It was early in 2022 and Lakewood Ranch had a problem. The burgeoning community seemed to have it all–beautiful houses, weekly farmer’s markets and waterfront properties. Lakewood Ranch even held the mantle for best-selling, master-planned, multi-generational community in the country. But there was something missing. “We didn’t have a permanent theater space in Lakewood Ranch,” says Nicole Hackel, events and resident experience manager at Lakewood Ranch. “We really wanted to figure out a way to bring performing arts here so that residents could enjoy it outside.” Thus began “Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place,” a performance and fine arts series occurring once a month in Lakewood Ranch’s Waterside Place Pavilion. After a couple of months spent planning and programming, the series took off last May, when The Players Centre for Performing Arts performed a Broadway on the Lake production, free of charge for attending patrons. 

Since that first performance, which sported an audience of about 50 attendees, things have only picked up steam. “In the beginning, it was more difficult to plan the performances with the performing arts groups because  we didn’t exactly have a track record of doing this. At first, I was just trying to schedule performances when I could, but now it’s snowballed into a regularly scheduled, once a month event,” says Hackel. “After Asolo Repertory Theatre came to perform, that’s when things really took off.” Now, performances routinely bring in around 250 attendees from both within and outside Lakewood Ranch. As the program has caught on, Hackel has brought in heavy hitters from throughout the area such as Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra and more. Even still, Hackel is open to all types of performances at “Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place.”  “Honestly, I’ll work with whomever is interested. It can be from a professional group to even a high school,” says Hackel. So what’s next for the “Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place?” While Hackel doesn’t have a specific audience number in mind, she does hope that the series can continue to grow organically, ushering in both people from inside and outside Lakewood Ranch. And with nearly all of 2024 booked with performances, “Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place” shows no signs of slowing down. “I eventually want to also host visual art exhibitions as well at Waterside Place. I know that it’ll be a challenge with the location being outdoors, but I’m hopeful that it’s something that the program can grow into,” says Hackel. “I’m really excited to just continue to build the relationships between the residents and the performing arts groups, with the idea that patrons of these shows will become patrons of these groups in the future.” For Hackel, it’s all about building that sense of community in Lakewood Ranch, one performance at a time.