Kyle Turoff is sitting at a table inside The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, sharing ideas for arts programming with a theater patron.
Around her, a million things compete for her attention: the wait staff, her twin boys, her parents, her husband, nagging hunger pains.
If Turoff is flustered by any of these distractions, it doesn’t show. She simply continues to conduct business as she always does: with honesty, humor and unflappable focus.
Carole Kleinberg interrupts.
“You gotta get all these people out,” Kleinberg says. “I have a rehearsal to start.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Turoff says, shooing what people remain from the inaugural meeting of the Arts Lover’s League, a support group organized with the purpose of providing outreach between area schools and PLATO, the new non-profit theater company operating out of the Golden Apple. “I’m working on it.”
Kleinberg is PLATO’s associate artistic director. Turoff is its president and artistic director. Together, the women are building a new identity for the 41-year-old dinner theater.
First on the agenda: clearing up confusion about what Turoff refers to as “the separation between church and state.”
Or, in other words: outlining the differences between PLATO and the Golden Apple.
“People are like, ‘Who’s Plato? What’s Plato?’” Turoff says. “The explanation is so long, it’s easy to see why there’s been confusion. Basically, the Golden Apple is no longer producing theater. PLATO produces the theater, and Golden Apple provides the venue. It’s that simple. Kind of.”
PLATO — an acronym that stands for Professional Learning and Theatrical Organization — is a lifeboat for the fledging dinner theater, which, over the course of the last few years, has been crippled by debt, downtown parking shortages and a failed development project in Lakewood Ranch.
Launched late last year in an effort to keep the theater from going under, PLATO is eligible for grant funding and charitable donations that the Golden Apple, as a for-profit company, is not.
“There were people who said for years that the theater should go non-profit,” Turoff says. “It was just something we never really wrapped our brains around. We had followed a certain model for years, and that was just the way it was. We were very insular in that regard, always chasing the dollar in our own little world.”
The theater is insular no more, thanks to several strategic moves that Turoff hopes will keep the venue on its feet.
Last year, to help pay its bills, the Golden Apple sold its Pineapple Avenue building for $1.7 million to a commercial real-estate company with an arrangement to lease the space for several years.
In addition to this transaction, it launched an aggressive $250,000 fundraising campaign; organized PLATO’s board of directors; and hired Kleinberg, the former artistic director of the Banyan Theater Company, to help lead the company.
At the helm of all these changes is Turoff, a fast-talking character actress and the only daughter of Bob and Roberta Turoff — the Broadway lovebirds who in 1971 opened the landmark dinner theater.
“She’s the future of the place,” Kleinberg says. “She’s smart. She’s spirited. She’s got great ideas, and she’s patient. She’s got a huge task ahead of her and a very full plate, but I know she’s up to it. I’ve been around for a long time, so I speak from experience when I say she can make it happen.”
To Turoff, the Golden Apple is more than just a family business. It’s a home.
It’s where she and her older brother, Ben, grew up. It’s where, at age 4, she made her stage debut as Ngana in “South Pacific.”
It’s where, on the nights her mother had a show, she would watch the actresses apply their makeup and fake eyelashes, then, during intermission, fall asleep on a cot in the women’s dressing room.
“I can’t tell you how many times I woke up after the women had come in from their bows,” Turoff says. “I was that comfortable.”
And she’s still that comfortable.
As she makes her way to the front of the house, a babysitter approaches Turoff with two 3-year-old boys clinging to her side.
The boys — Kennedy and Avery, Turoff’s twin sons with husband, Trez Cole, the theater’s technical director — have their mother’s dark hair and big eyes.
When they’re not in school at the Julie Rohr Academy, they’re at the theater in the company of a babysitter.
Already little hams, Turoff recently caught them singing on stage between auditions.
“I have a hard time getting anything done when they’re around,” she says. “Can you blame me? I miss the days when I could hold them and cuddle them. They grow up too fast.”
As the boys amble past, Turoff calls out to whoever is listening: “Please tell my husband to feed the kids.”
When no one responds to the command, she repeats it once more then sighs.
“I have a hard time delegating tasks,” she says, “and letting go of control.”
Admittedly, Turoff was one of the last people in the Golden Apple’s inner circle to agree to PLATO. In all her years of working in show business, she never had to answer to a board of directors or write a grant proposal or seek donations from area businesses and philanthropists.
In all her years of designing posters and playbills, she never had to reach out to advertisers. As a for-profit company, it was never an option.
“There’s been a huge learning curve,” she says. “But it’s all good. It’s reinvigorated all of us, including my mother and father. Things are very hands-on right now. It feels a lot like it did when I was a kid and my parents would get a call from the manager on a duty about a leak in the bathroom. We’re all working harder now than we’ve ever worked before, because this is it. It’s make it or break it, baby.”
IF YOU GO
The PLATO season will include four musicals and three straight plays, beginning with this month’s “Moonlight and Magnolias,” directed by Carole Kleinberg. The play, which stars local actors Chris Caswell, Ryan Fitts and BJ Wilkes, is the true Hollywood story about the creation of the “Gone With the Wind” script. The show runs through July 1, at The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. For tickets, call 366-5454 or visit thegoldenapple.com.