New theater venue and group planned for downtown Sarasota
Two recent FSU/Asolo Conservatory graduates are planning a new theater company and venue in downtown Sarasota that will be a home for contemporary and provocative shows.
Summer Dawn Wallace (class of 2012) and Brendan Ragan (class of 2013) will serve as co-artistic directors of Urbanite Theatre, which will operate in a new black box theater they hope to open later this year on 2nd Street near Whole Foods Market.
Ragan said that a real estate developer who “recently discovered a passion for the theater” met the actors in the last few months and decided to buy an office complex with enough property to add an intimate new theater. It will hold 50 to 70 patrons, depending on the play and production design.
Groundbreaking is expected in July and construction should take about three months, Ragan said. “We hope to be rehearsing in November, but it could be December or January.”
The name Urbanite is meant to appeal to “people who are drawn to living in the city, spending time in downtown, going to good restaurants, cool bars and seeing good performances,” he said.
The shows will be actor-driven productions with limited scenery and costumes and a focus on stories and characters. Ragan and Wallace plan to hire professional actors and directors.
The pair said they hope to appeal to younger audience members who may not feel at home or comfortable at some of the area’s more established theaters.
“We don’t want to alienate any audience members, we want them all, but maybe we can help attract that younger person who is interested in theater and that little seed can continue to grow,” Wallace said.
“I feel like it’s bringing something different to Sarasota,” Wallace said. “If you’ve ever experienced fringe theater, it’s that kind of cathartic experience between the audience, actor and the text.”
Ragan said they expect to sell tickets for $20. “We want to keep them affordable and accessible.”
He mentioned such shows as Neil LaBute’s “In a Forest Dark and Deep,” Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” and Johnna Adams’ “Gideon’s Knot” as plays being considered for the first season.
They want to focus on newer plays not done in Sarasota. “It’s important that we’re not going to be doing things that are weird or disturbing or odd, but we will be pushing the envelope with stories that may be edgy for a more traditional conservative theatergoer,” Ragan said.
They also want to “support as many young actors, directors and educators as we can,” Wallace said. They plan to offer classes at the theater.
They are now raising money to buy sound and lighting equipment, chairs and other furnishings.
“We have our dream budget and then there’s reality,” Wallace said. “We’d love to open with very comfortable and lovely seats, but we might have to sacrifice nice, comfortable seats to mount the production. It’s going to be kind of a balance.”
Ragan said the group’s first-year budget is about $175,000, and 60 to 80 percent will come from individual donations and grants.
For information: urbanitetheatre.com