Arts & Culture

New theater troupes face challenges

“In the world about us the thunderbirds of change may have dropped their cargo; the times may cry with a conflict too bitter, too searing, and too swiftly changing. But theatre will watch and observe, waiting for the back wash of action to invest it with new life and the soften edges of memory.”

These choice words were written by Don Madden, the first artistic director of the Manatee Players. He wrote them as director’s notes for the 1953 production of “You Can’t Take it With You” — before the Riverfront Theatre was built.

He died in New Jersey on Jan. 24.

I thought of him recently when I received an e-mail from Jacob Ruscoe about wanting to raise awareness about his new Bradenton theater troupe, Virtuoso Performing Arts Theatre. The group started out like most, with no home of its own. Yet passion for the craft has carried troupe members through.

Virtuoso started in 2009, thriving through word of mouth to get seats filled for productions in rented theater spaces — all while trying to raise funds for a place of their own. Their next performance will be “Narnia the Musical (The Lion, The Witch and the The Wardrobe),” which is slated for March 11-14 and 18-21 at the Christian Retreat Auditorium.

The troupe is promoting itself as “exceptional” theater. I wish them well, yet I can’t help but think about some of the other up-and-coming troupes I’ve done stories on in the past — like Olympia Theatre and the North River Players — who come on the scene with such high hopes only to disappear. Locally, only the Manatee Players have achieved long-term status.

One wonders why? What is their litmus test for success?

Maybe it was through the foundation that Madden set as the troupe’s first leader. He told audiences that nothing has a value greater or higher than the value someone brings to it.

“They should realize that what they have to contribute above everything else is not knowledge of the theatre but knowledge of the world that envelopes the theatre,” Madden went on to say in his notes.

As good theater dictates, they must be what Madden calls a “sounding board” for voices and laughter.

What do you think it takes for a new theater to be successful? E-mail me or post a comment on my blog at

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.