After two years of anticipation, cancellations, reboots and worries, Richard Hopkins feels excited for the months ahead at the Florida Studio Theater.
The producing art director said sales have been strong over the past few months and increased further when the initial mask requirements and safety protocols adopted by most local arts groups were relaxed and eventually dropped.
“When we lifted the mandatory mask, we saw an additional 10-15% in attendance,” he said. “Masks are not mandatory but many still wear masks.”
Hopkins said audiences “realized how important theater is because of its living nature. It’s alive right now, an extreme social experience. It’s not just about going out to dinner. ‘between them, the first time back in the theater is often the first time back in society, in public, and they are so happy to be back.
He hopes to build on those encouraging attendance figures with an intentionally lighter summer season than the typical winter streak.
“The theater works best in the winter. I can’t explain why, but my goal is that I’m not going to spend this good drama on a summer audience that doesn’t want it,” he said.
Lighter doesn’t mean frothy or silly, he said. “These are shows that have good, positive things to say about people while making fun of people.”
The summer season kicks off June 1 with “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.” It will feature a cast of five singer/musicians performing songs by one of country music’s legends.
“His storytelling is so deep, it’s just humanly honest, deep and real. When he tells a joke, it’s a deeply felt joke,” Hopkins said.
The main stage summer season continues with “Maytag Virgin,” a Southern love story by Audrey Cefaly. It’s about two high school teachers who live next door to each other, build a relationship, and possibly fall in love.
“It has a sweetness and whimsy that reminds me of ‘Tally’s Folly’, due to its sensibility and rural feel. It’s a soft, delicate piece that I think we need today,” he said. It starts June 29.
The main season ends with Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera’s “Smoke and Mirrors,” a mystery comedy the theater first produced in 2000.
“I burst out laughing and I didn’t know how it was going to end. I love that it’s a good mystery and thriller but really funny, witty, smart,” Hopkins said.
The production, which opens Aug. 3, will mark the debut of longtime associate artist Catherine Randazzo, who has staged many of the theater’s cabaret productions in recent years.
Randazzo also oversees the summer cabaret series, which features touring artists like the returning Jersey Tenors, who made their Sarasota debut at FST in 2017. The production features a quartet of singers putting on a harmony four parts on hits from a diverse group of artists from Frank Sinatra to Queen, Journey and Elton John. It starts July 19.
On August 9, the theater will feature the Uptown Boys, a group of veterans of past Billy Joel shows and concerts, performing “New York State of Mind: All the Hits of Billy Joel.”
“They all come with this common interest and they find a way to present his music with harmony and great arrangements and bring it to the modern feel of today’s pop music,” Randazzo said.
The FST and other theaters have had to occasionally cancel performances in recent months after cast members tested positive for COVID-19 and stunt doubles were not deemed ready to reprise roles. But Hopkins said “it would take an extraordinary event if we had another push that shut us down. I feel pretty good where it’s going. We are cautious, but we feel better about all of this.
Florida Studio Theater
1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota
For tickets: 941-366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org
“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” starts June 1 Gompertz Theater
“Virgin Maytag”, begins June 29, Keating Theater
“Summer and Smoke” begins August 3, Gompertz Theater
“Rock and roll revived with Not Fade Away” starts June 14, Court Cabaret
“The Jersey Tenors: Part II”, starts July 19, Goldstein Cabaret
“New York State of Mind: All the Hits of Billy Joel with The Uptown Boys,” starts August 9, Court Cabaret