Move Brings Possibility For Players

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAY 6, 2016

The Sarasota theater scene was rocked this week by news of The Players' rebrand and imminent relocation to Lakewood Ranch, where the beloved community icon will take residence in the planned Players Centre for Performing Arts. With designs in the works for a 480-seat main stage auditorium, 125-seat black box theater and 100-seat cabaret stage alongside the main campus for the Simonsen Players Studio and its educational endeavors, Players Artistic Director Jeffery Kin envisions a bright and expansive future for Sarasota’s oldest community theater. “We’ve cut some square pegs into round holes to make this current location work,” he said. “It will be really nice to be the shining new penny for once.”

And what a penny it will be. Designs are not yet finalized but current plans see the three stages—main, black box and cabaret—feeding an expansive front lobby, with a separate entrance for students attending class or rehearsal. With all three stages available year-round, Kin views the move as a chance to reinforce the theater’s identity as an artistic hub for the greater community and an opportunity to support its aspirations. “We’re going to have spaces that allow us to share with other arts groups,” he said. “I’m hoping to be a home for contemporary dance and choral groups and even small play festivals.”

That’s a big part of why Kin isn’t too sad to leave the downtown area and the theater district that grew around Players. “I don’t think we’re needed downtown,” said Kin. “Most community theaters aren’t in the middle of an arts hub and surrounded by professionals.” A community theater doesn’t need to compete with professional theaters, and with those options the downtown audience doesn’t strictly need the presence of a community theater with all that entails. Lakewood Ranch however... “Lakewood Ranch folks have been champing at the bit for an arts center and that’s what we plan on being,” said Kin, making extra note of the availability of space in Lakewood Ranch versus the heavily developed downtown area. “We’re moving ourselves to a location where we can have growth and potential,” he added.

From a theatrical production standpoint, the biggest changes will come with increased space and modern technology. “Right now we’re dealing with technology that is 50 years old,” said Kin, “and what’s not is laid into a plot that’s 50 years old.” The new space will be constructed from the ground up with modern-day acoustics and integrated state-of-the-art equipment. Shows should be easier for audiences to both see and hear, according to Kin, which is no small matter with a seasoned theater-going populace. As for the educational programming, he expects “huge growth.”

“Right now we do a great job ‘making do,’” Kin said. “To have a space that has the proper dimensions and up-to-date theatrical equipment is going to do huge things for us.”

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