Ben Turoff would like you to know one thing before this story goes any further: He doesn’t work for a retirement community. He works for a “life-fulfilling community.”
Surely Turoff is just towing the company line.
The 47-year-old theater veteran and son of Golden Apple Dinner Theatre founders Roberta and Bob Turoff doesn’t just work at any retirement community, he works at The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch — a well-manicured, 90-acre, retirement community nestled behind a gated entrance on a quiet dead-end stretch of Palmer Ranch Parkway.
Yet, when Turoff describes the Glenridge as “life-fulfilling” — a tagline used by the community to describe its university-style academy programs — you believe him.
He’s the kind of tenderhearted person you trust right off the bat, a teddy bear with affection for his co-workers and, most notably, his theatergoers.
“I’m a people-person first and foremost,” Turoff says, settling into a couch in the Glenridge Performing Arts Center lobby. “I love getting people excited and involved.”
It’s lunchtime, and Glenridge residents are milling in and out of the café attached to the theater lobby where Turoff, manager of the Glenridge Performing Arts Center since 2006, cheerfully acknowledges everyone who crosses his path.
In an hour, he greets a dozen people by name.
“I’m at almost every show,” Turoff says. “Afterward, I meet with the patrons to ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they want more of, less of, that kind of thing.”
What the patrons seem to love the most right now are comedic plays, hence the theater’s season-opener, “Send Me No Flowers,” the Norman Barasch/Carroll Moore comedy inspired by Molière’s “The Imaginary Invalid.”
Prior to his arrival, the 250-seat theater hosted mostly classical music concerts and a handful of plays by the Glenridge Players, a community theater troupe run by Glenridge residents.
“The professional performances were almost completely classical music,” Turoff says. “Artistically, they were successful, but no one knew of the place. Thirty people would come to a show.”
Then Turoff, a former sound and light technician at Disney World, came on board.
He expanded the theater’s programming to include jazz and pop concerts, straight plays, comedies and theatrical presentations, which he refers to as “edutainment” because of the lectures that follow each performance.
The first play he staged at GPAC drew 1,000 people to the theater over the course of its five-day run.
“Ben’s talented and he’s been in the business all his life,” says Glenridge resident Richard Schranz. “He’s made the plate here much fuller, plus he’s a warm and fuzzy guy.”
Turoff and the “Send Me No Flowers” cast have spent the last few weeks filming dream sequences for the play at various off-site locations. Rather than act out the sequences on stage, Turoff will project them on a movie screen during the show.
“Plays are accessible,” says Turoff, who performed this summer in The Golden Apple’s “The Drowsy Chaperone.” “Sarasota has an abundance of classical offerings, and The Players was doing mainly musicals, which meant there was a niche to fill and a lot of excellent actors in town who couldn’t get work.
Our plays allow you to get up close and personal with the cast. It’s a kind of down-home, folksy attitude.”
Just 8 years old when his parents opened the Golden Apple in 1971, Turoff’s most beloved musical remains the first show he was ever in at the dinner theater — “George M!,” a Tony Award-winning musical based on the life of George M. Cohan, a Broadway composer and entertainer famous for penning “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Give My Regards to Broadway,” among others.
“George grew up in vaudeville performing with his parents,” Turoff says. “It connects with me for obvious reasons. It was fortuitous that it was my first show at the Apple. It nicely wraps up theater and family, which are two of my biggest concerns in life.”
Turoff doesn’t miss working downtown.
He says his schedule is far less relentless at GPAC than it was at the Golden Apple, where, for 15 years, Turoff, like much of his family, filled in wherever needed.
“It was eight shows a week, six days a week there,” Turoff says. “I was the fill-in guy; the cook, the actor, the toilet-cleaner … ”
He lives near Phillippi Creek. His children — 15-year-old Elly and 9-year-old Nathan — attend Pine View School in Osprey.
GPAC is a comfortable 12 miles south of a city Turoff woefully feels caters to high-rise condominium developments and part-time residents.
“I love the atmosphere here,” Turoff says. “It feels like I’m on a college campus again. All the hustle and bustle of what’s going on. It’s like I’m back at the student union. Instead of being surrounded by 18-year-old-olds, I’m around students that are just a bit older.”
IF YOU GO
“Send Me No Flowers” is up through Oct. 23, at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center. For more information, call 552-5325 or visit www.gpactix.com.