Carol Pagan signed up to volunteer in 1974 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. She was in her 30s then, living off Fruitville Road and raising three sons east of the interstate.
It was an ambitious move given that she lived 25 miles from the theater — so ambitious, in fact, that Pagan forgot she signed up altogether. Family responsibilities got in the way.
Thirty-five years later, Pagan, now 67 and living in a downtown condominium, has finally assumed a post at the landmark performing arts hall. Season-ticket holders know her as the redhead who runs the souvenir counter during intermission. She sells Van Wezel baubles, T-shirts, mugs and assorted bric-a-brac, including, but not limited to, battery-operated fans, pewter key chains, spoons and beer koozies.
“No matter what we sell, it always has a little purple in it,” says Pagan, who works as a legal assistant at Kimbrough & Koach law firm off Ringling Boulevard.
A classically trained dancer, Pagan is a natural saleswoman for the arts. Earlier this year, she blew through boxes of miniature instruments during the run of “Defying Gravity.”
“The stuff sells,” Pagan says. “Sometimes I’m gone for a week and, when I come back, all the merchandise is gone. You just never know.”
But a run on trinket trombones?
“Yes,” Pagan says. “They were reasonably priced and people like leaving with a little novelty.”
Sales are strong at Pagan’s small, glass kiosk. During intermission, she stands in the lobby, chatting up patrons, complimenting them on their outfits and handbags.
Pagan says watching the audience can be as fun as watching the show, especially when the Sarasota Film Festival is happening. This year, after working the red carpet for photographers, actor Woody Harrelson walked within inches of a blushing Pagan.
“He was dressed pretty casually,” Pagan giggles. “Sneakers, sports coat, that sort of thing, and I was standing there selling the usual stuff. I know when he saw me, he smiled.”
Around the holidays, Pagan sells a lot of tote bags, scarves and ties, usually bedecked in musical notes.
During “The Wizard of Oz,” she saw a lot of women and girls in red Dorothy shoes, and when the ballet is performing, she sees a lot of little girls in tutus.
“The dress is becoming more formal,” Pagan says.
At the height of season, she will work up to five nights a week, often after working an eight-hour shift at the law office.
“The atmosphere here is so nice that the tiredness just goes away,” Pagan says. “It keeps me sleeping well.”
• Funds from the Van Wezel gift shop benefit the organization’s education-outreach programs.
• According to head usher Ann Bergeron, the top-selling item at the hall is a toss-up between purple Teddy bears and miniature musical instruments.
• A volunteer staff of seven to 10 people runs the gift shop during season.
•Good news for Sarasota Ballet patrons: Souvenir shop coordinator Carol Willis is currently looking for trinket pointe shoes to sell.
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