Area theater seasons are evolving

July 21, 2013 

Theater seasons, at least around this area, are changing.

Until just a few years ago, theater seasons in the Bradenton and Sarasota area largely paralleled the school year. The season started in fall and ended in late spring. Stage pickings were slim in the warmer months.

Not so much anymore. Summer theater has a different kind of flavor, but there's plenty going on. More and more theaters are staging shows in the summer.

"I think we've learned that there are a lot of people who are here in the summer that want to be entertained," said Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director of the Manatee Players.

Local performing arts organizations, like a lot of other businesses, gear up during the cooler months, when the population of this area is so much larger.

"Everyone wants those tourist dollars," said one local theater professional.

But in recent years there's been a growing awareness that a lot of avid theatergoers live here year-round. The Manatee Players went from a six-show season to an eight-show season a few years back, taking up much of the summer. The Players Theatre in Sarasota started a "Summer Sizzler" season a few years back.

"I depend on the snowbirds," said Jeffery Kin, the artistic director of the Players Theatre. "My season's different even from other community theaters in Florida, in places like Lakeland and Orlando, because their tourist seasons are different."

The Players Theatre has a smaller audience base in the summer, so Kin takes the opportunity to put on smaller and sometimes edgier plays that don't need huge audiences make money. His regular season is made up of big, splashy musicals. In the summer he can put on shows like the current, quiet comedy "The Boys Next Door."

It's not just the tourists that have created the traditional theater season. Even up north, theaters typically take the summer off. Broadway tours still generally stop or slow in the summer.

Largely, that's been because school is out and the kids are home, and because theaters in the colder northern cities have to compete with the pleasant weather

outdoors.

So one reason theater has seemed to slow down in the summer is probably just tradition.

And Kerby points out that Manatee Players has always been active in the summer, but focuses largely on classes and kids' productions.

But the new Manatee Performing Arts Center will increase the possibilities for theater offerings in the summer, especially because the center has two theaters and offers two season subscription series.

So the traditional theater season, while in no danger of extinction, is evolving. It probably won't be long until July sees just as many theater offerings as November.

Jerry Finn, the founder of Sarasota's Banyan Theatre, was a pioneer when he started his summer-only theater company more than a decade ago.

"I looked around and said, 'This isn't a ghost town, there have to be people who want to see theater in the summer,' " he said. "And I was right."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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