Naples Players to raise curtain on vast remodel project

Jeff lytle

As The Naples Players soon caps a year away from home, the seven-decade institution will christen more than just additional space at Sugden Community Theatre on Fifth Avenue South.

TNP will transform the expanded and remodeled capacity into a bastion for the arts –more and improved services and public gathering spaces as well as 50 percent more audience seating.

The $21 million project, for which most funds are in-hand, is an ideal fit for TNP’s mission to heal and help by providing community access to the arts. As TNP’s motto says, “This is your theatre.”

In fact, there will be an entirely new third floor. Its north-facing wall will be 22 feet high and made of glass – aptly sponsored by Tanya and Denny Glass. The new space, with an outdoor balcony, is to be used for classes and small performances as well as events such as weddings, fundraisers and business retreats.

Based on a preview tour by CEO/executive artistic director Bryce Alexander and marketing coordinator Jillian Keith, theatergoers will need multiple visits to experience all the new features and potential.

The curtain is set to rise the last week in May for a celebration of musical/dance numbers from TNP’s past decade, preceding the first four week show, 42nd Street, which will kick off the 2024-25 season on June 26th.

Audiences for shows large and small will get to see and hear whole new systems for sound and lighting. Thestage will be retrofitted with a floor atop springs to soften impact for dancers’ shins, ankles and knees – and make tap-dancing sound snappier. Another upgrade will permit characters such as Mary Poppins to fly throughout the theater, not just over the stage.

And yes, the venue could handle “Phantom of the Opera” –chandelier and all – if the theatrical rights were available, Alexander says.

Audiences will also get to watch from an all-new balcony with 150 seats, including 32 box seats, adding to the existing 300 seats at ground level. There will be a special, enclosed booth for patrons with sensory processing disorders such as autism to customize comfortable sound and brightness levels at all performances.

To get everything right, Alexander says every staff member was asked for suggestions. He then led a TNP team to Chicago to tour three new, comparably sized theaters and pick their managers’ brains.

The TNP’s main venue will be named The Kizzie Theater, after a beloved pet of serial philanthropists Jay and Patty Baker. The Kizzie will feature redesigned acoustics for “movie theater-like surround sound” that is more clear — ideal for big musicals, says sound director Bradley Van Houten. “It will definitely set us apart,” he says.

Another new marquee will be The Price Studio – with 100 seats for intimate productions – backed by Henry Price, father of TNP’s notable director of community education and wellness, Craig Price.

Craig Price employs improvisational theater techniques to help 6,500 sensory-challenged students and others every year relax andcommunicate – part of TNP’s mission of therapy for cognitive impairment, grief/loss, anxiety and depression.

Also New:

  • The box office will move into the lobby next to a public café with menus and cocktails tailored to the show of the moment. The lobby will include space for people to reserve for activities such as card games.
  • There will be a public library on the second floor with scripts and other donated theatrical materials.
  • TNP’s 700 plus volunteers–from actors to scenery designers and builders–will be able to park nearby at The Naples Depot and the Central Avenue public library, with shuttle service, thereby saving spaces for patrons, thanks to cooperation by Collier County. And those volunteers will have upgraded entrances and workspaces worthy of their important contributions.
  •  TNP will collaborate with neighboring hotels and restaurants for help with menus and housekeeping.
  • The project will be the first theater in Florida to embody LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. Alexander and Keith are proud that the project’s funding has been raised locally and is spent locally, with David Corban as architect and BUILD as contractor.

Since 1953, TNP has been nomadic – a traveling show from homes, restaurants, school auditoriums and an old movie theater before settling at Sugden, on a converted public street, in 1998.

“We will be serving the community in a myriad of ways,” sums up Alexander, circling back to what matters most to theater audiences: “There won’t be a bad seat in the house – and everything will be very accessible.”

Meg Stepanian, executive director of the 5th Avenue South Business Improvement District, thinks bigger. “This revitalization will enhance the cultural landscape and foster creativity, community engagement, and economic vitality,” she says. “The upgraded facilities will provide a platform for diverse performances, education and community service, further enriching the lives of residents and visitors and 5th Avenue South’s role as a premier destination for arts and culture in our region.”

Meanwhile, Elysia Dawn, executive director of United Arts Collier, senses the excitement represented by the simultaneous arts projects of TNP, Gulfshore Playhouse and Theater in the Garden on Bayshore Drive.

Then the former dancer thinks ahead. “I hope that on the horizon we’ll find a way to provide a home theater for a local professional ballet company,” she says. “That would be not only a dream come true for me but important for our community’s cultural expansion!”

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