Florida Rep

Fifteen Years Old and a Brand New Stage, Too

by Julie Clay

ANOTHER EXCITING Florida Repertory Theatre season is upon us, and this 15th anniversary edition promises a celebration in grand fashion. A stellar lineup of productions including the Tony award-winning comedy Lend Me a Tenor through November 17), Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and the darkly comical family drama Other Desert Cities, grace the main stage (full schedule below). The big news to local theatergoers and returning snowbirds, however, is the addition of the ArtStage Studio Theatre, an intimate black box space located adjacent to the main room. Thanks to generous donations, what was once a rehearsal space with an annoying column in the middle of the room is now a state of the art 125-seat theatre offering a full lineup of shows to augment the main stage season. It’s a dream come true for the Florida Rep crew, especially Founder and Producing Artistic Director Robert Cacioppo.

Robert notes that the biggest stumbling block was that column, the removal of which would require extensive architectural redesign. “We thought, if we could ever remove this column it would be a great black box theatre,” he says. Working around it, they created an intimate space with 88 seats on three sides and debuted The Santaland Diaries starring Associate Director Jason Parrish in 2009, followed by additional successful one-person shows that proved renovation to be a worthy investment. Robert recalls, “Last August a board member, Arthur Zupko, donated $100,000 toward the project. Then an anonymous donor gave us $50,000 so we were on our way to do the renovations. We also wanted to remove the ceiling. Building code said we needed to change the AC, etc., and it became a $300,000 project. We bought 102 new lights, a new sound system and beautiful new chairs.” At the time of this writing, ArtStage was still under construction, but the column was gone! It took but a small amount of imagination to envision the theatre it was to become. Says Robert, “At just three rows deep, you can see a tear in the actor’s eye or their chest beating. Eventually, as we have temporary seats and risers, we could take everything out and start putting in tables and chairs and do little jazz combos and comedy nights. It offers us a variety to bring more people downtown and entertain more people.”

The inaugural ArtStage lineup is sure to capture the intimacy of the theatre. Running through November 25 is a look at Southwest Florida’s favorite original snowbirds, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, in Camping with Henry and Tom. Written by Robert St. Germain and directed by Robert Cacciopo, it’s based on an actual Maryland camping trip embarked upon by Edison and Ford in 1922 along with President Warren G. Harding. Robert relates, “Everything they say is based on their real words. Because we’re less than a mile from the Edison/Ford Estates it’s going to be a real fascinating insight into what they were really like and what their politics were. We’re doing it in the round and the audience will feel like they’re in the middle of the Maryland woods, with a dirt path, rocks, trees, etc.”

Running December 19 – January 3, Jason Parrish will star for the fourth year in The Santaland Diaries, updated for ArtStage. “In past years, the audience has been on three sides, and this year, I will be playing the show in the round,” he says, “I look forward to delighting people again with David Sedaris' words, and to giving the show a new home in the renovated studio.” Rounding out the ArtStage season is the drama Time Stands Still, running January 23 – February 16, followed by the world’s longest running musical (still playing in New York), The Fantastiks from March 20 – April 13. The Rep is also featuring an educational lineup of three touring shows to please area school assemblies of all ages. During our visit we were privy to a rehearsal of Schoolhouse Rocks Live Jr.!, where Lindsay Clemmons, Molly Coyne, Brian Hatch and Mitchell Land gave us a refresher course in adjectives (via song, of course!). All of these shows include a study guide and talkback with the actors. Tours run through May 2013.

Back on the main stage, it’s another outstanding lineup for which the Florida Rep is famous. Following Lend Me a Tenor is the Pulitzer prize-winning comedy Talley’s Folly, running November 27 – December 16. The Little Foxes, a classic American drama, starts off 2013 from January 1–16. On its heels is the comedy Miracle on South Division Street, running February 5 – March 2, and the multiple Tony-nominated drama Other Desert Cities graces the stage from March 12 – April 6. Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, an Olivier-award-winning farce, rounds out the Arcade Theatre stage lineup from April 16 – May 5. The variety of shows is no coincidence, its part of what makes the Florida Rep so unique. Robert says, “Our mission is to give this community a first rate professional theatre and to nurture an ensemble. The best work that happens is when you have people who know each other and get better working together. We also want to give a wide variety of work. We have something for everyone.” Adds Jason, “Come once and I know you’ll be hooked. This is Broadway-style entertainment, in Fort Myers. There isn’t much these days that people can touch. It’s live. We connect. It’s something we should not forget about in the digital age.”

Several subscription packages are available to catch multiple shows at great discounts for six shows in the Arcade Theatre. Packages for seven – nine shows can include ArtStage productions as well. You can also take advantage of a special inaugural season offer for an ArtStage Studio series subscription and enjoy any three ArtStage plays at a discount. As a special holiday bonus, The Santaland Diaries can be added to any package at a greatly reduced price.

The Arcade Theatre is located at 2267 Bay Street between Jackson and Hendry Streets in downtown Fort Myers’ historic River District. The box office is open Monday–Saturday 10am–5pm, and one hour prior to curtain. For more information, call them at 332-4488. •

from the November-December 2012 issue



The new ArtStage Studio Theatre

The historic Arcade Theatre

The Lady with All the Answers

The Art of Murder

Robert Cacioppo in his office