L-R: Juliana Cristina, Dancer, Sarasota Contemporary Dance; Calvin Falwell, Clarinet, Sarasota Orchestra; Ariel Blue, Singer,  Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe; Christopher Riley, Bass, Venice Symphony; and Monessa Salley, Dancer, Sarasota Contemporary Dance. Photography by Wyatt Kostygan.

Season of Sarasota Art Museum (SAM)

Though the Sarasota Art Museum unfortunately had to postpone the site-specific installation art of Carlos Bunga, previously scheduled for this month but on hold because of the pandemic, the rest of the season continues apace as one of ambitious concepts and monumental efforts–and one that puts the audience right in the middle of the action. “The exhibitions people have really enjoyed are the ones they participate in,” says Assistant Curator Emory Conetta, “and the ones they feel like they have an influence on or they’re a part of.”November 26 brings the opening of Judith Linhares: The Artist as Curator, which sees the museum hand over not only space but curatorial discretion to the artist. Steeped in the LA-based psychedelia-meets-social-consciousness scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, before a cross-country exodus to the New York City scene to soak it all in, Linhares’ paintings defy categorization, indulging in both the figurative and the abstract, with long-limbed nudes and wild animals populating trippy dreamscapes from Linhares’ unconscious mind. She’s been recording her dreams since 1972—journaling them upon awakening and sketching them later—letting the feeling or meaning of her dreams guide her, if not the images themselves. And acting as curator, Linhares will populate the gallery walls not only with her paintings,but some of those journals and those sketches, as well as the works of five chosen artists whom she views as particular inspirations, allowing the audience to wander among her paintings, her dreams and her muses all at once, unraveling their collision.

Opening a couple weeks later, Danner Washburn’s Effigy: Hemric comes to SAM in the form of a large-scale installation piece dominating one of the third-floor galleries. The second in the artist’s series exploring rural American subcultures, Washburn utilizes both space and sound in his immersive sculptures, using found objects from the Yadkin Valley region of North Carolina, where tobacco farmers have worked the land for generations, to create great hut-like structures for audiences to explore, while pumping interviews and oral histories through the gallery speakers. The exhibition comes as part of the museum’s initiative to provide institutional support to artists of this generation.March will see the unveiling of another massive sculptural work in Daniel Lind-Ramos’ Maria, Maria. First conceived for the Whitney Biennial but ultimately hampered by size and space restrictions, the project sees the Puerto Rico-based artist commenting on the devastation left by Hurricane Maria, which struck the island in 2017, by creating a monument comprised of found objects left in its wake, including everything from rescue tarps to personal items dragged into the street by the passing storm. —P.Lederer 

In With the New | Sarasota Ballet Presents Mark Morris Dance Group

After a long year of pivoting into virtual programming, the Ballet returns with a full season of cherished classics and a continued commitment to celebrating contemporary choreographers. This March, the company presents the Mark Morris Dance Group, a Brooklyn-based outfit headed by one of the best and brightest choreographers of the last century, Mark Morris. Known for his craftsmanship and eclectic style, Morris is a living legend amongst dance aficionados. “I’ve admired Mark for years and tried to commission him when I worked in Japan,” says Iain Webb, executive director of The Sarasota Ballet Company, “and he’s just a real icon of ballet and dance today, so we’re excited to show our audience what else is going on in the world of ballet.” Another notable show is the world premiere of a commissioned piece by Sir David Bintley based on Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors.” The full-length ballet represents the company’s largest production of its 31-year history, with an original score to boot. —A. Fabian 

Commissioned Conversations

As the Ringling Museum continues to broaden its offerings socially, aesthetically and in medium, it presents the work of renowned multidisciplinary artist Rhodnie Désir. The Afro-Canadian dancer and choreographer with a social activist bent was commissioned by The Ringling to create “Conversations.” The exhibition opens November 14 and will feature several immersive video installations in the Monda gallery that include sculptural elements. “In my time here, we’ve never asked a dancer to do a visual arts exhibition, and it’ll be a first for Rhodnie too,” says The Ringling’s assistant producer of performance, Sonja Shea. Inspiration for the commission came from Désir’s documentary work, which explores the dance and history of the African diaspora in the Americas. Désir then returns in December to perform accompanying choreography and also work with Booker High School students to explore the intersection of art, social justice and history. —A. Fabian 

Something To Marvel At

Ringling College of Art & Design welcomes home one of its own this season with POW! The Comic Art of Mike Zeck. Once a student of The Ringling School of Art, Zeck went on to become a seminal figure in the comic book world, working early with such celebrated characters as Captain America and GI Joe, before lending his illustrative talents to one of the industry’s most iconic superheroes—Spider-Man—and cementing one of its most controversial antiheroes—The Punisher. Career highlights include The Punisher: Circle of Blood, a limited series that vaulted the violent vigilante to star status, and Kraven’s Last Hunt, today considered essential reading for Spider-Man fans and the definitive take on the villain, Kraven. In this exhibition, designed in part by Ringling students, audiences will get a look at a special collection of Captain America covers from the ‘80s, whole walls dedicated to page-by-page layouts of Zeck’s work in Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, comic art featuring characters like Batman and Wolverine, and a video interview with the man himself. “When you walk into it, it’s going to be a temporal experience. It’s not just going to be, ‘Look at the art then look at the next one,’” says Tim Jaeger, Director and Chief Curator of Galleries at Ringling College. “We want you to feel like you’re part of the comic book.” —P.Lederer 

Dancing for the Diaspora

Building off of a successful year of obstacles overcome, Sarasota Contemporary Dance (SCD) returns with GRIT, a season that sees the company continue to go beyond its legacy performances and champion new works. “Voices” and “Dance Makers” include all-new choreography from home-grown and nationally recognized performers, while a celebration of Duke Ellington’s music includes choreography by Leymis Bolaños Wilmott. But in April, SCD unveils “The Cuban Project.” Inspired by the real history of Wilmott’s Cuban family, the program explores themes of displacement and trauma through the lens of Operation Peter Pan, which saw the forced migration of parents and children fleeing the violence of Cuba’s communist takeover. “It’s such an important story about sacrifice and heritage,” says Wilmott, “and I’m really excited to share that with Sarasota.” The performance includes original music from visiting New College Professor, José Martinez. —A. Fabian. 

A Little Opera For Everyone

The high drama (and even higher notes) of the Sarasota Opera returns this month, as the 2021-22 season kicks off with Gioachino Rossini’s The Silken Ladder. Light, funny and upbeat, the breezy one-act comedy about husbands and lovers and silken ladders leading to ladies’ bedrooms clocks in at about 1.5 hours and runs without intermission. Last year, due to the pandemic, the Opera began experimenting with such shorter productions, something it had been hesitant to do before but found to be quite well-received. “People came out bubbly,” says Richard Russell, Sarasota Opera’s general director, and the opera found new fans that they hadn’t known were there. “It allows us to address a part of our community and a part of our audience that we hadn’t before,” he says. But those longing for that epic opera experience, complete with monumental sets to rival the outsized emotions and soaring arias, need look no further than the Winter Opera Festival. Opening with a production of Puccini’s Tosca, audiences will find the kind of set design that performers and audiences alike dream of, with elaborately detailed and dramatic settings ripped from Italian history and recreated on stage by Sarasota Opera’s scenic designer, David Gordon. “It’s stunning,” says Russell. “This is one of the best.” From there, the festival revives a comic opera that the company has not performed since 1987—The Daughter of the Regiment. Featuring both spoken word and singing, the production is notable for an aria in the first act that demands the tenor hit nine high Cs. Next comes a production of George Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, which Russell remarks “has become a company specialty,” being performed many times over the past two decades. But the music is beautiful, he says, and the audience has grown to love it. “As soon as they hear it start, they just kind of sigh in contentment,” he says. And it wouldn’t be Sarasota Opera without a little Verdi, as the festival closes with Attila. —P.Lederer 

On The Road To Knoxville

Also delayed by the pandemic, the long-awaited world premiere of Knoxville, the latest from
Tony Award-winning playwright and director Frank Galati, is back on the schedule for Asolo Repertory Theatre’s coming season. An adaptation of James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death in the Family, the story revolves around a young man coming of age in the small town of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the year 1915, as he grapples with a personal tragedy that rocks his faith. “His story goes to the core of the American soul,” Galati once said, “where faith abides as well as doubt.” The production also marks the tantalizing reunion of Galati with the Olivier Award-winning musical pairing of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, with whom Galati created one of Broadway’s biggest hits—the Tony Award-winning Ragtime. —P.Lederer 

The Ultimate Mixtape

For Venice Symphony’s 2021/2022 season, music director Troy Quinn put together a smorgasbord of styles and themes that showcase his broad tastes. Beginning in November with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, Quinn also found a spot for a Beach Boys number in the same program. “That’s kind of a sampling of my full palette,” says Quinn. Pulling from his background in film and his connections in LA, each of the programs also feature musical pieces from popular scores. “A Night at the Oscars” in February sees the symphony tackle numbers from Titanic, Lord of the Rings and Forrest Gump. Meanwhile, other programs in the season include performances of pieces from “Game of Thrones” and the Marvel Universe. “We have a really diverse and receptive audience that allows us to do these really fun forays into different genres,” says Quinn.—A.Fabian. 

World Premieres At Westcoast

As Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe gears up for another season, audiences will find all of the electrical musical performances they’ve grown to expect in revues like Eubie! and Broadway in Black, but they’ll also find something altogether new—a handful of world premieres that have never graced any stage until now. The first, Ruby, was scheduled to debut last year but was delayed by the pandemic. Inspired by a true story and written by WBTT Founder/Artistic Director Nate Jacobs and his brother, Michael Jacobs, the musical transports audiences back to August 3, 1952, when Ruby McCollum, a black woman, shot a white doctor in the small community of Live Oak, FL. With Ruby’s conviction seemingly a foregone conclusion, writer Zora Neale Hurston travels south to cover the trial for the Pittsburgh Courier. The show is currently scheduled to run Jan. 12 – Feb. 27. And in May, the WBTT New Playwrights Series brings the world premieres of two one-act plays, From Birmingham to Broadway and Float Like A Butterfly. From Birmingham to Broadway celebrates the life and times of Nell Carter, the award-winning singer and actress known for Broadway’s Ain’t Misbehavin, for which she won a Tony Award and later an Emmy Award for a television reprisal. Playwright Tarra Conner Jones also stars as Carter. Float Like A Butterfly features Earley Dean as none other than Muhammad Ali, paying homage to the legend as more than just one of the greatest American athletes but as one of its greatest activists. Written by Michael Jacobs and Nate Jacobs, with music by Derric Gobourne Jr. and Henry Washington. —P.Lederer 

Of Democracy, Farce and the Limits of Elvis Impersonation

Florida Studio Theatre comes out bopping this season with Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, tracking the icon’s legendary career through a musical revue with more than 20 of his greatest hits, followed by a homegrown world premiere in Jason Odell Williams’ America In One Room. A featured play in FST’s August Play Reading Festival, America In One Room sees eight characters of different ethnicities, ages, religions, races and political affiliations, all invited to attend a convention where they will try to talk through the hot-button political issues of the day. Tempers flare and strange alliances abound as insecurities and blind spots are laid bare. Inspired by the 2019 convention of the same name, which saw 500 voters attend, it explores the limits and powers of civil conversation and democracy itself. For those in search of a laugh, The Play That Goes Wrong opens in January as a classic comedy of errors about an inept company’s disastrous attempt to mount a production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, followed by The Legend of Georgia McBride in March. Initially scheduled for last season, this Florida tale tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator who finds himself out of work when a drag show takes his slot at the local bar. Facing destitution and the death of his dreams, he steps out of his comfort zone and into some platform pumps. —P.Lederer 

Mid-Century Master

Fresh off of creating the newly minted Architecture Sarasota, executive director and visionary Anne-Marie Russell, who led the creation of the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College, promises to use her expertise and passion to celebrate Sarasota’s rich architectural history. In addition to continuing the tours, lectures and exhibitions that were the bread and butter of previous architectural organizations, Architecture Sarasota put together a MOD Weekend for mid-November that explores the life and legacy of Phillip Hiss. Designer, sailor, intellect and one of the most sought-after bachelor’s of his time, Hiss left a mark in Sarasota by establishing a regional Mid-Century architectural style that came to be known as the Sarasota School. Informed by a deep dive into historical research, the weekend includes fun events that educate and enrich the region’s understanding of Hiss’s contributions.—A.Fabian

Hiding in Plain Site

Of all the technologies bemoaned for compromising the richness of the lived human experience, augmented reality offers a promising blend of virtual and real-world components. The technology allows someone to exist in and experience the real physical environment around them while at the same time viewing virtual elements overlaid on it through the screen of a smartphone or tablet. This fall, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens presents just such an exhibition to show how augmented reality can even make a lush tropical garden more interesting. Called “Seeing the Invisible,” the exhibition features virtual works sited around the gardens using GPS technology. Visitors download an app on their smartphone or tablet and walk the grounds, occasionally looking down at their screen in search of the virtual sculpture. Once found, the virtual artwork appears on the screen overlaid on the existing botanical elements. Presented at the Historic Spanish Point campus, the exhibition features works by world-renowned artists like Ai Wei Wei. “It’s going to feel like a treasure hunt,” says Dr. David Berry of Selby, “and we’re confident it’ll be a very compelling and dynamic experience.”—A.Fabian

High Time For High Noon

If ever there was a time in the last 50 years to need a joyful escape from the gravity of real life, the past year and a half is it. And Sarasota Orchestra offers just that with its Great Escapes series. Featuring intimate and informal programs that celebrate popular themes and styles, the series brings lighthearted fun to audiences. A Roaring 20s-themed performance kicks off the season this month, with holiday events through the winter and spring. In April, grab your cowboy boots and lasso for “Saddles of the Silver Screen,” a celebration of music from popular Westerns conducted by wunderkind Enrico Lopez-Yañez. The guest conductor from the Nashville Symphony is known for his ability to bring fun and theatre into his productions. “He does a fantastic job of really engaging with the audience and making it fun,” says director of artistic planning, Kerry Smith. “I think that’s what we’re most excited about this season and with Great Escapes,” says Smith, “is to connect with people again and let them know how grateful we are to still be here sharing music.”—A.Fabian