Stageworks Theatre receives a special gift: its Tampa theater

The company also received a donation for new lighting.
The cast of Stageworks Theatre's production of "The Color Purple" from 2022. Stageworks received a donation of its theater space from Mercury Advisors.
The cast of Stageworks Theatre's production of "The Color Purple" from 2022. Stageworks received a donation of its theater space from Mercury Advisors. [ Courtesy of Stageworks Theatre ]
Published Jan. 16

What better way to kick off a new year than with destiny-making gifts? Tampa’s Stageworks Theatre has received two donations, including the physical theater the company had been leasing since 2012.

The space was gifted by Mercury Advisors, the developers of the Grand Central at Kennedy condominiums in Channelside, where the ground-floor theater is located. The gift is valued at $2.45 million.

Stageworks also received a $10,000 grant from the Tampa-based Frank E. Duckwall Foundation that will be used to covert the theater’s lighting board from incandescent to more energy-efficient LED.

As Tampa’s oldest theater company, Stageworks is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. Founded in 1983 by Anna Brennen, it was once a nomadic company performing at a variety of Tampa venues. It found a permanent home in its current 99-seat theater in 2012 after a fundraising campaign led by then-board president Andrea Graham raised more than $1 million to custom build the space.

Producing artistic director Karla Hartley acknowledged Mercury Advisors’ longstanding support and generosity, saying that the lease itself was “favorable.” She said the developers approached the company last summer because they had sold all of the other retail spaces in the building, but held off on selling Stageworks’ space because they wanted it to remain a theater.

Karla Hartley is producing artistic director of Tampa's Stageworks Theatre.
Karla Hartley is producing artistic director of Tampa's Stageworks Theatre. [ CHRIS JACKSON | Courtesy of Stageworks Theatre ]

“They wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t have to worry in the future about the status of the space, regardless of what hands it changed to,” Hartley said. “They’ve always been generous with us and it was a great blessing for them to make this overture. They have a real commitment to arts in our community and Stageworks in particular.”

Hartley said while the immediate financial impact of not having to pay rent is good, the security of owning the space and knowing the company will be there in perpetuity is a great relief.

“The important thing for us is that now we have a significant asset,” she said. “We’re working on a five-year strategic plan and a part of that is the ability to perhaps do some expansion.”

She credits the company’s board of directors with currently ensuring the staff is paid a fair wage, but also hopes and anticipates that the financial impact could mean raises.

Commitment to the staff being solvent meant that Hartley used fundraising money to pay them even when the pandemic shut the theater down.

The gift from the Duckwall Foundation wasn’t expected, and Hartley said she is grateful for it, as a new lighting package was part of the company’s strategic plan. The theater has been using the same lighting instruments for the past 10 years, so the new lighting will bring it up to date.

“We’re trying real hard to be more green, “she said. “The LED instrumentation gives us more flexibility in terms of the lighting and color choices. It will relieve some of the energy bills and there was also some sort of rebate from TECO for changing over to LED instrumentation. That will help us move forward and free up some dollars for the work as well.”

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Hartley said the Duckwall Foundation’s “very important” donation accounts for about 20 percent of the overall package for which additional funding is still being sought.

The company is holding its Cheers to 40 Years Gala on Feb. 4 at the Floridan Palace Hotel in downtown Tampa. Hartley said she looks forward to the gala being a successful fundraiser.

Stageworks is set to open the third production of its 40th season, “The Smell of the Kill,” on Feb. 9. The dark comedy following three “malicious wives” and three ”miserable” husbands runs through Feb. 26. For more information, visit

“It’s an exciting time and we’re really pleased with the gift and our ability to move forward and do bigger and better things,” Hartley said.