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A New Theater for Manatee

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While leading a recent tour of the Manatee Players’ impressive new home, Rick Kerby grinned as he pointed out the spacious area where the rest rooms will be. “One of the first naming opportunities to be taken in this building was for the bathrooms,” said Kerby, the community theater company’s managing artistic director. “Our patrons […]

February 16, 2010


While leading a recent tour of the Manatee Players’ impressive new home, Rick Kerby grinned as he pointed out the spacious area where the rest rooms will be.

“One of the first naming opportunities to be taken in this building was for the bathrooms,” said Kerby, the community theater company’s managing artistic director. “Our patrons are going to be so pleased when they see what an upgrade this is.”

More comfortable comfort stations are just one of the dramatic changes in store for audiences and cast members at the Manatee Players Center for the Arts, a two-story, Mediterranean Revival-style building now under construction on Third Avenue West. The center will replace the 58-year-old theater company’s cozy but obsolete current home, located a few blocks away.









Manatee Players Development Director Janene Witham, board member Eva Slane and managing artistic director Rick Kerby.

Standing on the concrete floor where the stage will be, Kerby was grinning ear to ear as he looked out at the horseshoe-shaped outline of the 338-seat mainstage theater. “Look down there,” he said excitedly, pointing to the orchestra pit. “We can fit five people in the pit now. This pit can accommodate 40.”

Pointing up at the ceiling, Kerby noted that the existing theater has space for 10 line sets, the rigging that flies scenery up and down. The new theater will have the capacity for 35 line sets, allowing for much more elaborate productions.

The scene shop where those sets will be constructed is about four times as big as the current shop, and the dressing rooms will be equally spacious. “We’re even going to have showers for the actors,” Kerby said, marveling at the notion.

The center will also house a 100-seat studio theater, where the company can do more intimate and unorthodox productions than the Broadway musicals that it primarily performs now. “The space is very flexible, so we can do theater-in-the-round, a thrust stage or a proscenium stage,” Kerby said.

Both behind the curtain and in front of it, the center will be completely handicapped accessible. The box office windows are lower than normal to accommodate audience members in wheelchairs, and there are handicapped elevators and ramps throughout. Even the lighting booth can accommodate wheelchairs, in case a future lighting designer has a disability.

The Players has raised $9 million for this ambitious project, including a $2.5 million bequest from supporter Cora May Stone. The site was provided by a developer, Bradenton Riverfront Partners LLC II, which is offering the theater a long-term lease. Construction is being completed in stages, as the Players works to raise the $3.5 million needed to finish the job.

I told Kerby that I thought it must be difficult for him to see this building so tantalizingly close to completion, and yet potentially so far away from opening if funds aren’t raised rapidly.

“It’s not difficult, because each time I come here, I can see that we’re moving forward,” Kerby said. “We’re taking baby steps, but we are going forward.”

Development director Janene Witham said she’s optimistic that the goal can be met, because the multi-purpose project appeals to so many constituencies. For example, the lobby, in which the entire current building could comfortably fit, can accommodate 400 people and will be available for all sorts of social and civic functions. Meeting rooms and a catering kitchen are also part of the plan.

“Some see it as a place to see plays, others as a place to have meetings and community functions,” Witham said. “It’s also a place where other arts groups can showcase what they do, from chamber music to poetry. We’ve even had an inquiry from an opera company. It’s a center for the entire community.”