The Players Centre for the Performing Arts puts dramas on stage. Offstage, it tries to avoid drama. These days, that’s no mean feat.
Over the next two years, The Players Centre is gearing up for a move to a new theater in Lakewood Ranch. Making it a smooth move is about as easy as herding cats. Fortunately, the community theater recently hired Morgan Gerhart as its first advancement director.
Metaphorically speaking, Gerhart is good at herding cats. She comes from a stellar career raising funds and awareness for Girls Inc., Goodwill Manasota and other nonprofit organizations. Before that, she shined in the hospitality industry. We could keep looking backwards, but Gerhart prefers to look ahead. She did just that in the following interview.
How did you get involved with The Players Centre?
I met Jeffery Kin a few years back, and he got me hooked. Before I knew it, I was coming to shows at The Players Centre. Jeffery also gave me an inside glimpse of the educational programs. I remember the day he told me about the Building Better Grownups scholarships. “We don’t turn any students away because of an inability to pay,” he said. That really touched my heart. It’s everything I love about community theater.
Please expand on that. Why do you love community theater?
I love it because I know how life-changing it can be. A community theater like The Players is often the only place where passionate, talented young people can come on stage and perform. Or continue their performing arts training, for that matter. Think about all the amazing students in the performing arts programs at Booker VPA, Pine View, and other high schools in our community. Where else can they go after they graduate? Where else can they hone their craft? Community theater is often their only possible path to equity membership.
Without that rung on the theatrical ladder, there’s no way up.
Do you speak from your own experience?
Absolutely. Community theater was a huge part of my childhood growing up in Connecticut and New Jersey. From kindergarten through college, I took classes and performed in everything from ballet, to music, to singing, to dancing, at various small town theaters. I also studied theatrical arts in New York. I definitely wanted to pursue a performing arts career. But my mother said, “Get a degree first.”
Moms are like that. I assume you took her advice?
Yes, I did. I was one of the first American graduates at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I came away with a Master of Arts degree in history and literature. But when I returned to the United States, I kind of fell into the hospitality industry. Now I’m thrilled to come back to my first love.
Your position at The Players Centre didn’t exist before you took it.
No. It’s brand new — and that’s what’s so exciting.
Pardon the obvious question, but what does an advancement director do?
It’s a good question. The answer is anything that advances the mission of your organization. At The Players, I have three key responsibilities. That includes fundraising, obviously. We’ve never had a dedicated position for fundraising or developing donor relationships, so it’s still very new. I also do community outreach, which is basically spreading the word about The Players. We’ve been here for 90 years, and it’s amazing how many people still don’t know who we are. I also do a little marketing, but not too much, because we have a wonderful marketing team. We work together to get the stories and messages out.
You’ve stepped into your new role in a time of transition.
That’s true. I keep one eye on The Players Centre right now, and another eye on The Players Centre in the future. They’re two very different things!
Is everyone at The Players Centre on board with the move to Lakewood Ranch?
Absolutely. We are definitely all on board.
Because we know it’s our next logical step. That’s true for a combination of practical and artistic reasons. We’ve been in our current theater since 1974. The performing arts world has changed so very much since then. We want to do more creatively — but we need a 21st century theater to do it.
So … Staying where you are is kind of like driving around in an old clunker?
Exactly. We’ve outgrown this building — and the technology inside. Our old space is holding us back. We’re all looking forward to new opportunities, new toys, new audiences and the new programming that will open up for us with a new space.
What should readers know about The Players Centre?
We haven’t moved from our current location on U.S. 41. And we’ll be staying here for the next two years. Secondly ... we’re just moving six miles east. It’s only a short drive. Thanks to our new, state-of-the-art theater, we’ll reach more people than ever.