In our newest blog series, we thought it would be fun to take a closer look at some of the many individuals in the local theater scene who contribute to Sarasota’s status as the cultural capital of Florida.
In our inaugural interview, we posed our questions to Berry Ayers, Production Manager at The Players Theatre and one of Sarasota’s essential personalities. He works as a performer, director, choreographer, music director, teacher ... have I missed anything? As director of "Carousel," now playing at the Players Theatre, you can see Berry’s most recent project through Thursday, Jan. 26. But, he might be best known as Beneva Fruitville, hostess of the infamous Drag Queen Bingo. Read on for an intimate look at the man behind the image — from what brought him to Sarasota in the first place to the craziest thing listed under "special skills" on his resume.
What's your latest theatrical project?
I directed and choreographed "Carousel" at The Players Theatre, running through Thursday, Jan. 26. I am musically directing "Beehive" for Manatee Players, opening in February.
What are some of the theaters where you’ve worked?
John Houseman Theatre (New York); Actor’s Playhouse (New York); Celebration Theatre (Los Angeles); Bob Carr Performing Arts Center (Orlando) and Studio Theatre (Sarasota).
If you were to use five words or less to describe yourself, what would they be?
Complicated, busy, eclectic, multifaceted and driven.
When did you know you wanted to be in the performing arts?
At the age of 12, when I saw the musical, "A Chorus Line."
Why the Sarasota area?
My mother lived close to the Sarasota area and was diagnosed with cancer. I left New York to be closer to her; she's in complete remission now.
What has been one of the top experiences of your Sarasota arts career, and why?
Getting to stage the musical, "A Chorus Line" at The Players Theatre was a huge highlight of my career. I hope that some 12-year-old little boy or girl with hope and ambition saw it, loved it and that it affected the rest of their life the way it did mine many years ago.
What do you love about performing in the Sarasota area?
I love the variety of arts organizations with such a diverse arts community.
If there were one thing you’d like to see improved in our arts scene, what would it be?
I would like to see more local performing artists perform regularly at our professional theaters. There seems to be a false notion that talent can only come with a New York address on your resume. I have found more professional artist transplants from New York here than anywhere else I’ve been in the world. There seems to be a disconnect there.
Once cast, how do you prepare for a role?
As an actor, I look at each scene and define where I am coming from, what my intention is and where I am going. I do the same when I direct, but on a larger scale. I take each character’s journey and then look at the story as a whole and define the journey I want the audience to take in those two hours of their lives.
What do you do to warm up before a performance?
I take a little quiet personal time. I focus my energy on what I’m about to do, remind myself of my objectives and go!
Do you have any show superstitions?
Yes! I believe in the “Scottish Play” curse. It’s legit!
What hobbies do you have outside of theater?
I should get some ...
What's something people don’t know about you?
I get my feelings hurt a lot, but I try not to show it.
What would be your ideal day off?
At the beach, with a never-empty cocktail.
What do you listen to when you're driving in the car?
Whatever show I’m working on next. However, recently, I’ve been obsessed with the soundtrack from the new Disney film, “Frozen.”
What's the oddest thing you've listed in the “special skills” section of your resume?
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you during a performance?
When I performed with the L.A. company of Naked Boys Singing, we performed at the L.A. Weekly Awards show (kind of L.A.’s version of the TONYs or OBIEs, where we won Best Musical). Our performance that evening was in the nude, and as choreographed, I had to hold my leg up in an extension. The audience went berserk. The only time I’ve ever truly “stopped a show.” They wouldn’t stop applauding, so I held my leg up in my extension for at least three full minutes. Charlotte Rae, of "Facts Of Life" fame was the host, and she made a comment after we left stage about my ability to spread my legs so well.
If you could have lunch with anyone from theatrical history, who would it be?
Michael Bennett, the creator/director/choreographer of A Chorus Line.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Any artist who remains true to their personal artistic vision.
What is your biggest performance-related phobia?
My zipper being down.
What is your favorite thing about performing?
Becoming a different person for a couple hours.
When the curtain comes down.
Where do you typically go out after a show?
Smokin’ Joes is a favorite; Throb and Barrel 87 in Gulfgate on $1 beer nights.
Are you currently studying?
I take dance classes when I can. Tap and ballet.
Do you have any theatrical goals for next year?
Remain true to my artistic vision for whatever project I’m working on.
If you had unlimited funds, and you ran a theater in Sarasota, what would be your vision?
I love small, off-Broadway type musicals that have real emotion and deal with real issues.
Who is your favorite playwright?
Ken Ludwig and Terrence McNally.
Who is your favorite composer or lyricist?
Jason Robert Brown.
Any idea what you are working on next?
Sarasota Silver Stars: "The Colors of My Life," Players Kids: "Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr." and Beneva Fruitville’s standup comedy.