The numbers don’t lie (at least that’s what they tell us). So we believe them when they say that Southwest Florida is theater-crazy. There are, at a minimum, 15 different groups or venues putting on performances in the coming season.
Don’t believe me? You can see national touring productions at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall and at the Philharmonic Center. Florida Rep continues to get singled out by national writers as one of the best companies in the country. Gulfshore Playhouse blends the best of Broadway with edgy dramas. TheatreZone brings in high-level actors to perform lost Broadway classics.
If you tend to get hungry during a show, try the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. If you prefer for your dinner theater to double as transportation, you can catch a ride on the Seminole Gulf Railway for a murder mystery.
Then there are local production companies from the big (Naples Players, Theatre Conspiracy, Herb Strauss Theater) to the small (Laboratory Theater of Florida, Royal Palm Players, Shakespeare in Paradise). Heck, Marco Island has two separate volunteer companies—Island Theater Co. and Marco Players.
There is enough theater that my friend and former coworker Naples Daily News theater writer Chris Silk posted more than 350 blog entries on top of something like 45 reviews before the end of July, when he went dark for a month to take a much-needed vacation. “It’s the only time of the year when nothing is going on,” he told me.
Yet, the desire seems to be insatiable. Gulfshore Playhouse is upping the number of productions this year. And it’s trying to get Naples city leaders to agree to expand the Norris Center (where it performs) to add more seating.
Perhaps most surprisingly, this ramping up of theatrical performances has happened mostly during the downturn in the economy. Just five years ago, the Naples Dinner Theater dropped the curtain after 32 years to be replaced by a self-storage complex. And it looked as if some of the less well-heeled groups might follow.
I’m certain that to a man or woman, the local heads of stage would say times were grim and that things aren’t necessarily all the way better. But if Southwest Florida can support this many companies during a tough economy, those same artistic directors must be salivating at the thought of a recovery.
MUST-SEE OF THE MONTH
Although we aren’t back in the full swing of things quite yet, there is one blockbuster arts event this month that needs to be on your list of things to do. Martin Schoeller: Close Up highlights the amazing facial portraits of the German-born superstar photographer. From famous faces (see p. 176) to ordinary people, Schoeller’s extraordinary images capture a very real, and rare, intimacy.