Jeffery Kin leaving Players Centre after 15 years to lead new arts festival

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Jeffery Kin is the artistic director of the Players Centre for Performing Arts.

After 15 years of leading the Players Centre for Performing Arts through a period of constant change, including the name, Producing Artistic Director Jeffery Kin will step down next spring to become general director of a proposed new Sarasota arts festival that could get underway by 2024.

Kin, an actor, director and playwright who had been working in Sarasota theaters for more than a decade, was hired in 2007 after a national search.

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At the time of his hiring, board president Brenda Terris described Kin as a “bridge-builder. He finds a win for everybody in things. He does it with a smile.”

He will need those skills to coordinate the dozens of arts organizations that could be involved in the proposed arts festival. Backers, led by developer Mark Kauffman, hope to create an event that could develop into Sarasota’s version of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Kin’s resignation comes as the Players Centre is relaunching efforts to raise funds to build a planned new theater complex in the Waterside development of Lakewood Ranch, where groundbreaking is expected in 2023. It also comes less than two months before the Players Centre launches performances for its 92nd season in its temporary home in a former Banana Republic store in the Crossings at Siesta Key shopping mall.

The company, Sarasota’s oldest performing arts organization, sold its old theater building on U.S. 41 near downtown Sarasota in 2018 for $9.5 million. 

Kin said that on his 15th anniversary with the Players on July 3, two days before his 57th birthday, “I started asking myself what’s next. What’s my next project? I was looking for something that could align with some of the other things I enjoy doing. I was ready for a change, ready for a challenge.”

Mark Kauffman, a prominent doctor-turned developer and property owner who created the Hollywood 11 movie theater on Main Street, Courthouse Centre on Ringling Boulevard and numerous medical buildings, recruited Kin to join his proposal for the arts festival.

At an event in 2016, Artistic Director Jeffery Kin announced a name change for The Players Theatre to the Players Centre for Performing Arts, along with plans to move the community theater to Lakewood Ranch.

“Jeffrey knows more about Sarasota arts than anybody,” Kauffman said.

The festival will initially operate under the umbrella of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County until it can establish its own 501(c)3 non-profit status. It has received a $100,000 commitment for the initial development of the concept from the Downtown Improvement District.

Kin plans to continue working with the theater over the next eight months to oversee productions and ease a transition to his successor, while also initiating conversations with other arts groups for the festival.

CEO William Skaggs, who joined the theater last fall as the staff was packing up the old building, said that even though he has worked with Kin for less than a year, “You can imagine how invaluable he has been to me and the Players. He has been an important part of the process for me getting to know more about the Players and its history and what he saw for its future. I’m glad that if he’s leaving that it’s going to be something right here in Sarasota and something that will still allow us to collaborate with him going forward.”

Donna DeFant, the theater’s board president, who has known Kin since they both worked together at Theatre Works in Sarasota in the early 1990s, said she has enjoyed watching Kin “grow into this position from being an actor, director, choreographer, stage manager, playwright and sometime TV host. It’s been a great journey for him and for the Players.”

Jeffery Kin, right, starred with Berry Ayers in two productions of “Lend Me a Tenor” at The Players Centre.

“He has been doing this for a long time and he wanted something that was going to stretch him in his career to a new challenge,” she said. “And he will still be very involved with all the arts groups, especially the Players.”

DeFant also expects him to continue his involvement with the theater’s annual summer New Play Reading Festival, which marked its 20th year this month.

She said the theater has begun a “quiet search” for a new artistic director, “and if we don’t find what we’re looking for, we’ll do a more serious search after the holidays. We want a smooth transition for someone to shadow Jeffery and see how amazing he is and how many hats he wears.”

Kin’s upbeat nature endeared him to audiences and performers at the community theater. During his tenure, he expanded the scope of the productions and turned a rehearsal room into Backstage at the Players, a small performance space that presented intimate productions for up to 50 patrons.

“I have loved my job, even with all the challenges, but it is time for a change,” he said.

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