Thanks for the Memories

Two Retiring Asolo Rep Leaders Reflect on Their Decades With the Theater

Producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards and managing director Linda DiGabriele will step down from their posts in June 2023. 

By Kay Kipling December 21, 2022 Published in the November-December 2022 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Michael Donald Edwards and Linda DiGabriele

Michael Donald Edwards and Linda DiGabriele

It’s farewell season for the longtime leaders of Sarasota’s Asolo Rep, as both producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards and managing director Linda DiGabriele will step down from their posts in June 2023. 

The duo made the announcement some months ago, having mutually decided that their current five-year contract would be their last. Their tenures at the professional Equity theater have been filled with both highs—the transfer of two productions to Broadway, for example—and lows—like the Covid-19 pandemic, which has proved disastrous for the performing arts over the past couple seasons. 
Edwards, in his 18th year at Asolo Rep, is proud that the company was able to produce several shows on a specially constructed outdoor stage during the height of Covid closures, thanks to community support, great Florida weather and federal Paycheck Protection Program funding. But Edwards, who first worked at Asolo Rep as a guest director on The Smell of the Kill in the 2004-2005 season, says he’s happy about much more than that.

“When I started, I didn’t think I fully understood what the job was,” he admits. “I had been an itinerant director and a teacher, mostly, and I didn’t know how much of this job was production and fundraising.” He soon realized, he says, “that I was in a conversation with the community, asking people to be philanthropic. It’s challenging to sell that, to persuade people to invest in us. But because of our board, it began to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. It was a surprise. I didn’t know there would be joy in that.”

While it’s difficult for Edwards to single out one production that stands out during his tenure (he’s personally directed such titles as The Grapes of Wrath, Hamlet: Prince of Cuba, The Winter’s Tale, Equus and Amadeus), it’s easy for him to point to certain accomplishments he feels will endure. Among them: a new production facility at the Koski Center, enhanced guest housing for actors and designers, building an endowment and bringing in state-of-the-art technology for lighting, video projections and sound.

“People often say to me about a production, ‘It looks like a Broadway show,’” he says. “And yes, it does, because we’re using the same systems they use on Broadway. We have created a first-class production operation.”

DiGabriele's connection to Asolo Rep stretches all the way back to 1973, when, just barely out of college, she worked briefly as a marketing assistant for the company. That was before she switched to overseeing the theater’s touring programs, which she did until becoming managing director in 1989. In all, she has spent a total of 50 years in service to the theater—pretty much her entire career.

Like Edwards, she’s reluctant to single out any one show or season from the many she’s seen. But she says the main thing that she consistently feels “is the commitment of this community. We’re fairly small to have a theater the size of Asolo Rep, along with all the other arts organizations in town.” Supporters have helped the theater endure and thrive, not only during Covid, but, as DiGabriele recalls, during a time in the early 1990s when the programming approach of a long-gone artistic director “made the community unhappy. We had to work to regain their trust and faith, but they never deserted us.”

After years of dealing with unions, budgets, staffing and strategic planning, DiGabriele insists, “I love negotiating.” But it will undoubtedly be a relief to sit in the Asolo audience after next summer as merely a guest. Like Edwards, she cites the construction of the Koski Center and its 9,000-square-foot rehearsal hall as a major accomplishment. The facility will make it possible for large-scale productions, both home-grown and visiting, to rehearse in style. She says she’s also proud “that we have produced an artistic home for many, helped to launch hundreds of young actors in the profession, and provided an intimate space for people to gather for transformational moments. We have told good stories exceptionally well.”

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