Eleven years ago, she was just about to head back to a government job, and four years ago, he was painting houses and doing some acting on the side. Today, Michelle Bianchi-Pingel and Jeffery Kin work side-by-side as the managing director and artistic director, respectively, of the Players Theatre. The two have been running the theater with a dual management style for the last four years.
“We’re kind of setting an example now across the nation of the dual management style in theater,” says Bianchi-Pingel, “We are co-management. I don’t do anything without him, and he doesn’t do anything without me. I’m the money side, the financial side, and he’s the creative guy!”
The two have a close bond and are proud of what their organization has to offer Sarasota.
“We are producing really good-quality, high-octane theater,” Kin said. “We are an entertainment organization. However, we’re not just another arts organization, we’re a business. We are just like everyone else. Our widgets are our shows.”
The Players Theatre is the oldest performing-arts organization in Sarasota and is the second-oldest in the state. Players Theatre began in 1929 and was run by an all-volunteer staff out at what is now Out-of-Door Academy on Siesta Key. The theater moved to its current location along Tamiami Trail in 1972.
The organization has the well-established Players Kids program and recently blended with Senior Theater to create Sarasota Silver Stars.
The duo does admit that they have been hit by the economy, but the theater will be starting off the 2011-2012 season in the black thanks to two impressive previous seasons as well as some creative marketing. One thing that Bianchi-Pingel believes helped the theater gain some revenue was the introduction of new theater packages such as the Four Pack where theater goers can choose four shows they want to see for a set price. This was a hit with snowbirds.
“We are offering Broadway-type entertainment for $25 (per show), which is unheard of in this age,” says Bianchi-Pingel.
The community theater can put on a variety of shows that may be difficult for some professional theaters due to money constraints. Shows with lots of parts are not difficult to cast because the theater uses local talent who volunteer to be a part of their shows. Even though the actors are volunteers, the talent level remains. The theater’s production of “Tommy” last year impressed so many people that it was condensed, and the show was taken to Venice, Italy, to represent the United States in the International Community Theater Festival.
Bianchi-Pingel and Kin are both excited for the upcoming season as well as the Players Theatre’s future.
“We are going to do great big shows, shows that haven’t been done in the area for ages,” said Kin. “We’re also doing shows we have never done.”
AT A GLANCE
Address: 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Start date: Michelle Bianchi-Pingel became an employee in 2002 after years of volunteering, and Jeffery Kin took on the role of artistic director in 2007.
Number of employees when started: The Players Theatre was an all-volunteer group during the Depression.
Number of employees now: Eight full-time; three part-time contract; and 700 volunteers
Advice to other small business owners: “Look at the-dual management style. That keeps a good check and balance in their organization,” Bianchi-Pingel said.
“Stay relevant. Listen to the changes that are happening around you. Stay current. You’ve got to change. You’ve got to stay active. You’ve got to listen to your audience,” Kin said.
Biggest challenge: “Competition. We have to work really hard to keep up with all the other cultural organizations in town,” Kin said.
Best place for a power lunch: “We spread it out to our four main supporters which are Caragiulos, Broadway Bar, Bijou Cafe and Patrick’s.”
First day on the job: “The first day, this office used to be the ED office, and the first day I dragged the desk out, and we put a sign on it in the lobby ‘FOR SALE,’ because it was very important for me that first day to let the staff know that this was a team atmosphere,” Bianchi-Pingel said. “There’s not Jeffery and me up here and the staff down here. We are out in the trenches with the staff, our desks are out there … it was very important for me and Jeffery to bond with the staff.”
“My first day was also a kids camp day, and it was almost my birthday,” Kin says. “I remember sitting at my desk and the kids were all eating in the lobby, and I went, ‘Please tell me there is another place for these kids to eat!’ because it was so much. Everything’s new, all this new information and then there were 60 kids eating in the lobby. So that’s the one thing I remember … so now my desk is way back in the little corner so I can hibernate.”
If you could have another job for the day, what would it be? “I would be working at Barnes & Noble,” Bianchi-Pingel said. “Sometimes it’s so chaotic and so stressful here that when I leave work, I can call my husband and I can say ‘I’m going for a drink,’ and my drink consists of going to Barnes & Noble, getting a coffee and just walking up and down the aisles just to unwind and relax because it just seems so no-stress. So, to me, a perfect job for me would be working in that no-stress environment, but this really is my perfect job.”
“ I would say probably a professional napper,” Kin said. “Finding the best place in my house to take a nap … I could nap on the beach, I could nap at my house … I would find the best places to nap and then I would blog about it and then have my own Travel Channel show called ‘Dr. Nap ... Kin.”
Who is your business hero/inspiration? “We learn a lot from all the people in the area who do theater,” Kin said. “I listen to them. I work with them. I talk to them. Bob Turoff, Richard Hopkins, Michael Edwards ... These people, they know what they are doing.”
“Mentor-wise, I would have to say it’s Dr. Louise Stinespring,” Bianchi-Pingel said. “She is one of our board members. She just has this way about her that kind of talks me off the ledge whether it’s business-related or personal. She makes me see a situation in such a different perspective that actually makes me stop and view it differently.”
What is one advantage of having your business in Sarasota? “Having great competition forces you to bare all and go big or go home,” Kin said.
“It is a great tourist destination, so that is an advantage for us,” Bianchi-Pingel said. “We have to put on great work to appease the tourists who are coming from New York and have high expectations.”
Contact Rachel S. O'Hara at [email protected].