Blackburn Theater

This season’s productions
also includes a new
outdoor performance series
on the updated Baker stage
out front facing Naples’
famed 5th Avenue.

Bell, Book and Candle

I Hate Hamlet

Dead Accountants

Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Naples Players
Celebrating the Stage
for 65 Years

by Julie Clay

IN THE HEART OF downtown Naples, theatregoers are looking forward to the illustrious 65th season of quality performances from The Naples Players. While the Players have been busy rehearsing and preparing, they’ve also been doing a whole lot of upgrades in anticipation of another anniversary — their 20th performing at the historic Sugden Theatre.

“Our new season is an exciting look at what it means to belong,” says The Players Artistic Director Bryce Alexander, “The season explores societal pressures like money, status, and self-image and what we sacrifice to fit in. Through a collection of classic musicals and contemporary plays, audiences of every age and creed will have plenty to engage with. As a theatre for the community, it is no surprise that The Naples Players can expertly explore what it means to be a part of one.”

A quick look at what to expect: On the heels of the season’s opening production, the comedy She Kills Monsters (running through November 5) is the drama Maple & Vine, by Jordan Harrison, in the newly renovated Tobye Studio. With performances through Nov. 19th, Maple & Vine showcases what happens when you ditch the 21st century world for a supposedly more idealistic 1950s way of life. The holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, featuring a book and score by Meredith Willson, runs November 29 thru December 23. Charles Ives Take Me Home, penned by Jessica Dickey, tells the story of a father and daughter at odds over life’s passions. Charles Ives... happens on the main stage in Blackburn Hall from January 17 thru February 11. The drama Rapture, Blister, Burn, by Gina Gianfriddo, an account of old friends taking different paths in life while wishing for the other’s, unfolds in the Tobye Studio February 7 – March 4. Tony Award-winning family musical comedy The Music Man is in Blackburn Hall, March 7th thru April 8th, and Ripcord, a comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire, rounds out the season on the Blackburn stage, April 25 – May 20.

This solid selection of productions also includes a new outdoor performance series on the freshly updated Baker stage out front. Built to acoustic specifications by Andrea Clark Brown, the stage hosts Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, featuring KidzAct players on five consecutive weekends, February 17 – March 18.

Naples Players Associate Artistic Director Jessica Walck imparts, “The Baker stage is a beautiful space that we don’t utilize nearly enough, so I think that presenting Shakespeare, the way it originally was performed [outdoors], is a great way to do that.” Named for benefactors Jay & Patty Baker, the Baker stage and plaza in front both face Naples’ famed 5th Avenue, offering plenty of space for seating. Up until now, Alexander explains, the area has been used for red carpet events on opening nights, and when Shakespearean plays are the evening’s performance.

“Patrons can come with their lawn chairs and watch Shakespeare under the stars,” shares Alexander of the upcoming shows, “Not only are we doing the free performance, but we’re using the concepts to teach anti-violence and bully prevention. We’re trying to start a small conversation after the show and help families locally.”

Along with the Baker stage, the Sugden itself has undergone several upgrades to its facilities as part of its revitalization initiative, including modernizing the ticketing system. Alexander says, “It’s been this continual push to make sure our facilities and programs are as modern as possible to a modern audience while staying true to our roots of tradition.”

The new box office features “accessible ticketing windows, electronic displays, new offices, and a new state-of-the-art ticketing system, which allows patrons to print tickets at home, add electronic tickets to their mobile devices, trade tickets on-line, renew subscriptions automatically, and even see a view of the stage from their seats.”

The newly recarpeted lobby concession area features a beautiful teak bar, tables and benches created (and donated) by Naples Players member Jackie & husband Hank Morelisse’s company BouTeak by JM.

The overhaul extends into the Tobye Studio as well, which has been pleasantly updated with new theatre chairs, curtains, handrails, steplights, and “new overhead lights that allow the theatre to subtly change the color temperature as you enter the theatre to represent the mood of the evening’s presentation.”

“Making these upgrades happen [in the Tobye studio] is an effort in community partnerships,” Alexander expresses, “an exciting note is all of this is being made possible by individuals and businesses sponsoring a chair with their name on it. It is by the community, for the community, and the chairs will proudly display those names for years to come.” He continues, “It is an amazing story about community supporting the arts and then the arts trying to help support the community. That’s what makes the Naples Players work and is renowned in community theatre, with the financial backing of patrons like the Bakers and others who have made Naples great in so many ways.”

Celebration plans will stretch into next season as well. Alexander hints about possible open houses and theater tours. A peek into their costume design and prop storage areas shows an impressive collection spanning the organization’s history. Each expansive area is packed with years’ worth of neatly organized accoutrements. Even the boardroom is lined with bookshelves packed with scripts from virtually every play ever performed in their 65-year history. Additional scripts are carefully stored off-location. Further exploration of the Sugden reveals well-maintained rehearsal studios oft-used by KidzAct, the educational arm of the Players.

Offering a well-rounded youth performing arts program, KidzAct presents a performance each season, with Elf the Musical, Jr! set to run in Blackburn Hall in December, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in May. KidzAct players will be the featured performers in The Taming of the Shrew.

Adding to the offerings will be ‘Sensory Friendly’ performances, featuring accommodations for those with autism, Down syndrome and sensory processing disorders. These shows offer lower sound and lighting levels, a reduction of audience lighting, and the option for patrons to talk and leave their seats during the performance. Theatre capacity is capped at 50% to allow for standing and movement, and there are designated quiet areas within the theater. For many families, this will be the first time that they can enjoy a theatre performance together.

Bryce explains the concept, “I came from a theatre in Colorado that served people with disabilities. I was constantly speaking to arts organizations around the country about this, so naturally when I came to Naples it was something we had to accomplish. We’ve been partnering with the Foundation for the Developmentally Disabled and their Trailblazer Academy. They will watch the sensory friendly performances to help us develop them for the audience. Trailblazer students take improv classes, etc. here. We are also helping them in the classroom and we’ve had all these teachers who are so excited about the opportunity who are offering their help. Our Director of Education, Craig Price leads the class every day.”

Bryce also mentions the importance of KidsZact being available to all through their scholarship program, “We don’t turn anyone away due to financial needs. Just last summer alone we gave out $30,000 in scholarship funding.” All that funding comes from monies raised at our annual gala, titled this year ‘Let us Entertain You,’ on February 6. Bryce adds, “Parents know their kids are valued here, they’re safe here. There’s no judgment here and full support. We try to keep our class sizes down and the gala really helps to offset that.” The program has grown to a point that it now attracts students from all over Southwest Florida.

The Naples Players are a community mainstay, as Ms. Walck shares, “I have been involved for the past 14 years and there is a renewed sense of purpose that I want our community to experience.” •

The Naples Players perform in the Sugden Community Theatre, located at 701 5th Avenue in Naples. For information, call 434-7340.

November-December 2017