Sarasota is a town with no shortage of theater. Offerings abound in the downtown area, from the Asolo Repertory Theatre, including the repertory company and FSU conservatory, to the Florida Studio Theatre. There’s also the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, the summer seasonal Banyan Theater Co. and the dozens of high school and middle school theater programs across the county.
But perched among the performance venues lining North Tamiami Trail resides the Players Theatre, one of Sarasota’s oldest community theaters. The Players Theatre’s community roots reach back more than seven decades. Its artistic collaboration with the theatrically inclined in the Sarasota area is what cements its identity within the sea of professional and amateur theater opportunities.
One of the Players’ avenues for new dramatic material is The Players Follies Play Reading Festival. Held two times a year, the upcoming festival Nov. 22-23 is a celebration of two of theater’s most satisfying things: new plays and new actors.
“I’ve never been in a city before that has so much creative arts going on,” says Cinda Goeken, organizer of the festival, stage manager and director for the Players Follies. “And as we grow and develop in the theater, I feel stimulated by encouraging local playwrights, and these scripts are the epitome of using your imagination.”
And as for the performers in the Players Follies, the community theater’s resident troupe for those 55 years old and older, the play reading festival is an opportunity to act and emote without the rigors of a full production. The new short plays offer the senior actors an opportunity to create characters in a stationary “readers’ theater” style. Donned in all black and standing/sitting behind music stands with the plays sprawled out before them, the Players Follies actors dive into the new material at a comfortable place in the cozy confines of the Players Theatre’s cabaret space.
Goeken, a lifelong citizen of the theatrical arts, studied theater in college and has resided in Sarasota for more than 30 years. It wasn’t until current Players Artistic Director Jeffery Kin began his tenure in 2007 that Goeken signed up full time to contribute her talents and passion to the theater and the Players Follies.
“I’ve been a stage manager, an acting teacher, performer, director, coordinator and coach,” says Goeken. “You name it, and I’ve been happy doing it.”
Goeken’s multitalented nature helps her lead the Players Follies, a seasoned company that at the beginning was not used to the Players Theatre’s professional pace and standards. But, thanks to Goeken’s knowledge, passion and skill set, the Players Follies have adapted to each new work given to them with the regiment of any troupe in town with numerous rehearsals, meetings and acting classes.
The Players Follies Play Reading Festival is not a platform for any assumed kitschy or campy material often incorrectly connected with senior theater. The readings are a reflection of mature local playwrights’ observations composed from slices of their lives. “Several of the plays for the festival are sexually suggestive, mature and earthy,” says Goeken. “Whether they’re dramas or comedies, most of the plays discuss mature material that are topical for adults of any age.”
IF YOU GO
The Players Follies Play Reading Festival
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov 22 and 2 p.m. Nov. 23
Where: The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail
Info: Call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org.