Celebration and Anticipation: A Look at Past and Future Theatre in Fort Myers
Because of COVID-19, theatres in Southwest Florida had to close down, and for many of which, that meant missing out on bringing multiple productions to their stage.
In an effort to celebrate all of the amazing local theatre Southwest Florida did get to see prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, I reached out to local directors, actors, students, artists, etc., asking if they would answer a couple questions about their experiences with theatre from this past season and what they're most looking forward to next season.
The questions were as follows:
1. What are you most proud of and happy audiences got to see at your theatre prior to COVID-19 shutdowns?
2. What is one thing you're looking forward to being a part of or sharing during the next theatre season?
I received so many responses from the local theatre community that I decided to split the article into two: Fort Myers and Naples. Below are the responses I received from Fort Myers artists. Thank you all so much for responding! We celebrate your incredible accomplishments and are excited to see what you all are a part of next season. (Responses have been edited for clarity as needed.) To check out the Naples article, click here: /ft-myers-naples/article/Celebration-and-Anticipation-A-Look-at-Past-and-Future-Theatre-in-Naples-20200629
Amy Marie McCleary, Actor/Director/Choreographer, Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
1. I am very happy that we got to produce Kinky Boots at the Broadway Palm and that so many people got to see this show that celebrates diversity and staying true to oneself. It was a thrilling show to direct and stage and I adored our two leading men. I was so very proud of our set design - it was innovative and really recreated the space. Thankfully we got to complete most of the run.
2. I'm honestly just looking to being back in a rehearsal room. Theatre is such a collaborative art and as a director/choreographer I feed off the energy and talents of those in the room with me. A Zoom rehearsal just isn't the same! So really, just being back to creating is going to be a thrill. That being said, I'm very excited that we are heading back to the Greek Isles and producing Mamma Mia! once more. It's a celebratory story about motherhood, womanhood, and finding joy - so it speaks to me on many levels and I think it's going to be an awesome way to head back into our theatre season here in Southwest Florida.
Annette Trossbach, Artistic Director, The Laboratory Theater of Florida
1. The team at Lab Theater and I love every show and every cast (no, really, we do). And it's a matter of preference. So I am tempted to keep it broad and focus on our high level of premieres - and our cutting edge offerings. I'm excited about The Real-ish Housewives of Fort Myers by Tim Sniffen from Second City, who gave us this season's Death of A Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf. We have a number of musicals this season that are incredibly exciting and have not been done in Southwest Florida before. And we have a major regional premiere with Botticelli in the Fire by Jordan Tannahill, which hasn't even been published yet but is one of the most stunningly beautiful stories I've read in a long time, set in 15th century Florence but with very cool funky modern elements, about the life and loves of a promiscuous Sandro Botticelli as he's painting The Birth of Venus, during a plague.
2. Once it's safe, we are excited to have our theater family back on the grounds. Our patrons, supporters, fans are the lifeblood of every arts organization. We speak the same language and the productions we offer provide a basis for excellent discourse that we know lasts long after they leave our venue. "Thinking Theater" is our registered trademark, so we have interesting, fun, and thoughtful virtual courses and classes. We are going to keep our ghost light burning until we know our audience, actors, and team will be safe. In the meantime, we will have numerous virtual offerings and limited volunteer offerings.
Bill Taylor, Producing Artistic Director, Alliance for the Arts
1. All of it. We were having one of our best seasons ever both financially and artistically. Average attendance for each show was up from previous years and the quality of the shows was really good. We would have set several records for box office.
2. I look forward to being a part of everything post-COVID. Let's just get there.
Brendan Powers, Professional Actor/Community Outreach Coordinator, Florida Repertory Theatre
1. For me, I am most proud of a remarkably rewarding collaboration Florida Rep Theatre engaged in with Kids' Minds Matter (the pediatric mental health initiative of Lee Health and Golisano Children's Hospital) and the Lee County school district for the Rep's production of Every Brilliant Thing in March. Hundreds of high school students experienced the power of live theatre (many for the first time) by attending this one-person, interactive play that addresses the issues of depression and suicide. Each student matinee was followed by a talkback with the actor, mental health experts, and school officials. It was a grand slam community collaboration that yielded profound results, reminding us of the power theatre has to unite people in an environment where difficult topics can be met head-on.
2. I think the biggest thing I am looking forward to is the unique energy that occurs when people are gathered in a dark room sharing the same experience. As an actor, there is no better feeling for me than that connection.
Greg Longenhagen, Artistic Director, Florida Repertory Theatre
1. In truth, I am proud of all our shows this season and each for different reasons. When we design a season at Florida Rep we apply great effort to give our audiences a wide variety of experiences with different theatrical styles and genres of theatre... It's like creating a many coursed meal or recording an entire record album - gosh, remember records?!?! We want our patrons to take in all our productions because we design the season specifically for them. Some standouts this season from audience responses, though, include Always... Patsy Cline, Barefoot in the Park, Every Brilliant Thing, and A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. A great production this season that never opened but was streamed online to great success was A Doll's House, Part 2.
2. The art form of theatre itself. Often it's the absence of something that allows us to see/feel its true worth. Many of us love - and dare I say need - the theatre because it fills a void. For many a void that is only now recognized. I believe that theatre will come back in a big way because many have already experienced the healing power of theatre and they know it's real, that it's palpable, that it's good. I would say to these lovely patrons of the arts... "stay the course!" ...We will be back. We will gather again, and when we do, the stories we share will have even more depth, the artists who cause you to think, laugh, cry and smile will have even more meaning in your lives. The light that lifts our hearts when the curtain rises will be brighter and more beautiful than ever before.
Kody C Jones, Education Director, Florida Repertory Theatre
1. What I was most proud of this past season was our Conservatory production of Matilda last fall. Our Conservatory program at Florida Rep is traditionally designed to challenge older, more advanced students but this past season we decided to pick a title for our younger students while still keeping our fast-paced intensive rehearsal schedule and raised bar standards for the process and product. These kids met every challenge without skipping a beat and put on an inspiring performance exuding with passion and guts every night! Just another reminder that there are no limits to what our young actors can do.
2. For next season, I'm most excited about one of our TYA professional touring productions called Mockingbird. This play follows the life of an 11-year-old autistic girl after she experiences tragedy, and using design elements and movement work, will be directed through the perspective of an autistic child. It's such an important and inspiring story to bring to our schools and introduces valuable themes and lessons to challenge and educate our local students.
Rachel Burttram, Professional Actor
1. I am so proud to have had the honor and the opportunity to originate the role of June in Alabaster by Audrey Cefaly. This show is very special to me: I did the read for the Florida Rep PlayLab production back in 2018; I am originally from Alabama (where the play takes place); and I connected with the story in a very real and personal way the very first time I read it. The play was a part of the National New Play Network's Rolling World Premiere Program, where it set records with an unprecedented 11 theatre roll - with Florida Rep kicking it all off. We are so fortunate to have been able to share this play in our ArtStage performance space, which is so intimate. To me, the play is really about the power of art to heal trauma. The responses I personally received from some of our audience members were incredibly heartfelt and genuine, which is just terrifically special. This is one of those plays, that as an actor, I will just never forget sharing with the audience.
2. I am looking forward to being in the REHEARSAL ROOM and collaborating with my fellow artists and friends. Magic happens there and to me, there is just no other place like it! Discovering, exploring, and executing...
Photo Credit: Joe Dafeldecker