Meet Five New Leaders Hoping to Take Our Arts Scene to New Heights

It's a new era for these organizations.

By Kay Kipling December 6, 2023 Published in the November-December 2023 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Peter Rothstein (left) and Ross Egan

Asolo Rep 

Peter Rothstein, Producing Artistic Director; Ross Egan, Managing Director 

What brought you to Sarasota?

Rothstein: “I directed Sweeney Todd and Ragtime at the Asolo, and I felt right away it was an artistic home. I certainly talked with my husband about the move, but it felt simpatico, really, when the search team reached out to me. Sarasota is such an arts community, for all the arts. I’ve worked with operas, orchestras and dance companies, and to find them all here in a city this size, that was huge for me.”

Egan: “First, the reputation and the work the Asolo produces—it was attractive to come to an organization that has such a history. Also, my previous position was at the Barter Theatre in Virginia, a more rural community with fewer opportunities for my kids, who are 5 and 6 years old. And then from my first conversation with Peter, I wanted to work with him.”

The previous Asolo Rep team of Michael Donald Edwards and Linda DiGabriele had a long history of working together. How will you two work as a team?

Rothstein: “We’re only a couple of months in, but there are big things you learn about each other right out of the gate. We’re looking at how to approach the next chapter, looking at the budget, etc., and so far, at every turn, we’re on the same page.”

What challenges are you facing?

Rothstein: “The industry has been in crisis since the pandemic, but the Asolo is in really healthy shape, and our audience and donor subscriptions have returned. We hope to build on that, and also on the development of new work here and ways to support new voices.”

What else do you like about Sarasota besides the arts scene?

Rothstein: “Florida sunsets are special. I love the history, especially of the circus here. And the food seems terrific. I love seafood, and it’s on every menu.”

Egan: “I’ve met a lot of people here in a short time, and everyone has just been really kind, whether we meet through my children or at the farmers market or on the sidewalk. Everyone seems to have a love for the arts groups here.” 

The Sarasota Players  

Steven Butler, Artistic Director

Steven Butler

Steven Butler

Image: David Tejada

Butler actually grew up in the area, graduating from Sarasota High School and performing at The Sarasota Players before working with Gainesville’s Hippodrome theater and various companies in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. He also started his own theater company, Actors’ Warehouse in Gainesville.

What brought you back to Sarasota?

“First of all, the need to be closer to my mom, who’s getting up in years. And then it just so happened the job at The Sarasota Players came open.” 

How do you see your role at the theater?

“As artistic director, I should be the leader in all things creative. But I want to work very closely with my staff, who have been here longer than me and can give insight into what I’ve missed.”

What is your vision for The Sarasota Players?

“It’s twofold. No. 1 is helping us transition into our permanent home. The City of Sarasota has accepted the terms of our lease agreement to move to the Payne Park auditorium. Some renovation needs to be done, so it’s not realistic to think we’ll be moved in for our 95th season, next season. It will probably be another two years. No. 2 is that nationwide, for both professional and nonprofessional theaters, the culture is beginning to change. We’re seeing a lot of theaters closing their doors for various reasons. My job is to help prepare for changes. That said, I find that patrons want to see more light-hearted fare, so musical theater will still be a huge part of what we do.”

What do you do when not working?

“Spending time with my family is very important right now. I also like to go to other theaters, entertaining friends—I love to cook—and doing genealogy research. And there’s nothing wrong with going to the beach—one of my happy spots.”

La Musica Chamber Music Festival

Wu Han, Artistic Director

Wu Han

Wu Han

Han initially came to Sarasota as a performer for both La Musica and the Sarasota Concert Association, and on visits to the parents of her husband, cellist David Finckel, who lived in Bradenton. In addition to performances around the world as a pianist, Han is the co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York and the Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival in California, along with roles with Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C., and The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. She signed a three-year contract with La Musica after the sudden death of co-leader Derek Han (no relation) in 2021.

What is your vision for the future of La Musica?

“We just presented my first season in 2023, so 2024 will be the second. Previously, the festival took place only in April. We’ve extended that to include concerts in February and March, as well. I’d like to eventually present one in January, too, in order to move to a more year-round experience.”

How do you see your role?

“With 20 years or more of artistic leadership in New York City and Silicon Valley, I know I can bring to Sarasota the best musicians from around the world, and the best programs. Sarasota has such a rich cultural life, and I feel aware and connected.”

What kind of response have you gotten?

“After the first concert last season, the second and third immediately sold so well. Especially since the pandemic, people need the music so much. I saw people with tears in their eyes.”

How do you spend your time away from music?

“We musicians work so hard, there’s not much time for anything else, but we do make breaks for our dinners. There’s so much incredible food here. And miniature golf. We did that here when my daughter was young, and we still do.” 

Venice Theatre

Kristofer Geddie, Executive Director

Kristofer Geddie

Kristofer Geddie

Image: David Tejada

Before moving to Venice, Geddie toured the world as a performer on Norwegian Cruise Lines and played in shows like Angels in America and Jesus Christ Superstar.

What brought you to Venice?

“Originally, to do Ragtime as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in 2010. They couldn’t get rid of me.”

How has your role changed over the years?

“My original job, as director of diversity, started in March 2011. At that time, it was definitely unusual, not just for Venice Theatre, but in most worlds. What the job meant for Venice was not just encouraging diversity of race but also of age and socioeconomic status. That comes through education—talking to students, getting into the classroom, working with teachers. I brought students into the theater who’d never witnessed it before. We don’t turn anyone away.”

What changes are happening now?

“In 2016, I became general manager, as well, and since June, I am executive director, as Murray Chase has become our restoration supervisor. [Hurricane Ian damaged large parts of the theater in 2022.] It’s daunting and it’s awesome, because it means managing this organization that has been such a staple in our community. Now, in our 74th season, the biggest challenge is survival. We have to manage not just funds for restoration but for operations. And costs have escalated. We are hoping to have restoration complete by September 2024.”

What prepared you for this job?

“I was going to go to grad school a decade ago, but I delayed that. So I just finished my master’s in arts administration last year, from Goucher College in Baltimore. I’m thankful because now I have the life experience to make the degree actually work for me.”

What do you enjoy about Venice?

“I love the weather. I cook a lot. I do my best thinking when I’m cooking. And I travel, especially to New York. Now that I don’t live there anymore, I love to visit.” 

Show Comments