Summerfield couple lead the fundraising campaign for the proposed theater complex at Waterside Place
For Summerfield's John Holz, it was an interesting introduction to live theater.
He was 17, and at the time, his interests were dominated by his love of drawing muscle cars. The only shows in his life were all about horsepower.
But then his church, St. Peter's of Slinger, Wisc., held a live presentation of "Passion Play," depicting Jesus Christ's trial, suffering and death.
Holz didn't think of himself as much of an actor, even though he accepted a small part as one of the narrators. Behind the scenes, though, was different.
"I couldn't act, but we built the stage set," he said. "Everything was black because we wanted it to disappear."
At the time, Holz might not have appreciated that first live performance would have interesting repercussions. But he did think back to it years down the line.
"Some of it stayed with me," he said. "I appreciated all that went into putting something on for an audience."
That appreciation for live theater has grown immensely and now Holz and his wife, Tippy, have accepted the role as co-chairs for the Center Stage Campaign for the Players Centre for the Performing Arts.
The fundraising campaign is supporting the Players' drive to build a $30 million theater in the new Waterside Place in Lakewood Ranch.
"It was so exciting, we thought about how we could be a part of it," Tippy Holz said. "It's going to be amazing in Waterside. It's going to sell itself."
Morgan Gerhart, the Players' advancement director, loved the passion shared by Tippy and John Holz and she offered them the job as co-chair.
"We took the weekend to think about it," Tippy Holz said. "It was a two-year commitment, and I knew I would have to come out of my shell."
Eventually, they said yes.
"We've always talked up the Players," Tippy Holz said. "Now it's talking up the Players on steroids. We are asking for support for what we believe in. It's going to be a great addition to our wonderful community."
John Holz, who still works for Plunkett Raysich Architects, said he never needed any time to accept Gerhart's request. "They will be building a community around this theater," he said. "We are the cheerleaders and we are going to live and breathe it."
Isn't overwhelming to be in charge of a campaign that hopes to raise more than $20 million for the new theater (more than $10 million is in the bank from the sale of the Players' Sarasota theater and other fundraising)?
"I was a United Way coordinator, so I am not afraid of that," John Holz said.
Like her husband, Tippy Holz had few visits to live theater growing up.
"I grew up a figure skater," Tippy Holz said. "I performed at local ice shows regularly and I was very competitive. It was a way of life."
Her mother, Linda Yancey, tried to make the arts part of her children's life in Kenosha, Wisc., so she took Tippy to "The King and I" with actor Yul Brynner in Chicago when she was 10.
"It was actually my first (live theater performance)," Tippy Holz said. "I could relate to them because they were on stage and I skated in front of people. But there, they were with other people. I liked watching that dynamic because I was always out there by myself."
She went back to her skating, though, and didn't attended another live theater performance for years.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Tippy (her maiden name was Gurgol) and a girlfriend found a live theater that was only a short bus ride from the university. Along with further developing a love of the arts, she met her husband, who also was a student at the university.
They were married in 1994 and their love of arts took off with John's career as an architect. He began working for Plunkett Raysich Architects in Milwaukee in 2001 and the managing partner, James Plunkett, was a huge supporter of the arts. He supplied some of his employees with tickets, including Tippy and John.
Over the years, the couple started taking their children — Jake, now 19; and Noah, 16 — to theater.
"I wanted to continue what my mom did with me," Tippy Holz said. "We went to New York and saw 'Wicked' three years ago on Broadway."
Eventually, they fell in love with community theater.
"The benefit of community theater is that they aren't so polished," Tippy Holz said. "Sometimes when you are watching high-level performers, it's like watching TV. We see people in community theater who are passionate about something. We can feel it and it is improvisational, and it's more engaging."
John had other reasons for loving community theater.
"You can't wait to see these people you care about," he said. "They are people in our neighborhood. One might be your accountant, some are on the way to being professional actors. And they do it out of pure love."
The husband and wife, who are both 49, moved to Lakewood Ranch seven years ago and were a little disappointed they couldn't live nearer all the theaters Sarasota had to offer. Because of John's job as an architect, they needed to live close to Interstate 75.
However, now the arts are coming to Lakewood Ranch.
"Sarasota was a strong cultural environment and we wanted to be a part of it," Tippy Holz said. "But now we have the Players coming to Lakewood Ranch. I can't tell you how excited we are."
Actually, Tippy Holz will be telling everyone how excited she is, even if it takes her out of her comfort zone.
"Morgan (Gerhart) says, 'Don't stress out. You will be the face of the campaign.'"