With some nostalgia for the space American Stage Theatre has occupied in downtown St. Petersburg for many years, supporters of the company raved over the new Raymond James Theatre at a grand opening party that included tours of the performance areas, the rehearsal space and the new offices.
From the custom wallpaper featuring scenes from past productions to the spacious seats, there was much to appreciate.
"Welcome to this magic place," said producing artistic director Todd Olson, who said the theater is the first new construction undertaken for a professional company in Tampa Bay, and the only state-of-the-art theater built in Florida in recent years.
Tom James, a major benefactor, said his first experience with American Stage came years ago when St. Petersburg lawyer Peter Kersker, with whom he had gone to school, told him the theater would have to cease production in midseason unless it could put together enough money to produce two more shows. James made that happen but then thought he'd better attend a performance, "to see what I'd invested in," he said. "I've been going to shows ever since."
Much has been made of the intimate space in the previous theater, and several speakers mentioned the efforts taken to preserve the configuration, adding only about 40 more seats. Presenters included St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, St. Petersburg College president Carl M. Kuttler Jr., and American Stage board chairman Evan Whittle, all of whom mentioned the collaborations among private and public entities that have helped to keep American Stage moving forward as financial struggles have darkened the lights on numerous other stages throughout the country.
The crowd included American Stage stalwarts Bill and Hazel Hough, Robb and Susan Hough, Pat and Susan Henry, Al May, Bill and Marion Ballard, Mark and Mary Myers, former ambassador Mel and Betty Sembler, Brent and Debbie Sembler, Peter and Dr. Susan Betzer, Tinker McKee and numerous other supporters past and present.
Don and Dianne Shea came back to town from Shreveport, La. Don led the American Stage board of directors and headed the Downtown St. Petersburg Partnership in the past. Architect Leo Arroyo was there, as was Susan Reiter, SPC's vice president for facilities planning.
Another special group: Allen H. Loyd, whose late wife, Estill, was a volunteer for the theater, with son Allen B. Loyd and friend Laura Hensley, daughter Martha Loyd and granddaughter Estill Loyd.
Tuesdays with Morrie opened in the new theater on Friday and runs through June 28.
Acknowledging his leadership in Congress and her work with military personnel and veterans, Family Service Centers named C.W. Bill and Beverly Young its Family of the Year in a luncheon at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront.
"Together, their impact on the lives of soldiers, veterans, students, teachers, small businesses and so much more is simply incalculable," Family Services president and chief executive Mary Jo Monahan and board chair Sue Malmad wrote in extensive program notes that detailed the Youngs' accomplishments.
More than 300 people attended the event, which underscored financial challenges Family Services and other agencies have experienced during the past year. And Monahan said pressures on families increase during times of economic stress, when more people experience job losses, home foreclosures and the possibility of homelessness.
Elise Minkoff and Preston Hearn were co-chairs of the event committee, which also included Mary Wyatt Allen, Eddie Burch, Marti Hasak, Chris Hilton, Amy Holland, Terre Jeffcoat, Deborah Kraujalis, Kerry Kriseman, Adam Mayefsky, Elizabeth Shaw and Ann Vickstrom.