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Strauss Theater suspends shows, but is still open

July 6, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

BIG ARTS is suspending its original productions at the Strauss Theater for the 2019 season, but the facility will remain open and operational with other activities and classes scheduled.

On July 5, the non-profit island organization announced that it plans to revise the theater's programming in response to "consistent yearly financial losses," as well as to consider improvements to the site. The board of directors had voted to discontinue the theater in its current model.

"We are taking a pause on our in-house productions while we re-evaluate," BIG ARTS Executive Director Lee Ellen Harder said. "The Strauss Theater will not go dark. The venue is not going dark."

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BIG ARTS has suspended its original productions at the Strauss Theater for the 2019 season.

In recent years, the production house has put on four to six original shows per season.

Board President Hyde Tucker explained in a prepared statement that annual increases in the theater's marketing budget and broad local and regional print, promotions and digital outreach implemented since 2014 have not helped to improve ticket sales, nor did revising the season schedule and offerings.

"The average ticket sales have remained the same since 2010 - the year the theater was acquired through a generous grant from the Klug and Boler families," he said.

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The goal of the suspension is to look at the venue and find a workable business model.

"The business that was in that building just wasn't sustainable," Harder said, adding that the process will include collecting feedback from the public and industry experts. "We really want to find out what the community wants and what they will support."

In the fall, BIG ARTS will launch an initiative to gather input. Currently, people can provide suggestions, comments and feedback online at by clicking on the "Contact" tab.

"We will be reaching out to the community all summer and fall, and then move forward with strategic planning," she said. "We're just taking a breather, so that we know what the community wants."

Theater professionals will assist in the planning to create the vision for "theater 2020."

"We are going to get input from all sides," Harder said.

In the meantime, the venue will remain open by hosting Creative Theater Workshop, a children's theater arts program, as well as lectures by two theater arts professionals and a possible theater panel.

She noted that the Creative Theater Workshop has at least three productions planned, so far.

"It's elementary through high school kids," Harder said. "It's a fabulous program."

The last time BIG ARTS partnered with the Creative Theater Workshop was two years ago.

"We're very happy to be able to work with her again," she said of the founder.

In addition, the facility will take on some of the existing programming at BIG ARTS' other site.

"To ease up the strain on our other campus," Harder said.

More activities may be added to the season.

"We are still in the works for planning and booking things for 2019," she said.

Bobby Logue, who has served as artistic director for the Strauss Theater for several years, will remain on staff but in a slightly different role. He was previously a theater employee and dance instructor.

"He's going to manage all of the events going on there," Harder said.

She noted that the theater staff has been reallocated and will remain in their roles.

"We were able to keep all staff," Harder said. "They'll be working between all our locations."

She noted, however, that one recent hire did choose to search for work elsewhere.

"We did have opportunities for everybody," Harder said.

Logue commented via the prepared statement.

"I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities and potential for a dynamic and diversified BIG ARTS theater arts program for all ages," he said. "While change is always difficult, the opportunity to create a sustainable theater program is a wonderful challenge."

According to Harder, BIG ARTS is still open to hosting productions.

"We're open to all ideas and suggestions. We are very committed to keeping theater arts alive on Sanibel," she said. "Theater will still be part of our mission. Theater will be part of our programming."

The BIG ARTS Strauss Theater is at 2200 Periwinkle Way.



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