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Arts & Culture

DPAC's dramatic pause

Performing arts center's public rift with local theater producer calls its mission into question

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

"We got 100 percent of the shows we wanted," says Florida Theatrical Association president Ron Legler, on the phone from the APAP Global Performing Arts Marketplace and Conference, the mid-January theatrical-presenting industry confab in NYC for producers and presenters looking to book performances in their cities. "Doesn't leave much for DPAC."

For the past 24 years, Florida Theatrical Association has been bringing touring Broadway shows to the stage in Orlando in national partnership with Broadway Across America, an organization that presents and produces live Broadway shows in cities across the nation. Florida Theatrical has staged everything from Wicked to Mary Poppins to West Side Story at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, keeping the aging venue owned by the city financially viable by reliably filling its squeaky seats. But Legler recently learned that he and Florida Theatrical might soon have some competition from another local arts organization – one that was supposed to be an ally. It was Legler's hope that Florida Theatrical Association would be presenting its Broadway shows at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the looming (and ever-changing) $500 million downtown boondoggle that claims that its goal is to support local arts organizations by giving them a superior performance space in which to present. But apparently, for Legler, that wasn't to be – instead, he went from potential DPAC collaborator to competitor in just one day.

On Dec. 18, DPAC announced that it would present its own Broadway performances when it opens next year, a move that, at least on the surface, seemed to catch Legler and his many local supporters off guard. Though DPAC president Kathy Ramsberger made it clear to the Orlando Weekly three years ago ["Keeping up appearances," March 24, 2010] that self-presenting was likely and that Legler's organization was just "a choice," most thought the fledgling arts center would honor the relationship that the city had forged with FTA, which helped keep the Bob Carr profitable for a quarter of a century. The new Dr. Phillips Center, after all, is a largely taxpayer-funded proposition, one that will be owned – at least as a building – by the city.

"DPAC's strategy to self-present Broadway is short-sighted," Legler wrote in an open letter to the community and municipal leaders on Jan. 7. "By taking on so much of the risk without a partner, they are not only putting the public tax dollars invested in the project at risk but jeopardizing the center's ability to achieve long-term financial stability."

DPAC's plan is reflective of other aspirational strategies used by the organization to promote its partially philanthropic endeavor during the last seven years, and it calls into question (once again) the viability of the center, which has seen its original mission – to "provide a venue for the performances of the Orlando Philharmonic, Orlando Ballet, Orlando Opera, Festival of Orchestras and Broadway performances in Orlando (or any of their successors)" – pared down to something almost unrecognizable. Two of the organizations that are named in that mission statement have folded, and the two that are left don't know where they fit into the equation anymore. As a result, DPAC – once the publicly lauded jewel in the crown of the $1.1 billion venues deal in 2007 – is starting to look more like just another questionable roadhouse for high-priced touring productions and concerts.

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