A little-known performing-arts venue has cropped up in the Rosemary District.
There’s no marquee, no concession stand, no ushers and no real stage to speak of. The shows aren’t heavily advertised, and the seating is neither assigned nor organized in tidy rows.
The line between actors and audience is so blurred that performers often sit among the crowd undetected until it’s their turn to rise and deliver a line.
Sometimes a show is staged in a living room, sometimes a bedroom. The experience is so intimate and so comfortable that the owner of the venue is in no hurry to boost ticket sales. Too many people would kill the cozy atmosphere.
The venue is Home Resource, a contemporary furniture store on Central Avenue that for four years has served as an underground playhouse for small theater companies, improv troupes, budding rock bands, playwrights, opera singers and the occasional psychic healer.
Championed by the store’s owner, Michael Bush, the concept was inspired by the fringe theater shows Bush and his wife, Kathy, used to attend when they lived in London.
“In London there was so much theater,” Bush says. “You had your West End shows, which are effectively your Broadway shows. You had your Off-West End shows and then you had fringe theater. Fringe is like off-Off Broadway. This was where we had some of our most memorable experiences.”
When Bush, a former Exxon Mobil executive, purchased Home Resource eight years ago, the business was struggling to stay afloat.
When a client suggested he use his store to host local theater, Bush decided to run with the idea, using London’s fringe concept as his model.
The store now hosts about eight shows a year.
In the evening after the store closes, Bush will pick a showroom set that jives with a particular show. He’ll rearrange furniture to accommodate an audience, re-hang artwork, lighting, switch out pillows, blankets and other decor.
“People love to have a chance to sit on the furniture,” Bush says. “As an attendee, it puts you in a different environment. You sit on a sofa with your glass of wine and slowly your guard begins to drop.”
It was never intended to be a marketing ploy.
In fact, Bush can’t think of one person who’s seen a show at Home Resource only to return later to purchase a piece of furniture.
“Many of the people who come in here don’t have taste in contemporary furniture,” he says. “There’s never been a direct connection between the shows and (furniture) sales. It’s not even about Home Resource. It’s about coming into our home and spending an evening with us.”
An avid supporter of Sarasota’s arts organizations, Bush has served on the boards of the Sarasota Film Festival, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and Sarasota Season of Sculpture. He says he sees the store’s nighttime entertainment as an extension of that support.
Local performers love the venue because it’s intimate, affordable and not afraid to present cutting-edge material. Not to mention ticket sales go directly to the performers.
“We’ve never had any furniture broken or spilled on,” Bush says. “It helps that we only serve white wine.”
Naturally, since turning his sales floor over to actors, the 57-year-old business owner has indulged his inner ham.
It happened only once –– during the performance of Tennessee Williams’ one-act play, “The Pink Bedroom.”
Bush decided to make a cameo as a lothario dressed in red silk boxer shorts.
“Nobody expected me to run out in my underwear,” Bush says. “It was done for shock value, but my wife wasn’t pleased. She said, ‘That’s it. No more acting.’ Now it’s up to my understudy.”
IF YOU GO
“My Unspoken Confessions: Gala Dali Declines to Explain Herself,” a one-woman show starring Roxanne Fay, returns to Home Resource for an encore performance at 7 p.m. Dec. 12, in the showroom. The store is located at 741 Central Ave. Tickets are $10. To make a reservation, call 366-6690 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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