Arts + Culture / The Future

The Performing Arts Take Centerstage in Naples

With new theaters and conductors, buzzy Broadway shows and rising talent, big things are on the horizon.

BY July 1, 2023
Future Gulfshore Playhouse
Major overhauls for longtime Naples institutions, Gulfshore Playhouse (rendering pictured) and The Naples Players, signal more great things to come for the performing arts. (Courtesy Gulfshore Playhouse)

Naples is already blessed with a bounty of world-class live entertainment. And, with a slate of remodels, new state-of-the-art venues, expansions and fresh faces, things are looking even brighter in Collier County’s performing arts world.

Perhaps the most anticipated, Gulfshore Playhouse is well underway on constructing their Baker Theatre and Education Center, slated for completion in spring 2024. Nestled on Goodlette-Frank Road, walking distance from Naples Design District, the H3/Arquitectonica- and Lisa Kahn-designed marvel will house a 350-seat theater, a 125-seat studio, and spaces for events and educational programming. CEO and producing artistic director Kristen Coury—recently appointed to the Florida Council on Arts and Culture by Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo—imagines the space as a cultural hub. “The arts are a magnet and a driver of growth,” Kristen says. She’s also working with Barron Collier Companies to build a production studio and doubling her staff to ensure Broadway-quality costumes, sets and props for their shows in the new space, expected to open for the troupe’s 20th anniversary season in fall 2024. Kristen fittingly coins their last performing season at The Norris Center “A Toast to the Future.” 

Downtown, at 70-year-old The Naples Players, the sound of patrons swinging hammers followed The Sound of Music at a groundbreaking for the theater in April. Architect David Corban designed the modern, wood-clad space, adding a balcony to the main theater his former boss, the late celebrated architect Andrea Clark Brown, initially created in the ’90s. The Players also plan to add an open second-story atrium view and a small theater above the first-floor studio. Until the $17 million expansion is completed next March, the troupe performs at venues around the city, including an outdoor performance of It’s a Wonderful Life (Live Radio Play) in downtown Naples in December.

Across the Jolley Bridge, Marco Island Center for the Arts (MICA) launched the Arts Center Theatre last season. After the island’s longtime company, The Marco Players, closed its doors to the Town Center theater, executive director Hyla Crane recognized the void and moved in. The theater adds to MICA’s robust season of exhibitions, musical interludes and comedy nights. Last season set the stage with thought-provoking shows like their gender-bending version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Next, Hyla starts the second season at Arts Center Theatre with The 39 Steps, a can’t-miss comedy merging Hitchcock’s thrill with Monty Python’s absurd humor.

But, it’s not all thespians making waves in Naples’ performing arts. Opera Naples makes a splash in the spring with their increasingly popular Opera Under the Stars festival, bringing talent from across the globe to fill Cambier Park with soaring sopranos and bellowing baritones. “This is something you typically only see in cool, European cities,” gushes Gulfshore Playhouse’s Kristen, who sees Naples as a flourishing arts destination. In other music news, Nash to Naples returned for the second year in 2022 to Cambier Park to feed the city’s love for country music. The festival brings songwriters from Music City, U.S.A., including budding artist Johnny McGuire, who shot to fame for his “Chevys & Fords” hit with Billy Ray Cyrus.

On the classical front, Artis—Naples welcomes two new leaders: British conductor Alexander Shelley leads the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, and local jazz artist Brandon Robertson steps in as the director of the Youth Jazz Orchestra. As upcoming music and arts director, Alexander plans for an interdisciplinary season. “Now, as much as ever in history, joining the dots between artistic genres and endeavors helps our audiences, and helps us on stage, to be more fulfilled through the storytelling,” Alexander says. We’re beyond excited to see what the young leaders bring to the established arts center.

We look back to the early ’80s when philanthropic arts maven Myra Janco Daniels’ saw her vision for a world-class arts institution come to life with The Naples Philharmonic, now Artis—Naples. At the time, Myra recognized a void of artistic opportunities in a town full of well-traveled art aficionados. We think she would be incredibly proud to see her adopted hometown thriving as an arts community where one can attend a live performance nearly any night of the week.

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