Sarasota, the Circus City, is no stranger to the stage. From the spacious and sophisticated concert halls of the Sarasota Opera House and historic Asolo Theatre to the more intimate minimalist black box-style theatres and improv stages splashed throughout downtown, the city boasts a colorful palette of performing arts for audiences of all tastes. Explore the scene with Visit Sarasota County as we put a spotlight on the best of the stage.
On the Playbill: Theatre Arts in Sarasota
From familiar Broadway classics to cutting-edge contemporary experimental theatre, there is a fascinating diversity to the theatre scene in Sarasota, a city with nearly a century of acting chops under its belt.
The Players Theatre
It’s a little-known local fact that actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Montgomery Clift and Jayne Meadows, made their stage debut on stage at The Players Theatre, Sarasota’s oldest community theatre, which was founded in the 1930s. Today, the Players Theatre remains an integral part of the theatre scene in downtown Sarasota.
The modern Players Theatre is celebrated for its Broadway Series, now in its 86th season. The Players’ Broadway Series in 2016 features a raucous collection of musical theatre, including Tony Award-winning The Drowsy Chaperone, Hands on a Hardbody, La Cage Aux Follies, and battle-of-the-sexes black comedy, The Smell of the Kill. In addition to the Broadway Series, the Players also features a new “Backstage at the Players” program which includes dramatic comedy, monologues, and powerful dramas presented in an intimate black box theatre setting, as well as “Friday Night Live” improv and comedy sketches which take place on select Fridays throughout the year.
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, a recognizable purple beacon on the bayside to local residents, has been a cultural landmark for nearly four decades in Sarasota. The violet-hued performance hall, founded in 1968, is known throughout southwest Florida for its broad spectrum of performing arts programming, featuring and top national and international performers.
Broadway classics, rock and pop concerts, world-class symphony orchestras, and family-friendly theatre and concert classics are just a few of the showstoppers audiences can expect from the Van Wezel each season. The 2016 season at the Van Wezel features Disney’s Fantasia live in concert; the explosive and unconventional found-object percussionist troupe, STOMP; Dancing with the Stars tour; musical theatre classics, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Mamma Mia!; the Peking Acrobats; the Moody Blues, the Beach Boys and more. Check out the box office calendar to learn more.
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Sarasota's Asolo Repertory Theatre holds a reputation as one of the premiere theatres in the southeastern United States. With more than 15 productions each season ranging from bold reinterpretations of theatre classics to provocative, exploratory contemporary works, the Asolo draws from a wide range of styles and influences. The theatre has award-winning directors, guest actors and designers from around to its stage for memorable performances, celebrated year after year, on its historic stage.
Currently in the fourth season of its ambitious five-year “American Character” project, the Asolo celebrates what it truly means to be an American in a series of poignant theatre productions. 2014 Tony Award-winning play, All the Way, the regional premiere of Broadway’s Living on Love, a reinvention of the 1960s classic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and the entrancing story of Josephine Baker in Josephine, are some of the pieces of America’s story that come to life on stage at the Asolo this season.
The Asolo also provides Sarasota audiences with the unique opportunity to experience emerging actors on stage at the cusp of their professional careers. The FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training selects just 12 students annually to participate in its Masters of Fine Arts program in theatre. The Conservatory season offers an intimate theatre experience with student staging of plays, this year including Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Ingmar Bergman’s Nora, a play adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s The Doll House.
Florida Studio Theatre
Experience contemporary theatre, improv, the cabaret, and kids theatre at Florida Studio Theatre (FST). Comprised of a campus of theatres in downtown Sarasota, FST produces high quality American theatre in its “Mainstage” program, musical and improv performances on its “Cabaret” stages, provocative social commentary and improv in its “Stage III” program, and a heavy emphasis on theatrical education in its “Write a Play” program for K-12 students and weekly educational classes for all ages.
Experience plays with drama, humor, political insight, and thought-provoking wordplay on the FST Mainstage in 2016. Highlights include two American history and Civil Rights themed plays, Richard Strand’s Butler and the regional premiere of Kenneth Jones’ Alabama Story.
FST Improv runs every Saturday and select Fridays with a variety of shows. Keep a lookout on the FST performance schedule in 2016-2017 for Kids Improv, family-friendly comedy offerings, and classes for all ages.
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) is the only black theatre troupe on the west coast of Florida, and is celebrated for its high level of programming ranging from Broadway hits to thought-provoking dramas, as well as original productions written, adapted and directed by the WBTT’s founding Artistic Director, Nate Jacobs.
Shows at the WBTT are nearly always sold-out, so it’s wise to plan ahead to catch the excitement on stage at this Sarasota hidden gem. Upcoming performances at the WBTT include August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the world premiere of Nate Jacobs’ The Sam Cooke Story,\ and Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy, guest-directed by Howard Millman, Artistic Director of the Asolo Theatre.
In Venice, Florida, the Venice Theatre has been a landmark in community theatre on Florida’s Gulf coast since the early 1950s. The theatre continues running strong today, featuring Broadway classics, family favorites, concerts and more.
In 2016 at the Venice Theatre, look forward to seeing Stephen Sondheim’s classic demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, on stage; the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Venus in Furs, family-friendly James and the Giant Peach, and more.
The Venice Theatre also offers classes for all ages, including kids programs and advanced education in technical theatre for high school and college students, accredited through the Florida Department of Education. The Venice Theatre is one of few community theatres in the country to offer this distinctly unique apprenticeship program.
Concert Culture: Orchestra, Opera and Dance in Sarasota
From Classical and Baroque to contemporary jazz, the professional music scene in Sarasota is recognized among the top notes in the southeastern United States. Complementing a symphony of professional music offerings is Sarasota’s dance scene, comprised of a diversity of styles from ballet to contemporary dance.
The Sarasota Orchestra, celebrating its 67th season in 2016, is a nationally recognized institution that frequently inspires comparisons to orchestras from larger urban metropolises, including the Atlanta Pops Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Sarasota Orchestra is known for its popular Masterworks Concerts, which celebrate the works of famous composers such as Mozart and Chopin. In addition to the classical works of the great maestros, the Sarasota Orchestra is widely renowned for its Pops series, which culminates in an annual Outdoor Pops concert on the spring training field of the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
Orchestra Concert Events and Festivals
The Sarasota Orchestra also features a heavy emphasis on music performance education. The annual Sarasota Music Festival takes place at the Orchestra each June, drawing top students and professional musicians on the cusp of their careers from around the United States and internationally to Sarasota, for three weeks of intensive master classes and intimate performances. Of over 400 applicants, only 60 musicians are selected each year to take part in this prestigious festival.
Sarasota audiences also have a rare opportunity to experience the work of emerging artists in the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota performed in the historic Asolo Theatre. The Artist Series hosts a series of soiree-style concerts with a primary focus on classical programming emphasizing recitals and small ensembles. In addition to spotlighting emerging talent both nationally and internationally, the Artist Series is focused on providing scholarship funds for student musicians. The 2015-2016 season marks the Artist Series’ 20th anniversary, with over $250,000 in scholarships awarded by the organization to date.
The Asolo also celebrates its 30th La Musica di Asolo Festival in April, 2016. The chamber music-oriented music festival takes place in early April with concerts in the Sarasota Opera House.
The Venice Symphony provides classical, pops, and festival concerts in the southern region of Sarasota County. A vital South County cultural institution since 1974, the Venice Symphony performs annually in the months of November through April, and offers a variety of educational programs, including its Symphony in Schools program, summer music camp for kids, and Adult Education program. This year, the Venice Symphony hosts its first international “Conducting Academy,” a series of educational seminars and classes on the practice, history and traditions of conducting.
From symphony classics to a 1960’s soft rock music-inspired “Feelin’ Groovy” pops concert, the Venice Symphony is sure to delight in 2016. Check out the online schedule for concert details and ticketing information
2016 is a landmark year for the Sarasota Opera House, a 50+ year institution in Sarasota. This year, the Opera House completes the Verdi Cycle, an ambitious undertaking to perform the complete works of Giuseppe Verdi that the Opera began in 1989. This extraordinary musical journey encompasses each of Verdi’s full operas, as well as the entire collection of his non-operatic works.
Also featured at the Sarasota Opera House in the 2016 season are Mozart’s comedic Cosi fan tutte and Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, subtitled The Triumph of Married Love. In addition to its concert programming, the Sarasota Opera features a series of insightful discussions, opportunities to get to know its artistic staff in stage talks and interviews, and exclusive showings of spotlight films from the Sarasota Film Festival in the Opera hall.
Jazz Club of Sarasota
The Jazz Club of Sarasota, one of the largest and most active jazz clubs in the United States since its inception in 1980, hits all the right notes with jazz fans on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The club’s annual Sarasota Jazz Festival, over 35 years in the making, is recognized as one of the major jazz festivals in the U.S., and takes place for a full week in March. For a list of Sarasota Jazz Club events taking place in addition to the Jazz Festival this year, visit the club’s event page.
Founded in 1987, the Sarasota Ballet has garnered international acclaim and rave reviews from publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Under the artistic leadership of Director, Iain Webb, the Sarasota Ballet continues to push the envelope with its revolutionary repertoire and work with top choreographers from the international dance world. Visit www.sarasotaballet.org for details about the upcoming schedule for 2016-2017 at the Sarasota Ballet.
Sarasota Contemporary Dance
The 2015-2016 season marks the tenth season of Sarasota Contemporary Dance, formerly known as Fuzion Dance Group. The dance troupe remains under the artistic direction of its co-founder, Leymis Bolaños Wilmott, and continually pushes the creative envelope with its dynamic, genre-defying contemporary works.
For a schedule of Sarasota Contemporary Dance’s provocative upcoming series that looks back on and celebrates the company’s ten-year history, visit the Sarasota Contemporary Dance performance schedule page. In addition to cutting-edge dance performances, Sarasota Contemporary Dance offers adult dance classes, as well as K-12 educational outreach, a weekly Dance for Parkinson’s class and a Physically Integrated Dance program for differently-abled bodies and students with special needs.
Experience the Performing Arts on Florida’s Cultural Coast
From show tunes to symphonies, and everything in between, Sarasota is rich in its variety of stage attractions. Keep your performing arts calendar full this year with visits to the Opera, musical cabaret, improv classes, chamber music performances, contemporary dance and community theatre for the whole family.
With our overview of the performing arts in Sarasota, we’ve helped you set the stage for a performance-packed year. From here, the choice is up to you: get your tickets and settle in for the opening curtain, or embark on an educational journey toward making your stage debut.
However you choose to experience the stage, we with you the best of luck on your adventures in the performing arts scene in Sarasota — or, as they say “in the industry”: Break a leg!