Sarasota serves up an intoxicating brew of theater, music and performing arts for those with a thirst for culture. Something inspiring, entertaining or both is happening just about every night of the year, at a variety of venues and price points as well.
Our small city has an outsize reputation for exceptional arts organizations, including a world-class symphony, opera and ballet, international chamber music, concert bands and a jazz festival, all of which attract international artists to their stages.
The Sarasota Film Society’s Cine-World Festival brings the best of international and independent cinema to the city in November, and in January, the Sarasota Film Festival attracts major Hollywood stars and industry insiders to more than a week of special events and screenings.
The Van Wezel, that purple landmark along downtown’s bayfront, continues to delight audiences with a diverse calendar of singers, Broadway plays and musical guests, and a flock of professional and community theaters perform repertoires packed with dramatic, musical and comedy selections.
We also host a number of educational institutions, including a rapidly growing branch of the University of South Florida; the state’s honors college, New College of Florida; and Ringling School of Art and Design, a four-year design and arts institution.
The Backlot Theatre, 2211 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Formerly Theatre Works; professional theater employing artists from throughout the nation.
Banyan Theater Company, 358-5330. Professional company offering summer theater at Sainer Pavilion on New College campus.
FSU/Asolo Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 351-8000 or 351-9010. Home to professional Asolo Theatre Company, FSU/Asolo Conservatory of Professional Actor Training and Sarasota Ballet of Florida. Mainstage schedule of plays runs from November to June.
Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 366-9000. Professional contemporary theater presents four mainstage plays each winter season plus cabaret season next door; staged readings of new plays and special season each summer.
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, 25 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. 366-5454. Cocktails, buffet dining and a professional Broadway show, usually a musical. Schedule runs year-round.
Manatee Players, 102 Old Main St., Bradenton. 748-5875. Community theater presents six plays per season, October-May.
The Players of Sarasota, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 365-2494. Area’s oldest community theater offers eight musicals per season, September-April along with special events and summer offerings.
Venice Little Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice. 488-1115. Community theater presents six mainstage plays per season, October-May; also some Stage II and Theatre for Young People productions.
Westcoast Black Theater Troupe, 364-2242 or 954-4651. A new African-American company, presenting four shows this season.
MUSIC, DANCE & POETRY
Florida West Coast Music Inc., 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 953-4252. Under this umbrella heading are the bi-county Florida West Coast Symphony; chamber groups Florida String Quartet, New Artists Piano Quartet, Florida Wind Quintet and Florida Brass Quintet; several Youth Orchestras; and annual Sarasota Music Festival in June.
Gloria Musicae, 954-4223. Professional chamber chorus presents several concerts per season.
The Jazz Club of Sarasota, 330 S. Pineapple Ave. Sarasota. 366-1552. Club promotes and perpetuates jazz year-round with jams, members’ concerts and educational programs; annual Jazz Festival at Van Wezel each spring.
Key Chorale. 921-4845. Ensemble performs great choral masterworks.
La Musica International Chamber Music Festival, 364-8802. International chamber music festival takes place for two weekends in April, with concerts at the Sarasota Opera House.
Sarasota Ballet of Florida, 552-1032; 866-722-5538. Company performs a mostly classical repertoire, September through April, at Asolo/FSU Center and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Sarasota Concert Band, 1345 Main St., Sarasota. 364-2263. Band performs monthly concerts of show tunes, marches, free summer concerts in area parks.
Sarasota Opera Association Inc., 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. 366-8450. Four professional productions of operas offered in February and March of each year at the Sarasota Opera House.
Sarasota Poetry Theatre/SoulSpeak, 535 Columbia Court, Sarasota. 366-6468. Live poetry performances.
Sarasota Pops, 795-7677. Four pops concerts are presented each year.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 953-3368. City-owned performing arts hall presents a full season of music, dance, theater, children’s programs and more; primary season is October-May.
Venice Symphony, 488-1010. Classical and pops concerts presented in Venice.
Circus Sarasota, 355-9335. One-ring circus presents performances Feb. 6-29 under the Big Top at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds.
Sarasota Film Festival, 508 Central Ave., Sarasota. 364-9514. Annual film festival offers several days of new movie screenings downtown each January, some premieres.
Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema, 955-FILM or 364-8662. SFS presents international films in its Burns Court location in downtown Sarasota. Also sponsors November Cine-World Festival.
Manatee Community College, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. 752-5000. The Fine and Performing Arts department at MCC includes instruction on art, photography, film, music and theater. Many local students begin their artistic education here, then proceed to four-year institutions like New College and Ringling School of Art and Design.
New College of Florida, 5700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 359-4700. An innovative, award-winning, four-year liberal arts school.
Ringling School of Art and Design, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 351-5100. Four-year professional art and design school, offering graphic and interior design, computer studies, fine arts, illustration and photography.
University of South Florida at Sarasota (USF), 5700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 359-4200. More than 20 full-degree programs, including arts and sciences.
In the mood for a little light-hearted entertainment over dinner in a turn-of-the-century Paris cafe? You can experience that without leaving Sarasota, thanks to Florida Studio Theatre’s Goldstein Cabaret on Palm Avenue.
FST opened the cozy little 109-seat theater, with its two-level seating design (you watch the show from café tables) and warm brick façade interior, in 1996, and since then has presented more than 40 different shows there. Most have been musical revues, salutes to composers including George Gershwin, Jacques Brel and Irving Berlin; some have been one-person shows telling the stories of greats like blues singer Alberta Hunter or Sophie Tucker, "Last of the Red Hot Mamas." And some have stressed comedy, like Laughing Matters or Stan Freeman’s At Wit’s End. More recently, FST has also presented its new Improv Troupe there, inviting audience participation and expanding the definition of traditional cabaret shows. Occasional late-night performances are also offered.
The cabaret’s menu changes from time to time, but may feature such entreés as crab cakes, chicken quesadillas or lasagna, with appetizers, salads, sandwiches and desserts, such as chocolate truffle layer cake and fresh-baked sugar cookies, also available. Dessert coffees and a full bar, too.
This season’s cabaret shows include Too Darn Hot: A Tribute to Cole Porter (Nov. 4-Jan. 10), The Best of Times: A Jerry Herman Songbook (Jan. 13-March 20), and One-Hit Wonders (March 23-May 29). Show times vary nightly; call 366-9000 for ticket info.-Kay Kipling