Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Florida Stage moves to Kravis Center

It was twenty-three years ago when Louis Tyrell launched his theatre company. Back then, it was called Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches, and its home was the second stage at Watson B. Duncan Theatre on the Lake Worth Campus of Palm Beach Community College. At 125 seats, it was a lecture hall affectionately dubbed "The Little Duncan." But it only took three years before the company hit a 98% subscription rate and had to find more spacious lodgings. It's hard to grow your audience when you can't seat them in your theatre.

Enter Lois Pope, who financed a move into toney Manalapan. The company took over the site of a defunct gourmet supermarket, turning the store into an intimate 250 seat theatre in only three months. Tyrell was initially worried about doubling the size of his auditorium, but in short order the theater quickly hit 89% subscription rate, and it was soon back into the high nineties. After a brief fling as The Lois Pope Theatre, the company re-branded itself as Florida Stage, and has become a dominant theatre in the region.

And now, after two decades, they are moving again. The Sun Sentinel reports that in July they will relocate to to the Marshall E. Rinker sr. Playhouse at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in downtown West Palm Beach.
...the theater is moving north 10 miles in part to be more centrally located for its subscriber base spread from Miami-Dade to Martin County, and to save as much as $500,000 from its $3.6 million operating budget, said Michael Gepner, Florida Stage director of marketing.

...the new space — a plain black box theater to be retrofitted by Florida Stage — will expand the capacity from 250 to 275 seats. With 6,200 subscribers, the theater has long sought new quarters to help address its frequent sell-outs.
- Sun Sentinel
The company has been actively searching for a new home for at least a decade. The Royal Poinciana Playhouse site in Palm Beach was under serious consideration until the company discovered that the prospective space was located in a "town serving zone," which would have required that a significant portion of their audience must reside within the town limits of the Village of Palm Beach. This would prevent any theatre from developing an audience encompassing the region as a whole. Years later, the Playhouse remains shuttered, the owners locked in a struggle with the Palm Beach Theatre Guild, which desires to maintain the current building as-is.

Their administrative offices would also be relocated to the Kravis Center, and the company would maintain its own box office there. It's a coming home, of sorts; the offices were once located in the Flaming Park neighborhood of West Palm Beach, not far from the Center.

Prior commitments in the Rinker Playhouse mean that Florida Stage will have to reduce the 2010-11 season to four shows, down from five.


  1. I'm concerned that the Kravis location will not foster the intimate "pit" of the "Pope" "Florida Stage". What about the sets? I would have prefered a move to The Royal Poinciana Playhouse. What will become of the Manalapan Theater?
    MAYBE Burt Reynolds can "afford" to move there from under the Bridge!
    I guess my new "favorite" location will be The Riverside Theater in Vero Beach,but,the caliber of the material was superior at the Florida Stage. I will miss the Ocean. I really do not like the Kravis. usually wait for productions to appear at The Broward Center. (also on the water) rather than on the Railroad tracks!!!

  2. Well, Lou, if intimacy is your concern, the Poinciana Playhouse at a thousand seats is a lousy choice. Not only would a Florida Stage production be lost in the space, the huge number of seats would drive up the costs of production: Union wages are driven by the number of seats. Add to that the fact that the space is hopelessly under-equipped for modern theatre, and then factor in Palm Beach's "town serve" law, and there's no way any responsible producer could consider the Playhouse.
    The problem with the Manalapan space is the rent. Unless a wealthy patron comes along to cover the very high rent on that space (which is the only way Florida Stage managed it), I doubt it will see any further use as a theatre. It started off as a supermarket, and it will probably return to retail use.
    Give Louis and company a chance; they turned a supermarket into the venue you loved; I imagine they can do more with a space already intended to support live performance.