By Karen McBride
Published in LOLANews
Up until the 1980s, Tampa had been primarily an industrial city. Warehouses lined the Hillsborough River. Surrounding cities began embracing the cultural society. St. Petersburg had the Mahaffey Theater, Clearwater had Ruth Eckerd Hall, and Sarasota had Van Wezel Hall. Mayor Bob Martinez formed a committee to begin planning a civic center in Tampa. In the early stages, the members were unsure how much impact a performing arts center would have on the growing city.
The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts (Straz Center) opened in 1987 and was originally named the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The name was changed in 2009, after David A. Straz, Jr. and his wife Catherine Lowry, through the David A. Straz, Jr. Foundation, made a substantial donation to the center. The retired bank investor and his wife enjoy supporting the arts and the community. He has served on the board of the Tampa General Hospital and University of Tampa and she on the Lowry Park Board (although no relation to the namesake).
The Straz Center will celebrate its 25th Anniversary with special activities and opportunities such as $25 tickets and Fan Favorite Performances. A free 25th Anniversary Open House will be held on Sunday, October 21, from 10 am to 3 pm and a 25th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, December 1, where the Tony Award-winning actress, singer and songwriter Idina Menzel will perform.
The 335,000 square foot facility is owned by the City of Tampa and operated by the David A. Straz, Jr. Performing Arts Center, Inc. a non-profit corporation. The Straz Center has five theatres: Carol Morsani Hall, Louise Lykes Ferguson Hall, Jaeb theatre, the TECO Energy Foundation Theater, and the Hinks and Elaine Shimberg Playhouse.
The 2,610-seat Carol Morsani Hall, with its 120-foot stage, and horseshoe-shaped seating is the ideal place to see Broadway shows, operas, ballets, and orchestral concerts. Frank and Carol Morsani have made substantial contributions to the community, including USF (over $43 million) and have a medical center in their name to thank them for their generosity. Their community involvement is not only through financial support, they have also served on the boards of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and the Tampa Museum of Art. The automobile dealer and his wife were not always well off. She remembers when they had to eat popcorn and tomato soup for dinner because the money ran out before the next paycheck. During those early days, her husband taught her that you can contribute to your community, even if you cannot donate money, you can donate your time. That’s when she became involved in Brownies, Girl Scouts, and at church as a Sunday school teacher.
Louise Lykes Ferguson Hall has two tiers of curved balconies and orchestra seating. The hall seats 1,040 and can be used for corporate meetings, lectures and seminars. Stella Ferguson Thayer and Howell L Ferguson and their families donated $4 million in honor of Louise Lykes Ferguson.
The Jaeb Theatre has three levels and seats 289. The cabaret-style seating, with round tables and chairs gives you the perfect view of the stage on any level. Robert and Lorena Jaeb’s gift to the Capitol Fund Drive in 1985 helped establish the endowment fund for the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The Jaeb’s owned Shop & Go convenience stores and later sold them to Circle K.
TECO Energy Foundation Theater, located on the first floor of the Patel Conservatory, seats 250. It is designed for performing arts education and is used for rehearsals and performances. “Patel Conservatory Youth Theater Produces” and showcases of Patel Conservatory classes including “Rock School” are held in the theater.
In 2000, Hinks and Elaine Shimberg donated $1 million. The Playhouse was named in their honor and holds 150. The Shimberg Playhouse is perfect for poets, musicians, comedians, performance artists, and small theater companies. The seating can be arranged in traditional, three-quarter or theater-in-the-round seating, as needed for the performance.
The Dr. Pallavi Patel Performing Arts Conservatory (the Patel Conservatory), named for Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel for their $5 million donation, has three dance studious, a sound/lighting laboratory, technical theater workshop, costume shop and state-of-the-art black box TECO Theater. Since it opened in 2004, more than 12,000 children and adults have enrolled in the seasonal, after school and year-round courses in music, theater, dance and media arts. In 2012, the conservatory received accreditation status from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.
Opera Tampa produces shows and has an apprenticeship program to develop young talent. The Jobsite Theater Company produces new, experimental contemporary and classic plays. The Patel Conservatory’s Next Generation Ballet Company was selected as the Best School at the 2011 Youth Grand Prix in New York.
The Straz Center offers a variety of events for all ages, including Broadway shows, grand opera, jazz concerts, performance art and even a free movie series on the lawn. The Florida Orchestra, Toast of Tampa, and the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus also perform at the Straz Center.
October shows include “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up”. The comedy, starring Jonathan Van Dyke and Gabrielle Mirabella, is a humorous look at marriage on a couple’s 10th anniversary. Couples can relate to the quips between them, as the husband appears to be giving his wife a neck rub as she goes on and on about something, and she asks “what are you doing?”, the husband’s response “looking for the mute button!”. Tickets start at $35.50 and the show is held in the Jaeb Theater.