Lee Gundersheimer is making a triumphant career journey home to his native state as he becomes the new artistic director of The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
It’s a Florida return for Lee Gundersheimer and a notable hire for The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
Gundersheimer, a Miami native and a graduate of Florida State University, was named as the new artistic director of The Players on Wednesday, and he’ll bring decades of experience in not only acting and directing but also the business of running a theater.
Gundersheimer helped open two theaters in Manhattan — Avalon Rep and the Century Center for the Performing Arts — and he also served as both a teaching professional and as the Managing Director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota.
“I’m thrilled because it’s a return for me,” Gundersheimer says. “I grew up in Miami, I went to Florida State, and I got my Equity card at a theater in West Palm. It’s nice to come full circle and come back. And I just think there’s probably no better arts city in Florida than Sarasota. It’s just exploding with so many wonderful established arts organizations and new ones."
Gundersheimer will be replacing Jeffery Kin, who ran The Players for 15 seasons and announced last summer that he would leave to helm a new local arts festival.
The Players conducted a national search to find Kin’s replacement and landed on Gundersheimer, who taught at multiple universities and served for a decade as the industry liaison for New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
“We’re talking about a gentleman who, like many newly minted undergrads in theater, he aspired to go and work in New York,” CEO William Skaggs says. “And he did that as an actor and a director. He later became a producer and actually opened and ran a couple off-Broadway theaters over the years. He has experience in academic theater as well, not only through NYU but other universities as well.
“He simply brings that breadth and depth of experiences that will serve us really well. And maybe most importantly, he could’ve chosen to do a few other things. But becoming an artistic director again and working in that arena is something he really desired to do.”
Skaggs says he was caught by surprise when Kin elected to pursue a new career opportunity but that it was important to find someone who could pick up the baton.
“He’s done some great work,” Skaggs says of Gundersheimer’s predecessor. “What I’m really pleased about is that Lee will be able to overlap for a couple weeks with Jeffrey, and that should assist us more in creating a really solid transition.
"It’s always important to not only find the right fit for the organization but have somebody feel that the organization is the right fit for them. We’re pleased for that to be the case.”
One of Gundersheimer's plays, "Pas De Deux," won the Best New American Play Award on Theatre Row. Another one of his productions, "Incommunicado," was produced by Tony award winner Woodie King Jr. and was nominated for four Audelco awards.
Gundersheimer, reached by phone as he drives his life to Sarasota, says he was thrilled to have Kin as a resource during his transition. He expects to be able to bounce ideas and “arm wrestle” Kin about some things, but he’s thrilled to be able to work off a sturdy foundation.
The one adjustment for Gundersheimer, in this case, will be working at a civic theater as opposed to a professional one. But he said that could really be a positive thing overall.
“This is my first time at a civic theater, running it,” he says. “I have worked for many years — probably 30 — directing in community theaters all over the country. While you expect a certain level of expertise, you actually work with new people who are first-time even in a professional theater. You work with some people who are very difficult and not so great to work with at a professional theater. And there’s a plus in working at a civic theater in that you’re working with people who are doing it for the love of it. It’s a much more pure transaction in some ways.”
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