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Straz Center names theater world veteran Greg Holland next CEO, president

Holland comes from San Francisco, where for 20 years he led a major Broadway production company.
Tampa's David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, shown in October, has named Broadway production veteran Greg Holland its new president and CEO, replacing Judy Lisi.
Tampa's David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, shown in October, has named Broadway production veteran Greg Holland its new president and CEO, replacing Judy Lisi. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 26

Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has picked its next leader.

Greg Holland, a theater-world veteran who’s held leadership roles with venues, production companies and Tony-winning plays in San Francisco, Dallas and New York, will replace the Straz’s outgoing CEO and president of 30 years, Judy Lisi, who announced her retirement last fall.

Holland was CEO of BroadwaySF for 20 years until the production company, which oversees San Francisco’s Golden Gate, Orpheum and Curran theaters, sold off two of those venues in 2021. He takes over for Lisi — whom he’s known for decades and calls a mentor — Oct. 1.

He steps into the role on the cusp of a major, years-in-the-making development for the Straz, as the theater eyes a 2023 groundbreaking for its $100 million expansion along the Hillsborough River.

“I’m completely excited,” Holland, 59, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s one of the top, fastest-growing regions in the country. And that’s the opportunity, is to continue to be part of that growth. I know the Straz was the catalyst for the growth along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa. The opportunity now is to be part of the regional growth, and that really sparks my interest.”

Greg Holland, who was CEO of a major Broadway production company in San Francisco from 2001 to 2021, has been named the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts' next CEO and president, replacing the retiring Judy Lisi.
Greg Holland, who was CEO of a major Broadway production company in San Francisco from 2001 to 2021, has been named the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts' next CEO and president, replacing the retiring Judy Lisi. [ David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts ]
Related: Judy Lisi, CEO of Tampa's Straz Center, announces retirement

Holland has seen some of that growth firsthand. In the mid-’90s, he was director of programming for the Pace Theatrical Group, which brought Broadway plays and musicals to what was then the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. In that role, he came to Tampa regularly.

“I thought I knew exactly how to get to the Straz,” he said, recalling a visit for an interview in May. “And I couldn’t find it because of all the buildings and development in that part of downtown. It was at first frustrating, and then amazing to see what’s happened in Tampa.”

Holland was picked from close to 100 candidates nationwide, said Bill West, chairperson of the Straz Center’s board of trustees. His enthusiasm for opening the Straz’s offerings up to the wider Tampa Bay region was a key reason he got the job.

“He’s someone who’s seen the arts world from various lenses — he’s been in the not-for-profit space, he’s been in the for-profit space,” West said. “One of the Straz’s strategic goals is to make sure that we present content to the broader Tampa Bay community, and we do it in such a way that we expand our audience. And we think he is uniquely qualified to help us do that.”

Lisi — who will remain a Straz board member but was not involved with Holland’s hiring — called him “a consummate professional, very bright, an excellent listener. We always were able to really look at things and consider what was the best for our program here, and we were very like-minded in that.”

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As head of the Straz — the largest theater facility in the southeastern United States, operating on city land, with an annual budget north of $50 million — Holland oversees five theaters; an arts conservatory; resident dance, opera and theater companies; and more.

In his career, he’s done a lot of what the Straz has to offer.

Growing up on a ranch in northeastern Oklahoma, Holland caught the theater bug around age 7, when his parents took him to a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” That was the moment, he recalled, where he thought, “I want to do that.”

While he danced as a youngster, Holland most found his footing offstage, studying theater management at the University of Texas and later working at the Houston Grand Opera. At Pace, he helped produce nationwide Broadway tours. When that company was acquired by entertainment giant Clear Channel, he rose to the role of senior vice president of theatrical programming and operations.

In 2001, he moved to San Francisco to head a theater company owned by Broadway veterans Carole Shorenstein Hays and Robert Nederlander. There, he worked closely to launch Broadway-bound shows like “Wicked,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and productions by Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann.

He also became a producer in his own right. While still in San Francisco, he executive-produced the Tony-winning plays “Doubt” and “Take Me Out”; produced Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change”; and oversaw the Broadway series launch at Dallas’ $360 million AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Even in New York and San Francisco, he said, Tampa was always well-regarded in the theater world, thanks to Lisi’s leadership and the Straz’s reputation as a venue.

“We see Tampa for what I think it is in the performing arts — it’s a place where shows go when they’re very, very successful,” he said.

Related: Is Tampa 'jumping ship' on Straz Center's $25 million expansion request?

He’s excited for “the opportunity to fully step into community service” on the not-for-profit side of the performing arts industry, and also to bring new types of productions, domestic and international, to Tampa. He’s spent the last few months as a top executive with Lighthouse Immersive, which produces a popular “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibition, and that type of programming may be something the venue explores, West said.

Holland plans to relocate to Tampa by October with his husband, Tracy Brown, and their whippet, Texas. He looks forward to hiking, exploring dog-friendly beaches and scouting out good spots for fresh Gulf Coast seafood.

But he also knows that, as soon as he arrives, there are leaders to meet, donors to call and another $20 million or so left to raise for the Straz’s expansion project.

“The Straz is such a rare opportunity — an organization that functions beautifully, that’s been operated by a top-notch arts executive in Judy Lisi, and has the support of the board of directors,” he said. “I know I’m not the story here. The Straz is the story. The good news is I get to join the team that serves in making it happen. That’ll die down pretty quickly, and we can really get focused on pushing everything forward.”

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