by Kristen Coury – Founder, CEO & Producing Artistic Director, Gulfshore Playhouse
Nearly twenty years ago, I discovered beautiful Naples. Like so many of us, I decided to move here, but unlike many of us, I also decided to start a professional Théâtre company.
Many of the details were uncertain, like where the theatre would be or how to raise the money to build one; all I knew then was that I wanted to create a Tony Award-winning regional theatre and thus Gulfshore Playhouse was born.
The early years were hard. Working from the back bedroom of my Bayfront condo, there was no staff, no funds, nowhere to produce. When I wanted to give up, I would stand on the balcony overlooking Goodlette-Frank Road and visualize a theatre emerging from the land – land that was at first a disused strip mall and then totally empty.
Like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother waving a wand and transforming Cinderella’s plain dress into a gown, in the world of my imagination, I could totally see a theatre magically appear over and over again.
While the details were still uncertain, I could see it clearly…right there across the street.
When I moved out of my Bayfront condo in 2014, I left with both the faith that the Universe was doing its work…and a little bit of fear that I was dreaming the impossible dream.
A year went by. Halfway through 2015, philanthropists Jay and Patty Baker pledged a transformational gift that was a total game changer. As a result of that gift, we were able to conduct a feasibility study, hire development professionals, and began the search for land.
As one location after another fell through, it was hard to keep the faith. I kept believing in the dream, kept my nose to the grindstone, and, of course, kept making art. Finally, in late 2017 the perfect piece of property came through. Can you guess where it was? Yup. Right across the street from my old balcony.
A couple of months ago, we decided to tell this story in video. We called the current owners of my old condo to see if we could shoot some footage from the balcony. As I stepped onto that balcony, prepared to narrate the story of what happened, I unexpectedly burst into tears. It had never occurred to me that what I was about to see in reality was something I had never, seen, before…outside my own imagination.
From that very balcony, you can clearly see that construction has begun on that very land, and a theatre is springing up out of the earth. As we finish out our $66M capital campaign, and begin to point steel beams toward the sky, I am so excited that the impossible dream really is indeed coming true.
The Baker Theatre and Education Center is located at Goodlette-Frank Road and 1st Avenue South and is projected to open in early 2024.The new home of Gulfshore Playhouse will house a 368-seat mainstage Théâtre and a 125-seat studio space, in addition to numerous event, rehearsal, and educational spaces.