Asolo Rep breaks ground for expanded theater production facilities

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
A rendering of the planned expansion of the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Koski Production Center. The theater broke ground Tuesday on a new rehearsal hall building (center right), which will connect two empty warehouse spaces. The theater’s existing scenic design studios are in the building on the left on the expanded campus.

With an eye toward the future after a year of alternative programming and limited box office revenues, Asolo Repertory Theatre broke ground Tuesday morning on the first phase of major expansion and renovation of its production facilities. 

The event also marked the public launch of the theater’s $21 million Staging Our Future capital campaign. Development Director Benjamin Luczak said $11 million already has been raised.

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The expansion of the Robert and Beverly Koski Center, which currently houses Asolo Scenic Studios, a rehearsal space and prop and costume storage, will begin with the creation of a $6 million, two-story “super rehearsal hall” building. More than $5.1 million already has been raised for the structure.

The new facility will be large enough to allow actors to rehearse on actual sets before productions move into the theater less than two miles away. The building also will include storage facilities, offices, audio/video recording studios, a catering kitchen for events when rehearsals are not being held and a physical therapy room.

Later phases will transform two existing warehouse spaces on the site for new costume and prop shops and other amenities that will all be connected. The completed project also will host expanded classes for students and adults.

Asolo Rep Managing Director Linda DiGabriele, left, and Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards speak to guests at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The rehearsal hall building should be ready in time for the 2022-23 season, said Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards.

“What an amazing day this is,” Edwards said Tuesday morning, moments before major donors grabbed golden shovels for a ceremonial turning of the dirt.

In addition to providing space for Asolo Rep creative teams to meet, design and build new productions, leaders expect it will attract commercial producers. Like many other regional theaters, Asolo Rep has partnered with outside producers on new musicals, including “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Josephine” and “Beatsville.”

“By 22-23, we’re going to be ready to come roaring back,” Edwards said in an earlier interview before Tuesday’s ceremony. “We will be competitive with the very best production facilities out there. The fact that we can do this right next to our current production facility and have this whole campus is an incredible deal of efficiency.”

Luczak called the new facility “a game changer.” 

An artist’s rendering of the new Asolo Rep rehearsal studio that will be built on its expanded production facility campus just north of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, about two miles from the theater.

The fundraising campaign, which has been quietly underway for more than two years, dates back more than a decade to a major gift from Beverly Koski and her late husband, Robert (co-founder of Sun Hydraulics), that allowed the theater to buy the land for the current production center, which opened in 2012. Beverly Koski added another gift of $3.5 million, most of which was earmarked to buy the property to the east of the current facility.

Major gifts also were received from Warren Coville and his late wife, Margot, who joined with the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation in issuing million-dollar matching challenges. In January, Beverly Koski and Warren Coville launched another $1.5 million challenge that led to the current funding level to allow construction to begin.

Asolo Rep donors Beverly Koski, left, and Warren Coville, right, try to stay out of the direct sunlight during the groundbreaking ceremony.

Ann Charters, who with Margaret Wise is leading the Staging Our Future fundraising campaign, said the board of directors was unanimous in its desire to move forward with the project during the pandemic.

“We believe we have something very unique in Sarasota,” she said. “Producers will want to work in this state-of-the-art facility and they will find we are only a short plane ride from Broadway.” 

Luczak, who joined Asolo Rep in January 2020 just weeks before performances were shut down, said about 60 donors contributed more than half of what will be needed for the project during the “quiet phase” of the campaign. He said $5 million of the $21 million total will be earmarked for an endowment. “We anticipate there are a lot of people who will want to participate in this project and we look forward to engaging with them.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Edwards said the theater moved forward during the 2009 recession with buying the property for the current production facilities and 13 apartments that house visiting artists.

“Asolo Rep knows how to leverage a crisis,” he said.

After productions were shut down by the pandemic in March 2020, Asolo Rep built the outdoor Terrace Stage on the front steps of its home in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. It has presented five musicals and concerts since December and has gained national attention for being one of the few regional theaters to safely produce shows.

Beverly Koski has arranged to have an office in the new facility named for Vic Meyrich, the production manager and operations director, who has worked for Asolo Rep for more than 51 years.

Jay Handelman, arts editor and theater critic, has been an editor and writer at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune since 1984. Read more of his arts and entertainment stories. And please support local journalism by subscribing to the Herald-Tribune.