Now that the dust has settled and the community knows about The Players' plans to relocate to the waterside village in Lakewood Ranch, it reinforces my feeling that running a community theatre is not an easy job. If you ask my two boys, both in their early twenties, they would say that I don’t have a real job at all. I am the managing director and CEO of The Players Centre for Performing Arts (formerly known as The Players Theatre). I co-manage the 87-year-young community theatre with Artistic Director Jeffery Kin. I handle the business side and he handles the creative side. Seems easy enough, right? Not exactly. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that involves more than what is happening on stage, especially since our decision to move and start our own arts district in Lakewood Ranch—a decision for which I've received an outpouring of feedback (I'd say 98 percent of it positive).

 One of these activities includes managing the ticket and donor database. The Players has used Theatre Manager software, provided by Arts Management Systems for over 17 years. I have been with The Players for 15 years and Arts Management Systems has never offered a conference to its users. Then out of the blue, I received an email that the first Theatre Manager Conference (TM1) was scheduled in May 2016. So I packed up my director of operations and my box office manager and off we went to Schenectady, New York to attend the first conference being held at the Proctors Theater. 

I had no idea what to expect since the itinerary of the conference was vague. As it turns out, Arts Management Systems used the staff at the Proctors Theater to showcase the best use of their software. We learned all kinds of neat features about the system that we had not been utilizing to the fullest. However, when my Players board asked me what I learned at the conference, my response was “I learned how to solve the homeless situation in a city.” You did not misread that statement. You see, Philip Morris, the CEO of the Proctors Theater, sat down with me at dinner during the conference and shared how he helped to propose a solution to handle the homeless situation in Schenectady. It is called the Downtown Ambassador Program and has worked for Schenectady since 2008. 

According to the program’s link on the Proctors website, The Downtown Ambassador Program was developed in collaboration with Mayor Stratton's office, the 3rd Way Committee, Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation and Philip Morris at Proctors. Ambassadors are recruited, trained and then paid to be positioned at key locations during downtown events. Often working with community volunteers, ambassadors provide information to visitors and offer a welcoming greeting, similar to the volunteers at our City of Sarasota Police Department. At the Proctors, the ambassadors greet patrons in the lobby before the performances and stay after to make sure everyone safely exits. The program is overseen by senior management at the City Mission of Schenectady and funded with the generous support from MVP Health Care, the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, Downtown Schenectady businesses and Proctors Theatre. 

As Philip told me about the success of the program, all I could think about was how wonderful it was that several businesses—both for-profit and nonprofit—came together to fix a situation. Why can’t we do that here in Sarasota? I invite the community to look at this model. I have one piece of the solution (the theatre) so now I just need others to step up with me to help. “We realized we can only be as strong as our neighborhood and neighbors,” says Morris about the Ambassador program. “Supporting the folks at the mission behind us just fit into that sensibility perfectly.”

 So what was supposed to be a first-time conference to learn more about our software system ended up being so much more. I learned that through innovative collaboration homelessness can be solved. We just need to follow Schenectady’s lead.

Above photo: Plans for the new Players Centre for Performing Arts in Lakewood Ranch. A “shining new penny,” the incoming Centre will expand the company’s programming with three new stages sporting state-of-the-art equipment and custom-designed staging and acoustics. Between the 480-seat mainstage auditorium, the 125-seat black box theater and the 100-seat cabaret stage—all abutting the Simonsen Players Studio and available for Players’ productions, educational programs and local or visiting artists and festivals—The Players Centre for Performing Arts stands poised to be the community arts hub Lakewood Ranch has been waiting for.