Hurricane Ian blew away a huge chunk of it, but the show goes on at Venice Theatre
Walking past several tall plats of wood and large spools of electrical wire, I meet Kristopher Geddie, executive director of the Venice Theatre, for a look at a newly renovated section of the historic venue.
"This is the back door of the stage," he said. "Last time you were here, it was probably underwater, at least a few inches of it. But we'll go into the greenroom and talk and sit quietly."
The theatre is being rebuilt after Hurricane Ian nearly destroyed it last year.
Above our heads, temporary power lines hang from the ceiling.
Soon, crews will move transformers and bury the lines underground to comply with modern building codes. The power grid upgrade is just one of several makeovers the theatre has had to take on in the past year.
"Things have changed immensely," said Geddie. "But we still do what we do. And that is making a dramatic impact on all stages of life, and Hurricane Ian helped do that, because it made a dramatic impact on us."
Parts of the Venice Theatre, which was built in 1926, couldn't withstand Ian's massive winds. The back wall that collapsed was part of the main auditorium, the 432 -seat Jervey Theater, which sustained the most significant damage.
Days after the hurricane, theatre leaders anticipated having the space mostly restored by now. But Geddie says unexpected financial issues have slowed down the process of rebuilding.
"It's going to cost a lot of money, he said. And folks ask, ‘what about insurance?’ Yes, we had insurance, but insurance gave us the replacement cost. We just bought a roof about six years ago, it was $250,000. But now that exact same roof is $895,000. So that's the scale at which things have increased."
Besides higher costs, the theatre company also has to replace parts that no longer exist. Fifteen-year-old incandescent stage lighting instruments that were destroyed now have to be upgraded to LED lighting, which is about 10 times more expensive than the old lighting system.
In total, the Venice Theatre must raise at least an additional $8.4 million to complete the restoration. Geddie says leaders are encouraged by the possibility of sharing in a recent $201 million federal grantawarded to Sarasota County for ongoing hurricane recovery.
In the meantime, he says all donors are welcome.
"You will hear a lot from us about fundraising," he said. "And if there are any millionaires out there that have some spare million, you know, we more than happy to have it."
Despite all the challenges, it's that good-natured attitude that has kept the community theatre going.
Just months after the storm, Venice Theatre transformed one of its office buildings into an interim performing space, the 130-seat Raymond Center.
In addition to the temporary space, The Venice Theatre reopened its smaller Pinkerton Theatre in January. The 90-seat venue has rehabilitated lighting and sound equipment, and borrowed seating courtesy of a different community theatre in Winter Haven.
And-- Geddy says-- that's the thing about small town theatre. It's not just a building, it's a community.
"It's where the heart is," he said. "Every morning, there's a line of cars of volunteers, whether they're doing scenic work or costume work, or whether they're doing administrative work. It's for the love of it."
A new and improved Venice Theatre complex is now expected to be completed by late summer 2024.
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