BROOKSVILLE — Barbara Manuel remembers that it all began with a surprise telephone call in late 1993 from a booking director for a New York-based production company, offering to bring a touring production of A Chorus Line to Brooksville.
Manuel, who at the time was Hernando High School's chorus director and manager of the school's newly completed 600-seat performing arts center, could hardly believe what she was hearing. Naturally, she accepted the offer, which landed the facility three sold-out performances of the Broadway classic.
Those shows ultimately paved the way for plans to stage an annual community concert series that has continued for nearly 20 years. The Hernando Performing Arts Guild's 2011-12 season begins at 7 o'clock tonight with a performance by actor/singer Jeff Trachta.
A longtime supporter of the arts in Brooksville, Manuel helped lead the charge in the late 1980s to have the $2 million performing arts center built at Hernando High. Once it was completed, she began lobbying others in the community to help form a nonprofit performing arts organization that would focus on making the most of the center's state-of-the-art features.
"It was built to be a full-working theater, with professional lighting and sound," Manuel said. "In addition to being a wonderful performance hall, it also gave our students the opportunity to get hands-on technical experience needed to work in theater."
In addition to hosting student concerts and stage productions, the facility became the Brooksville home of the Hernando Symphony Orchestra.
But it was professional performances that the group wanted to attract.
The guild's first self-produced concert series got under way in 1996 with a five concerts that focused mainly on local and regional acts. Guild members decided at the time that proceeds from the series would benefit students who planned to pursue careers in the performing arts. Since then, the guild has raised more than $60,000 for its scholarship program.
Though the group started with variety shows of interest mostly to senior citizens, entertainment chairwoman Bev Lewis said organizers more recently have strived to bring in acts that will appeal to younger crowds.
"The idea is to offer entertainment that people would normally drive to Tampa to attend," Lewis said.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.