Spanish Lyric Theatre Artistic Director Announces Retirement

After founding and presiding over Spanish Lyric Theatre and SLT Productions' 55-year history, celebrated leader, Rene Gonzalez, has stepped down as the organization's artistic director.

Founded in 1959, Spanish Lyric Theatre is the longest running Hispanic theatre company in the country and is about to embark on its 56th consecutive season. SLT Productions, the English language Broadway musical division, is soon beginning its 26th consecutive season.

Gonzalez, a native of Ybor City, graduated from the Academy of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and received his Bachelor's Degree in Science as an educator from the University of Tampa. He later received his Master's Degree from Florida State University. For 31 years, he was associated with the Public School System of Hillsborough County and retired in 1989 as an assistant principal and went on to serve as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tampa and, most recently, the University of South Florida. During his tenure with Spanish Lyric Theatre, Gonzalez has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Organization's Man of the Year and the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce's Cesar Gonzmart Award, as well as being honored by the Queen of Spain, The Spanish Embassy and many local groups for his artistic endeavors from the Optimist Club of Ybor, The Ybor Lions, The Ybor Museum (Tony Pizzo Award), the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, and many others.

In a short, but emotional speech following the conclusion of SLT's sold-out VIVA LA ZARZUELA concert and luncheon event on August 10 at Ybor's historic Centro Asturiano - which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the venue and the 55th year of SLT - Gonzalez publicly announced that he would be retiring but assured the emotional crowd that SLT would indeed continue on and that he would serve as a theatrical and cultural resource.

"I began my theatrical career at the Centro Asturiano and it was fitting to end my active participation there," says Gonzalez.

"The cultural roots of the entire community of Tampa Bay can be traced to the rich legacy brought to these shores by the early settlers from Spain and Latin America. This legacy must not be allowed to end. As we struggle to preserve buildings, it is of greater importance that we do the same for the culture that these buildings and areas represent. I trust that it will continue."

Following informing the organization's Board of Directors of his decision a month ago, Michael Mathews has been elected by the Board as SLT's Interim Artistic Director.

Mathews, a longtime Tampa Bay-area professional performing artist, producing artistic director, and entrepreneur, has been affiliated with SLT for 18-months as a performer and serving on the board after a personal invitation from Gonzalez.

Graduating in 2002 from the University of Tampa, Mathews pursued dual degrees in Communications and Musical Theatre and intensively studied for 5 years as the sole student of Broadway great, Peter Palmer. He is the founder and executive director of the Salerno Entertainment Group, which began in 2003 as a community theatre and rapidly grew to a touring, professional, non-Equity musical theatre and cabaret company which continues to perform Las Vegas-style theatrical cabarets to corporate, theatrical, and private customers. In 2011, he also founded and is a co-owner and partner of the rapidly growing TheatreWorld Backdrops, LLC, a Broadway-class theatrical backdrop rental company which services thousands of educational, theatrical, and special event customers throughout the United States.

"On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Spanish Lyric Theatre, I am very pleased to have Mike Mathews as our Interim Artistic Director," says SLT Board Chairman, Shelia Hensley.

"When he was introduced by Rene, the Board was excited to have someone with his knowledge and experience, not to mention his business acumen, within the theatre world. With his energy and positive attitude, he will assist this organization in moving forward to a bright future."

Agreeing to serve on an interim basis, Mathews was selected to inject growth into the organization which, while historically and culturally based in the Hispanic and Latin American communities, openly welcomes artists, associates, and partners of all cultures and backgrounds.

"I am honored to serve at the pleasure of the Board of Spanish Lyric Theatre and to carry on the torch in the footsteps of the great Rene Gonzalez," said Mathews.

"It is my sincere intention to do everything in my power to help this storied organization usher in growth and expansion - both artistically and economically - and to endear this cultural treasure to the current generation of theatregoers and supporters."

As preserving the cultural legacy of Spanish Lyric Theatre is as important to him as well as injecting new growth, Mathews says that he plans to rely on Gonzalez' counsel as well as appointing a Hispanic cultural attaché of sorts in the near future to help both he and the Board guide the theatre's direction.

Spanish Lyric Theatre/SLT Productions will be unveiling their 56th Annual Performance Season in the coming weeks.

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