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Springstead Theatre will return with a new cast

It never fails. Just about every week, Herman Johnston receives calls from fans wondering why his band hasn't performed at Springstead Theatre in the past year.

Johnston, manager and lead drummer for the Johnston Fantastic Symphony Steel Orchestra of Spring Hill, says he, like most of the community, is in the dark as to why there haven't been any professional performances at the theater lately.

"I know the people are disappointed because I'm getting calls saying, "Why don't you perform anymore? What's happening?' " Johnston said. "I tell them I don't know."

Well, here's the lowdown: The Springstead Theatre Guild, which brought professional musical, theatrical and dance groups to the Springstead High School facility, is being reorganized after the man who founded and headed the group resigned.

Before the group's third season was scheduled to begin last fall, Springstead teacher Dennis Caltagirone quit, saying he was worn out.

"I had done it for three years and spent 30 to 40 hours (a week) _ in addition to my teaching duties _ seeing to it that it functioned," Caltagirone said. "I was a one-man show.

"I have done my good deed for the school and the community."

For the past seven months, the new group that has replaced the guild, the Nature Coast Performing Arts Center, has been seeking members and money to bring professional shows to the theater next season.

Bill Newell, president of the Nature Coast group, said the organization is taking things one step at a time because members want to get it right.

Unlike the defunct guild, the new group has officers, handles its own money and operates as a non-profit organization.

"The Springstead Theatre Guild was not an organization in the sense of being a legal entity," Newell said. "It was sort of a loose-knit group of people volunteering together . . . about 512 people all together."

Though the guild may not have endured as long as some might have envisioned, nearly everyone involved said it accomplished what Caltagirone set out to do: bring affordable, quality entertainment to the county.

It was Caltagirone who pushed for the state grant that helped build the Hernando school district's first theater on Mariner Boulevard nearly four years ago.

"The thrust . . . was to bring the arts to West Hernando, and then the whole community," said Caltagirone, a former Hernando Teacher of the Year. "We ran some good seasons."

With the good came the bad. Despite high-caliber acts, some performances didn't bring in the kind of money that the guild hoped for.

"Some shows would do really well while others didn't pull in anything," said Lisa Morgan, Springstead High's bookkeeper. "You never knew."

Caltagirone said that pretty soon, it became a "financial headache."

A musical last season cost the guild $11,447 to produce, but brought in only $3,747 in ticket sales.

Perennial favorites, like Herman Johnston's group and the Montavani Orchestra, always drew large crowds and big profits. For instance, a fall performance by the Montavani Orchestra last school year made a $6,398 profit. But the money went to cover the guild's casualties.

Springstead principal Richard Fauble defended the losses, saying that the guild didn't exist to make money.

"Our purpose wasn't to raise money, but to provide cultural activities for the community and our students," Fauble said. "The easiest thing for me to do would have been to shut the theater down. (But) it wouldn't be good for the community."

However, by early 1993, when the guild's bank account was in the red and the school had to pitch in to cover the losses, school officials decided to step back and consider whether the theater business was worth the risk.

After several months of debate, officials asked the guild to set up a separate account at a local bank and keep track of its own finances. After a few successful shows toward the end of the 1992-93 season, the guild was able to repay the school the $3,433 it owed.

However, by summer, Caltagirone had decided not to carry on.

Despite its problems, the guild always gave to the theater and Springstead students _ no matter how much was in the bank.

Whether it was a $500 student scholarship, a $5,000 piano, two video cameras, a fog machine, sound equipment or free performances for students, the guild made its mark.

Newell said he plans to continue that tradition, as well as provide educational programs in the arts for adults and children in the community.

The first chore, however, is to raise money. There was only $300 left for the 30 members to operate with.

The Nature Coast group kicked off a membership drive this month that will last until April. Dues will be $15 for individuals and $25 for families. Anyone wishing to become a member or donate can call the school at 666-2525.

In the meantime, Caltagirone is concentrating on teaching, his wife, Lee, and their marketing business. He said he has no regrets in his decision to hand over the reins to someone.

"I guess that's the way I am. I enjoy conceiving an idea, getting it started and handing it to someone else because repetition bores me," he said. "I hope they can make it even better."

Morgan, the bookkeeper, said she believes that the new group will be a success and that, before long, people once again will be lining up, clamoring for tickets.

"I'm sure people miss it," Morgan said. "They liked to get dressed up and go out for a night on the town."

Said Herman Johnston: "I enjoyed performing there. There is nowhere else for people to enjoy things like that. It was becoming sort of a landmark."