Despite Offstage Drama, Banyan Is Still in Business
Some offstage drama last fall had fans of the Banyan Theater Company fearing that the organization’s days were numbered.
But the company, known for performing challenging, provocative works in the summer, will once again present a three-play season, opening June 28 with Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes. The drama is set in a white section of South Africa during the apartheid era.
Opening July 19 is Julia Cho’s The Piano Teacher. The title character, an elderly woman, looks back on her career and her relationship with her late husband, and some surprises are revealed along the way.
Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart rounds out the season, running from Aug. 9-26. The play, which blends comedy and pathos, focuses on three sisters in small-town Mississippi. All productions will be in the Cook Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
Controversy erupted at the Banyan last November, only months after the completion of its 10th anniversary season. Several board members resigned, citing concern about finances and complaining that executive director Jerry Finn wasn’t providing enough information. Artistic director Carole Kleinberg also left the theater, and the Banyan’s support group, the Banyan Theater Company Guild, disbanded.
But a new board is in place, a grants writer has been retained, and Finn says that, while the company had a budget shortfall last season, it had enough reserves in place to meet the challenge.
Town Hall Line-up Impressive Again
A distinguished journalist, a former secretary of defense and an astronaut who had to confront his greatest challenge while on earth are among the speakers in the impressive 2013 Town Hall Lecture Series.
Sponsored by the Ringling College Library Association, the series begins Jan. 15 with Walter Isaacson, the author of the recent best-selling biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Formerly a journalist with Time magazine and CNN, Isaacson has also written award-winning books about Benjamin Franklin, Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein.
Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, will appear on Feb. 5. Also a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gates is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Dr. Benjamin Carson, who grew up in poverty as the son of a single parent and became a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, will speak Feb. 27. Carson, who was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr., in the TNT movie Gifted Hands, has written several inspirational books about living the American dream.
Astronaut Mark Kelly commanded the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavor last year. But his biggest role lately has been as supportive caregiver to his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot at a constituent event in Arizona in 2011. Kelly will speak about his life and their relationship on March 11.
During a nearly-50 year career with NBC, Tom Brokaw has served as host of the Today show, anchor of the NBC Nightly News and interim host of Meet the Press after the death of Tim Russert. Brokaw continues to serve as senior correspondent for the network, but also focuses on writing best-sellers such as The Greatest Generation, his tribute to the men and women who overcame the Depression and won World War II. He speaks April 5.
For information about subscriptions to the Town Hall series, call 925-1343, or visit rclassociation.org.
Sarasota Music Festival Mixes Concerts, Classes
The Sarasota Music Festival returns this month for an intense three weeks of study and performance. Uniting talented music students from leading colleges and universities with a roster of distinguished faculty artists, the festival encompasses rehearsals, master classes and chamber and orchestral concerts. The first of nine festival concerts, featuring works by Schumann, Ravel and Villa-Lobos, is at 4:30 p.m. June 7 at Holley Hall.
The three Friday chamber concerts at the Sarasota Opera House will feature student ensembles as well as performances by the all-star faculty. The Saturday concerts, also at the Opera House, are devoted to orchestral music. The first, on June 9, is an all-Beethoven affair, including Symphony No. 3, the Eroica. Info: sarasotaorchestra.org.
FSU/Asolo Understudy Is An Overwhelming Success
Third-year students in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory usually perform in supporting roles in Asolo Rep productions, and occasionally get to go on in larger roles for a performance or two as understudies. But unforeseen circumstances gave Jake Staley a rare and challenging opportunity this season, and he handled it with aplomb.
Late one afternoon in the middle of the run of the acerbic comedy God of Carnage, Staley got the call that most understudies probably receive with a mixture of excitement and nervousness: Asolo Rep actor David Breitbarth had injured his leg, so Staley would be going on in his place that evening.
Staley had performed in two understudy rehearsals of the show, but the circumstances were still daunting. God of Carnage has a cast of only four—two pairs of parents who spend an increasingly uncomfortable evening together. Staley’s character is on stage virtually every minute, and rarely stops talking or moving.
But Staley performed flawlessly and fit in seamlessly with the other cast members that night. And he continued in the role for the rest of the run. (Breitbarth missed one performance in Once in a Lifetime, with first-year conservatory student Brian Nemiroff filling in ably. Breitbarth then returned to that show, performing while seated in a wheelchair. But he couldn’t do that in the more physical God of Carnage.)
“Jake proved he’s a real professional, and I’m proud of all the students who went on this year,” says Greg Leaming, director of the conservatory. “Their performances speak well of the understudy system we have in place.”
This article appears in the June 2012 issue of Sarasota Magazine.