Although The Players Centre is a non-professional community theatre, being located on the “Cultural Coast” gives us an incredible talent pool to work with. From our Artistic Director to our stage hands, literally half of the volunteers working on a production have at one time been professionally paid performers. Many professional performers retire and are drawn to the area thanks to all of Sarasota’s arts offerings. These professionals bring their experience, training, families and often extensive resumes with them to our stage.
When we scatter professionals in amongst the nonprofessional actors and students, everyone wins! The productions are stronger, the newer actors receive excellent training, and everyone learns from the examples set by these talented and trained volunteers. The Players also hires many professionally trained Directors, Choreographers, and Musical Directors as well.
A Little History
When the idea of Community Theatre began, Sarasota was a small town with a population of 8,000 which grew by 5,000 visitors in the winter months. Fanneal Harrison and Catherine Gavin, owners of the Out-Of-Door School, were looking for activities which would interest its faculty. Finding that theatre was at the top of the list, they gathered a group of friends to discuss the possibility of starting one.
In 1929 the new theatre became a reality and The Players moved into a real theatre of its own at the corner of north Tamiami Trail and 9th Street. Built of pecky cypress, it had 246 seats, a lobby with a welcoming fireplace, a large, deep stage and complete lighting system. They began with 256 members who contributed just $2 each for subscriptions.
In the early 70’s the current building went up in its place, with a seating capacity of almost 500. In 2000 the building got new stage and auditorium lighting, updated air-conditioning, sound and acoustical upgrades, new curtains, flooring, new roof, exterior doors, a refurbished rail system, exterior and interior painting, and new landscaping.
Brushes With Fame
- Montgomery Clift made his acting debut on The Players stage during the 1932-1933 season. Teenager Jayne Meadows performed on The Players stage and went on to stardom. These were two of many who began their careers at The Players Theatre and went on to starring roles in movies and television.
- In the 1935-1936 season The Players Theatre presented an operetta written expressly for The Players by Arthur Davison Ficke, one of America’s foremost modern poets.
- Verman Kimbrough, cast as the lead in “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” had a distinguished international operatic career. He became president of the Ringling School in 1933 and Mayor of Sarasota in 1938-1939.
- Excitement reigned when Bette Davis attended the opening night performance of “Grand Hotel.” Ms. Davis was introduced to the cast by then managing director Clayton McMichael.
- In March 1950, MacKinley Kantor was present while a carefully chosen cast read his play, “Wake Up Jacob.” After the reading, the author joined in a discussion of his work.
- Peter Strader, a native Sarasotan, was named Producing Director in 1955. He had earlier held the position of Designer-Technical Director. Mr. Strader studied stage design in New York and Europe.
- In January, 1957, The Players presented “A Room Full of Roses” which starred Ellen Marshall, daughter of the late Will Geer. Ellen went on to become a well-known New York actress and star in the television series “Dallas.”
- Charlton Heston, in town for the filming of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” participated in a play reading of “Candida,” taking the place of an ill actor.
- Polly Holliday performed in two shows at The Players Theatre before moving on to be a television star playing Flo in the sitcom “Alice.” She was nominated for a 1990 Tony award for her performance as Big Mama in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
- Sara Inbar, who performed at The Players, earned a part in “Mamma Mia” on Broadway.
- Sasha Hanna, a talented dancer who appeared in many of The Players musicals, joined the cast of “Cats” on Broadway.
- Ashley Rose Orr attended The Players Performing Arts School and went on to Broadway as Gretl in “The Sound of Music.”