FRESH INK SHORTS runs from September 8-18, 2022, all curtains at 8 pm. Tickets available at fringearts.com/66315 or at the door ($5-20 Pay What You Wish). This fall, you can also look for Bowersox’s screenplays, MUTI, to hit the big screen. The movie, due out through Lionsgate, stars Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, and Peter Stormare. Keep up with Bowersox online at http://www.bobbowersoxwriter.com.

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