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HomeTheatreAMERICAN THEATRE | Blow, Winds: Florida Theatres After Hurricane Ian

AMERICAN THEATRE | Blow, Winds: Florida Theatres After Hurricane Ian


The seats in Florida Rep’s Arcade Theatre after Ian subsided.

The final weekend in September, Woman Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill opened within the black field house inside Florida Repertory Theatre’s 100-year-old residence in Fort Myers, regardless of warnings of a hurricane headed additional up the west coast towards Tampa.

Ninety-six hours, a sudden proper flip in Ian’s path, 115 mph winds and 6 to twenty-eight ft of storm surge later, the present didn’t go on.

A part of the roof caved in on the 393-seat foremost auditorium of the Rep’s historic Arcade Theatre. The orchestra pit was below six ft of water, which almost reached the sting of the seats. Three inches of thick black sludge coated the executive places of work, rehearsal halls, and storage areas.

Water speeding in from the adjoining Caloosahatchee River destroyed uncalculated quantities of lighting components, costumes, props, and paperwork, even a non-public library of playscripts. 4-foot-high brownish water stains have been discovered days afterward the partitions. Although performances on the theatre resumed this previous week, the injury from Ian’s onslaught continues to be being accounted for.

“I joke with folks as I give the curtain speeches earlier than our performances,” mentioned producing inventive director Greg Longenhagen. “I say it’s nearly biblical. First we had plague, now we’ve got flood. If the locusts present up, I’m leaving city.”

The venerable theatre wasn’t the one one to really feel the wrath of Ian, one of the devastating storms to smash Florida: 60 miles to the north, the partitions surrounding the stage of the Venice Theatre collapsed and the fly loft was ripped open on the 72-year-old group theatre’s residence. Thirty-five miles to the south in Naples, the Gulfshore Playhouse’s opulent new $40 million residence, nonetheless below building, misplaced one weakened concrete wall and will lose one other. 

On the Rep, the influence was speedy and devastating. “It is available in, it hits exhausting and quick, it leaves everybody with their mouth agape,” Longenhagen mentioned of the storm throughout a break from making use of for FEMA loans and different emergency grants.

On the opposite aspect of the stability sheet: the Rep’s resilient workers and dedicated performers, who refused to attend longer than to catch their inventive breath (after checking their very own properties for injury) to assist with restore and restoration efforts. They helped reduce out a number of yards of ruined drywall and baseboards all through the constructing; they flushed out flooring; they piled ruined furnishings, stitching machines, and particles on the sidewalk. 

After 16 misplaced performances, representing about $60,000-$80,000 in revenue, what was salvageable of Woman Day was moved to the close by Alliance for the Arts’ Foulds Theater, and the present went on there, even because the Rep workers was within the midst of a large cleanup of a scope that none had seen earlier than.

Particles outdoors Florida Rep’s Arcade Theatre.

This previous week, after the corporate had made the primary auditorium livable sufficient for audiences, the corporate opened—on time—the sarcastically titled Incident at Our Woman of Perpetual Assist. Rehearsals are underway for the upcoming And Then There Have been None and Freud’s Final Session.

“They’ve let no mud develop below their ft,” quipped Michele Hylton-Terry, government director of the Fort Myers Metropolis Neighborhood Redevelopment Company, a significant champion of the venue.

Clear-up will final for months. Insurance coverage is not going to start to cowl a loss Longenhangen calculates will land within the vary of $1-1.7 million.

When audiences return to the primary auditorium, they might discover all of the wooden reduce out below the apron. A portion of the ceiling has been patched and tarped. Rugs have been freshly drained and shampooed. A remediation firm dehumidified the world, and refreshed it with a disinfectant to cease mould and curb the odor.

The injury is a profound blow for knowledgeable firm celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary with two energetic efficiency areas, in addition to a prolonged checklist of education schemes serving about 45,000 younger folks, from Shakespeare within the faculties to summer season camps. Its popularity for high quality is strong, and never simply locally. The late Wall Road Journal critic Terry Teachout bestowed sterling evaluations throughout annual visits 12 months after 12 months, contending that the Rep’s 2017 manufacturing of The Home of Blue Leaves was “pretty much as good because it will get.”

Apart from the fiscal loss, the overwhelming fear is attracting folks again into the theatre, Longenhagen mentioned. “We haven’t bought many tickets because the storm hit, which is comprehensible,” he mentioned. “Lots of people listed below are homeless. Individuals are nonetheless residing in shelters. We misplaced lives. We misplaced, sadly, one in all our volunteers.” Marti Campbell, 74, had been an usher there for 16 years.

The potential impact on a demoralized, preoccupied viewers’s return is the rationale the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Corridor eight miles away postponed the scheduled December go to of the nationwide Hamilton tour. The constructing sustained some roof injury, however has already resumed one-night occasions. Attracting 1,500 patrons to a one-night stand appeared much more doubtless than making an attempt to draw 30,000 folks over 16-performance run.

The blow comes at a fraught time for the Rep, which, like lots of of different theatres throughout the nation, was already coping with the fallout from the pandemic, together with darkish homes and workers cutbacks. Like so many medium-sized corporations, the Rep operates on a really small margin, with little or no reserves previous capital initiatives. Given a $4.3-million annual working finances pre-pandemic, Longenhagen mentioned, “We really feel if we will be within the black simply by slightly tiny bit, then we’re leaping for pleasure. However arts group these are very delicate establishments.”

The theatre’s fortunes additionally have an effect on the group, which had seen the corporate as a part of a significant redevelopment. “It has been a significant a part of the material of our downtown, bringing many guests to go to the theatre, have dinner, store,” mentioned Hylton-Terry. On the peak of vacationer season, its exhibits convey 500 patrons for every of eight exhibits. The general public company, which paid the theatre’s hire till the corporate purchased the constructing, sees the venue as “integral to our downtown’s success,” she mentioned.

Venice Theatre.

Nonetheless, the Rep’s residence fared much better than the Venice Theatre 60 miles to the north, initially inbuilt 1926. Rehearsals had begun for Kinky Boots, which was slated for November. However theatre’s north wall buckled open below 115-mph gust winds, permitting water to hurry in and canopy the stage, backstage, fly loft, and entrance of home. The partitions surrounding the stage have been ripped away, leaving solely the skeleton of the metal construction. Early estimates place the injury at $4-$5 million. Whereas Kinky Boots has been formally postponed a 12 months, the Venice firm is discovering different venues to stage its A Christmas Carol the primary week of December.

Gulfshore Playhouse, housed in a civic constructing in Naples for a few years, canceled its first manufacturing of the season, 26 Miles, partially as a result of infrastructure challenges and city-wide injury. The condo advanced housing a lot of the actors was inundated with sea water. 

Hurricanes are a truth of life for Florida theatres. The Rep had little hassle when Hurricane Charley swept close by in 2004. When Hurricane Irma threatened in 2017, rehearsals and previews have been postponed. Among the many worst injury recorded for a Florida theatre occurred in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck Dade County. On the 300-seat Actors’ Playhouse in Kendall, the roof of the previous film home caved in, the field workplace was destroyed, and the foyer broken. However two years later, the corporate purchased one other former film home in downtown Coral Gables’ ritzy Miracle Mile.

Hurricanes are such a staple of Florida that they’ve turned up in such regionally written works akin to Nilo Cruz’s Hurricane and Christopher Demos-Brown’s Captiva. However maybe the performs that come to thoughts given the latest devastation have been the likes of The Tempest and King Lear. 

It’s a reminder, Longenhagen mentioned, of “how small we’re on the earth, how tiny we actually are once we come up towards Mom Nature. I don’t care what you place up, I don’t care what sort of metal doorways or no matter type of hurricane shutters you might have. On the finish of the day, we’re all susceptible.”

Some second-guessing has occurred, although the workers did lay down sandbags forward of the storm. “Some folks can level the finger and say, ‘Nicely, you didn’t do that otherwise you didn’t try this.’ But it surely actually wouldn’t have mattered, as a result of when Mom Nature comes roaring at the doorstep with a four-foot storm surge, she’s going to have her method.”

Contributions to Florida Rep will be made at https://tinyurl.com/2p9vcbdv. Contributions to the Venice Theatre will be made at www.venicetheatre.org/donate.

Invoice Hirschman (he/him) is the editor and chief critic at Florida Theater On Stageinvoice@floridatheateronstage.com 

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