Big news for the future of Florida Studio Theatre was revealed Monday night at a gathering at the venerable Keating Theatre—but not before a little stroll down Memory Lane with producing artistic director Richard Hopkins, taking a look at the company’s yesterdays as well as its burgeoning tomorrows.
The get-together was an opportunity for patrons and donors to mingle a bit outside and inside, something of a fresh start after two years of a pandemic limited such encounters. It was also a chance for Hopkins and FST’s managing director Rebecca Hopkins to remind the audience of the company’s growth over the past few decades, from its start 40-plus years ago as a small theater inside the former Woman’s Club building (built in 1915) to its addition of four other theatrical venues: the Goldstein Cabaret, the Gompertz Theatre, the Court Cabaret and Bowne’s Lab; its educational, improvisational and new play development programs; and its recent run of more than 1,400 performances a year on its downtown campus.
But now, with “Unveiling Our Future,” FST leadership looks forward to a new era, one that commences in December with ground-breaking for the Mulva Arts Plaza, which will include a 200-vehicle parking garage, residences for FST visiting artists and other working artists; two new cabaret stages and a new mainstage theater as well. It’s a development the board and staff have been working on for more than four years. And, after having been closed for a year during the pandemic and facing the related financial challenges, it’s a sign that FST is on the grow.
The Mulva Arts Plaza, funded by Patrick and Mary Mulva, will transform the property on First Street where the Hegner Theatre Wing (home of the Gompertz, Court and Bowne’s) sits. Adjacent to that building, the plaza design (by Sarasota architect Alan Anderson) consists of 11 floors, with the first two floors home to the three new theaters, four floors of much-needed parking space, and five floors of housing—a mix of extended-stay hotel type rooms and longer-stay two-bedroom apartments, at under market value prices for artists.
The Arts Plaza Theatre Campaign has a goal of $28.5 million, and Richard Hopkins said that more than $17 million of that had already been raised. (As with any construction project, he conceded, some price adjustments may occur.)
In addition to the Mulvas, leadership gifts were received from Ed and Susan Maier and Jack and Priscilla Schlegel (after whom the Maier Cabaret and Schlegel Cabaret stages will be named), and FST board president Dennis McGillicuddy and his wife Graci (longtime FST supporters), and from an anonymous donor.
Here’s a timetable for the project: The parking garage is set to open in June 2024; the McGillicuddy Residences in March 2025; the Maier Cabaret in June 2025; the Schlegel Cabaret in August 2025; the Mulva Mainstage in December 2025; and the grand opening celebration for the overall plaza project the following month.
FST is, by the way, the largest subscription theater in Florida and among the largest in the country, with 39,000 total subscribers in the year 2019, pre-pandemic. With added theaters, seats and tickets coming onboard, no doubt those subscriber numbers will rise as well.
“At FST, we never do anything capriciously,” Richard Hopkins said in a press release announcing the project plans. “We make sure that we need to do something before we actually begin to do it. So, we find out what the community needs, what our audience needs, and what the next generation needs. And our response to these needs is the Mulva Arts Plaza.”
To learn more about FST, its programs and the campaign, visit floridastudiotheatre.org.