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Sarasota Players Centre CEO resigns

Michelle Bianchi has been the driving force behind a $30 million theater complex in Lakewood Ranch.

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Michelle Bianchi, the Players Centre for Performing Arts CEO and Managing Director, resigned Wednesday night at a contentious board meeting in Sarasota.

Bianchi said Thursday morning she was not happy with the direction of the group, which has planned a $30 million theater complex for the new Waterside Place, the hub of Lakewood Ranch's extension into Sarasota County.

After starting at The Players as a volunteer 17 years ago, Bianchi rose to CEO and managing director in 2008. In 2015, she proposed the idea to build a new theater complex in Lakewood Ranch.

On a statement on Facebook, Bianchi noted, "It has been exciting to watch that project start to come to fruition, to personally negotiate the sale of the current theater property and to also personally secure our first $1 million gift. I am hopeful the board of trustees will continue my vision to change a community and continue the mission of such an iconic theater well into the future."

Bianchi said Thursday morning she didn't want to say anything to take away from The Players' mission, but noted "the current direction is not what I signed on for and it has to be fun to go to work."

She said she already had a "succession plan" in place and added The Players has personnel "who know everything I do."

Board chair Donna DeFant will take over Bianchi's duties until a replacement is named.

"There is no change in our direction or our mission," DeFant said. "Yes, we are going to miss Michelle, but we are going to go forward with our plans (for the theater complex in Lakewood Ranch) even though we have some pretty big shoes to fill. I am confident we have the right people to do that."

DeFant had no comment about the possibility of further resignations from the 12-person board.

Bianchi, who received the Arts Leadership Award for Arts Management from the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota in 2016, said she was going to take some time off to visit family and consider her next career step.



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