Earlier this week I attended “Leading Ladies,” at the Venice Theatre, a farce about two English Shakespearean actors who are so down on their luck that they are performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” at a Moose Lodge. When they hear that an old lady in a nearby town is about to die and leave her fortune to her two long-lost English nephews, they decide to pose as her relatives to get the inheritance. But there’s a kink in their plan; the long lost relatives are nieces, not nephews. What follows is constant hilarity: two men dressed as women, cast members secreted in the audience, and other such tomfoolery.
What surprised me most was the top-notch quality of this community theatre performance. But perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. The Venice Theatre has been achieving the near-impossible since 1950, when 40 volunteers banded together as the Venice Little Theatre to produce the very first season of three shows in a converted hangar at the local airport. All went well until the company was forced to vacate the hangar in 1972 because the city needed it for storage. After plans to construct a new faciity were thwarted by petitions from neighbors, the organization purchased a historic building in downtown Venice for $60,000, prompting local media to dub them “the little theatre that wouldn’t die.”
From these humble beginnings, when attendance for the entire season was only 1,440, the venue has grown to two stages that attracted 68,000 attendees last year. Additionally, the theatre today offers summer camps and after-school classes; sponsors the Silver Foxes, a seniors-only performance troupe; and is home to the Theatre for Young People. Last year the word “little” was dropped from the name, because board members finally realized that the organization was not “little” anymore!
Plays staged by Venice Theatre regularly take Best Production Honors at Florida Theatre Conference and Southeastern Theatre Conference, and the institution has been recognized for “Outstanding Accomplishments and Contributions to the cultural richness of Sarasota County.” But the most exciting times may still lie ahead for the Venice Theatre, as they were recently chosen to host the American Association of Community Theatre International TheatreFest on June 22-27, 2010.
If you are planning to visit the Gulf Coast of Florida, be sure to carve out at least one evening to attend a performance at the historic Venice Theatre. West Side Story, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and The Outsiders are just a few of the outstanding selections slated to be performed this season. You’re sure to be entertained, and the city offers numerous fine restaurants within walking distance of the theatre that are perfect for pre or post-performance dining. Venice, Florida is located midway between Sarasota and Fort Myers (about 30 miles from either), and has a wide selection of accommodations for all budgets.
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels