Live Active Cultures
Seth Kubersky gets a sneak peek at the Abbey, the city's newest community theater space
Published: March 31, 2011
Best of all, this space - expensive tools and all - will be available for rent to nonprofit groups on a sliding-scale fee basis. Small theater companies won't even be forced to pay a union technician to run it, though they will need an operator who has been certified on the complex control boards. While no hard figures are available yet, nonprofits and fledgling organizations will only pay a percentage (perhaps around 25 percent) of their take to book the space, rather than a flat upfront fee, which greatly reduces the artists' financial risk. Even parking, the bane of downtown culture, has been taken care of with valet service offered every night for $5.
This venture is a joint partnership with Wendy Connor, president of True Marketing, and the Florida Theatrical Association (the organization behind Fairwinds Broadway Across America, which brings touring Broadway shows to the Bob Carr), which has been hoping to open a space like this for more than a decade.
The biggest sponsor of the project, though, has been the sour real-estate market, which allowed Florida Theatrical Association to purchase 25,000 square feet across two floors - nearly an entire square city block - for the bargain-basement price of $65 per square foot. It's a welcome happy ending after a trying multi-year search for an appropriate and affordable venue. Legler had looked at the Sanctuary space years before, he says, but "couldn't imagine owning that much space."
The Abbey isn't the first venue catering to low-budget grassroots performers, and Legler is keenly aware of the unfulfilled potential of other performance spaces around downtown (Avalon, formerly home to the Downtown Media Arts Center, and CityArts Factory, which is finally being well-used by SAK Comedy Lab). I still have questions about costs and qualifications for using the space, however, standards haven't been set yet, so interested groups must contact Legler directly. He says he's passionate about the space being accessible to "gypsy" entertainers like the Florida Theatrical Association's own Broadway's Class Act, which struggled to find affordable space. He says he even turned down an "off-Broadway" show interested in a year-long booking because he was afraid it would ruin the "community building."
"We are hoping to be an integral part of the community," he says. "We want to incubate [small performing groups] and build an audience ... so we can grow the next Mad Cow." If he can make good on that promise, the Abbey could do more good for Orlando's cultural community than a dozen DPACs.
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