As Our Town editor, I truly believe I get the best email. It comes from readers, part-time and permanent residents, people on the verge of becoming residents plus all sorts of items relating to travel, new books, new movies, art shows and such that are coming to Venice as well as those in surrounding communities.
When someone in Venice is being honored for something, I am among the first to learn about it. I have lost track of all those honorees over the years, especially those in the arts world.
Actors I have gotten to know while reviewing the area’s theaters have earned some prestigious awards, been tapped for a special show on tour or out of town at some major theater.
I have seen world premiers of shows destined for Broadway and I have seen local children grow up at Venice Theatre and the Players and Westcoast Black Theatre and make it to Broadway or Hollywood or Orlando but to actual careers in entertainment. Some might never be super stars but they will always be employed in their chosen field and that is pretty awesome for anyone.
There are similar stories at Venice Art Center which has had top-notch instructors since its earliest days and its own share of student success stories.
My mother took classes years ago (circa 1966 and later) from the late Tatiana McKinney whose work was in collections in such places as Washington DC and the Vatican.
In the ensuing years, the VAC reputation has grown even more. Venice resident artists such as Mary Erickson, Hodges Soileau and Bill Farnsworth have presented workshops there while developing national reputations for their work.
There are so many more but I mention these three because of a recent email I received from Hodges.
The email reminded me of a press trip I was on years ago to Franklin County. I was one of about 15 writers from Florida as well as out of state, selected to check out Franklin County with an eye to generating stories about that area as a destination for readers of the Gondolier.
Our readers have always been serious travelers, so much so that for years this paper actually had a full-blown travel section in every Saturday edition.
Off I went to Franklin County and, as I have in places literally all over the globe, I ran into someone from Venice — artist Mary Erickson whose fame has led her to have works in galleries from Florida to Maine.
My first night there, our group was taken to a reception in connection with an art show going on in town.
As I headed across the street to the event, I spied someone who looked just like Mary Erickson. I was right.
Her work was not only being featured but she had been contracted to supply both originals and prints of her wildlife art to adorn the public spaces as well as the guest rooms in the town’s major hotel.
But on this trip I scored a trifecta. In addition to Mary, two other prominent Venice artists were there — Bill Fransworth and Hodges Soileau.
The next morning the three were heading out to some beach-side location to do some plein air painting and I was invited to go along. I am not a morning person but they were going at dawn and while we travel writers were fully booked from breakfast at 8 a.m. til late night while there, I could go at dawn. Sleep is highly over-rated anyway.
Besides, I was going to return to the Gondolier with a story about three Venice artists painting in Franklin County. It was amazing to see what they could do in that short time while the sun was rising. I took many photos and made all sorts of notes, enjoyed breakfast with them and rejoined my group by 9 a.m. That experience remains one of my favorites as a journalist.
What jogged my memory was a recent email from Hodges, who had another of his wonderful paintings accepted in a national show. What was special about this show is that it is nearby in Punta Gorda at the Visual Arts Center, 201 Maud St., Punta Gorda. The show is the Biennial National Exhibition, scheduled for Feb. 7-March 25.
The painting is titled “Waiting on the Ferry.” A photo accompanies this article. For more about the show, visit: visualartcenter.org/pages/national-art-exhibition-nae or call 941-639-8810.
Sarasota County is the cultural capital of Florida. I have been saying that for years and Hodges is just more proof.
Performing artists and all the area venues where they can shine, is simply more proof.
Our no longer “Little” theater in Venice is a case in point. Its fall production of :”Mamma Mia” was a sell-out but also possibly the longest running show in the theater’s history.
There were many disappointed people who would have enjoyed that show but were late to the box office. Currently running on the main stage is “Menopause the Musical.” Don’t be left out. call the box office at 9410488-1115 to inquire about that and other shows or, visit www.venicestage.com and check out the full season schedule and then select your seats from those remaining for present and future productions on the main stage or in the intimate 90-seat Pinkerton Theatre.
But do not delay. After all, Venice Theatre is considered the No. 2 community theater in the country out of thousands of such theaters. Personally I consider it No. 1 and with good reason. Omaha is the site of what is considered No. 1 but that city had 450,000 people.
Venice has just about 20,000 and even in season when the ranks nearly double, Venice Theatre also has two stages, a similar budget and staff but far more volunteers — 1,500 or so and, come June, Venice Theatre will once again host the American Association of Community Theatres International Festival — for the fourth time. Consider that no other community theater has hosted it more than once,
And then order your tickets for this most special event. Duing the week of June 22-27, see if you can match my record of number of shows seen in one week — 17.
Of course I cheated and watched two of the AACT shows twice and then also attended three additional shows at other theaters in the area.
It does help that this area has more theaters per capita than New York City, including such sizzling professional venues as Asolo Rep and the five stages of Florida Studio Theatre plus Urbanite, The Players Centre for the Performing Arts in Sarasota and, in Bradenton, Manatee Players which performs in Stone Hall and its black box Kiwanis Center within the manatee Performing Arts Center.
The latter is quite a change from Manatee’s very old and overworked theater in downtown close to the river.
The Players Centre is in the throes of a major capital campaign to move into its own new theater over in Lakewood Ranch within the next few years. Like the manatee Players it needs help from many sources and people, many of whom may never have donated to any theater in the past.
It also needs the help of people who regularly donate to one or more of the area’s theaters such as the Asolo, FST and Venice Theatre.
One of the strengths of the Culture Coast where we live is the quality of the theaters from tiny Englewood Players to the Asolo and even the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota and the Venice Performing Arts Center here in our own backyard. They all need donations to cover the costs that are rarely if ever covered by ticket sales.
If you have not yet visited one of these venues, what on earth have you been waiting for?
If you have purchased tickets but not sent in a donation, what are you waiting for?
Homeowners especially benefit everyday in the increased value of their homes because this area is so culturally rich.
Consider that many little donations add up to become as important as any of the biggest gifts. A check for $25 will buy some costume fabric, some paint for the set or paper for the program. It all adds up.
I have been saying that for years because of all the professional and amateur theaters in the area and also because of The Ringling, the 12th most valuable art museum in the country, countless really good writers and art centers in virtually every town.
Of course I am prejudiced when it comes to Venice for its theater and art center and historical collection and symphony, marching band, chorale and most of all for its legacy as the long-time (32-plus years) home of The Greatest Show on Earth which put this little town on the map overnight back in 1959 when it left Sarasota on its annual tour with the words, “Venice, Florida, home of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus” emblazoned on each car of the 100-car train that would criss-cross the U.S. and Canada from February until November or so.
The US Census in 1950 listed fewer than 1,000 residents in the city which, had some 4,000 residents for a couple of years about 1926-28 and then swelled again during World War II when some 4,800 fighter pilots were here to be trained at the Venice Army Air Base, today known as the Venice Airport.
Most of those pilots trained on P-51 Mustangs, which held one person — the pilot. Those pilots saved countless American lives as they fought off enemy fighters and larger planes in both the European and Pacific battle zones, My father-in-law was a B-24 pilot during World War II, stationed mostly in the area of Italy and Africa but also spent some time at air bases in SW Florida and in North Carolina working with his troops.
The only two-passenger P-51 and other planes that annually visit Venice in February will not be coming this year because of a crash involving the museum’s B-17 and the death of its pilot in a plane crash during an earlier show.
Watch the Gondolier for news of the Collings tour and when it will once again bring its many vintage planes on a national tour.
Meanwhile, coming up next month in Venice is the annual orchid show (one of the best in the U.S.) the annual Jewish Food Festival at the Jewish Congregation of Venice and the annual two-day member show at the Venice Art Center.
Theater season is in full gear with “Menopause the Musical” at Venice beginning Friday and — the same night — “Murder on the Orient Express” opening at the Asolo plus “Sister Act” opening Jan. 15 at The Players Center.
These are just a few hints of things happening and soon to happen. Throw in some jazz at places like Allegro Bistro, assorted entertainment at the Zebra Lounge on Miami Avenue and several car shows coming up in the next few weeks and month plus films in a variety of area venues and there should be something for everyone’s taste.
The New Year in Venice is off to a great start. Enjoy. And don’t forget to share our high-resolution photos with me so I can feature them within Our Town.