History of FST
With over 45 years as a professional regional theatre, see how we grew and remained true to our founding principles.
Florida Studio Theatre was founded in 1973 by artist Jon Spelman as an alternative touring group, reaching out to isolated and underserved audiences in nursing homes, migrant farms, and prisons. When Richard Hopkins was named Producing Artistic Director in 1980, he founded FST's Mainstage Series with a modest 106 subscribers. Today, FST reaches over 38,000 subscribers through its diverse programs, making FST the largest subscription theatre in the state of Florida. Now in its 49th Season, FST is proud of its reach and impact across its five stages and through over 20 professional productions each year. Below is a list of major milestones that lead FST to become the regional theatre leader that we are today.
Florida Studio Theatre is founded by Jon Spelman as an alternative professional theatre company. The company tours to isolated audiences, including nursing homes, community centers, migrant camps and prisons.
Through the generosity of local supporters, use of Sarasota's Historic Women's Club Building is obtained for FST. The facility provides office space and a 72 seat theatre.
Richard Hopkins is named Artistic Director with an initial audience of 100 subscribers.
FST expands the seating capacity of its Mainstage theatre from 72 to 165.
FST establishes its Education Wing for Sarasota-area school children. Today, the WRITE A PLAY and Education program inspires over 50,000 children in theatre arts programs throughout Florida.
FST produces its first week-long New Play Festival. Today, FST receives over 1000 plays from adults and more than 4000 plays from children annually.
FST completes payment on its historic home in the Woman's Club Building.
FST's operating budget exceeds $500,000. FST's annual budget has quadrupled since then to over 4 million dollars and each year the theatre continues to operate in the black.
FST launches its WRITE A PLAY tour in Sarasota County Schools.
FST inaugurates its first Summer Season, which now serves more than 15,000 people during the Summer months.
FST inaugurates the Young Playwrights Festival and the Florida Playwrights Festival as part of its New Play Program.
FST receives NEA Challenge Grant to expand WRITE A PLAY throughout the Southeastern United States.
FST opens the doors to its 8000 square foot support facility. The new building houses a scene shop, rehearsal and classroom space and production offices.
FST opens the doors to its Goldstein Cabaret Theatre with 3,000 subscribers. The number of subscribers has since risen to over 8,000 individuals.
FST purchases an 8,000 square foot office building adjacent to the theatre.
On the verge of our 25th anniversary, nearly 200,000 adults and children are touched by FST's programs. Our subscriber base of nearly 15,000 people is the largest of any theatre its size in the United States.
The high octane musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe, celebrating the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, opens the FST 1999 season. FST is the first regional theatre in the United States to produce this show while it is still running on Broadway and on National Tour.
FST produces the world premiere of playwright Larry Parr's Invasion of Privacy. The play is later selected for the National Art "Playwright First" Award and Mr. Parr receives an Individual Artists Fellowship from the state of Florida.
FST begins renovation on the new Annex. This building, subsequently named the Roberta Leventhal Sudakoff Theatre Wing, currently houses FST's Artistic, Education and Administrative offices.
FST begins restoration of the historic Woman's Club Mainstage building at a cost of $1.2 million. FST completes the 2001 season with more than 8,400 subscribers to the Mainstage and 5,100 subscribers to the Cabaret.
In response to the growing number of subscribers, the Mainstage Winter Season is extended to 8 week runs and the Cabaret Season is extended to 9 week runs.
FST completes renovations on the historic Women's Club building.
FST renames its two theatre venues: The Keating Theatre is named in honor of Ed and Elaine Keating, and the Goldstein Cabaret is named in honor of Ann and Alfred Goldstein. Both couples made large gifts to FST.
FST celebrates its 30th Anniversary Season.
FST purchases the former TheatreWorks building, renaming it the Gompertz Theatre in honor of Mrs. Leila Gompertz, who made the lead gift enabling the purchase.
The Gompertz Theatre opens with a return engagement of Sophie Tucker.
FST Improv performs its first full season of live comedy improvisation in the Goldstein Cabaret.
Expanded lobby space is opened in the Keating Theatre - the room is renamed the Bea Friedman Room.
The inaugural season of FST Stage III kicks off in the Gompertz Theatre with Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? The season continues with the audience hit The Male Intellect: an oxymoron? and finishes with the critically-acclaimed The Exonerated.
FST tackles 24 productions on its three stages over the season, producing works such as Metamorphoses and premiering new Cabaret works including The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization According to Tom Lehrer.
FST continues to broaden its horizons with bold new productions of contemporary plays, starting off with Ethel Waters: His Eye is on the Sparrow. Next comes Donald Margulies' new play Brooklyn Boy, followed by the hilarious Moonlight and Magnolias. Our Winter Mainstage Season finishes with the audience hit Around the World in 80 Days. Our Summer Season includes the hysterical musical The Big Bang, then comes Bad Dates and finally Fiction.
FST receives a grant from the State of Florida to conduct its first international exchange of its WRITE A PLAY program with Sister City Tel Mond, Israel. In the subsequent 2 years WAP visits Dunfermline, Scotland and Vladimir, Russia.
FST premiered John Biguenet's new play, Shotgun, as part of the National New Play Network's rolling world premiere program.
FST received acclaim for its superior production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined, where the production and director Richard Hopkins won "best of" awards in all local newspapers and magazines.
FST’s Mainstage and Cabaret subscription sales increase 5% over the previous season.
FST received wild acclaim from its production of David Mamet's Race, while also debuting an online blog conversation and several community forums that engaged leaders and officials on the subject of race.
FST experiences a record-breaking year, with an increase of 12% in subscription sales from the previous season.
FST launches the $6.8 million New Gompertz Theatre campaign, the theatre's largest capital campaign to date.
FST reaches its $6.8 million goal for the New Gompertz campaign, breaks ground in January, and celebrates the Grand Opening of the renovated theatre in November.
The John C. Court Cabaret opens and the Cabaret audience grows by 20%.
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Sarasota Woman’s Club, and FST reaches over 190,000 people each year.
Bowne's Lab Theatre opens as a space for all things experimental.
WRITE A PLAY celebrates its 25th anniversary, the Cabaret series celebrates its 20th anniversary, FST reaches over 200,000
people each year with over 30,000 subscribers.
FST premieres the inaugural Children’s Theatre series.
FST presents the NNPN ROLLING WORLD PREMIERE of Relativity by Mark St. Germain. In its rolling premiere the show will also
play at Taproot Theatre Company (WA), Riverside Theatre (IA), and Northlight Theatre (IL). FST commissioned St. Germain to write Relativity in 2015.
Stage III returns as a subscription series and makes its home in Bowne’s Lab Theatre.
FST Improv travels to Saudi Arabia, England, and Amsterdam to teach workshops and perform at festivals.
FST unveils plans for the Mulva Arts Plaza, a state-of-the-art, eleven-story building designed to meet a wide range of FST’s artistic needs and serve its robust and growing audience. Nestled amongst the theatre’s existing five theatre campus in downtown Sarasota, this necessary next step in FST’s story will take the theatre to new heights, while laying the groundwork for a strong future. Arts Plaza Features include: An additional Mainstage Theatre to allow for expansion of the Mainstage and Stage III programming; Two more Cabaret Theatres to accommodate the audience demand for our most popular programming; Safe and comfortable housing for FST guest artists; Affordable housing for Sarasota’s year-round arts workers; Parking for our patrons.
FST's award-winning WRITE A PLAY program expands to reach students in Memphis, Tennessee
Also In This Section
Florida Studio Theatre’s mission is inspired from the wellspring of the creators of Theatre, the ancient Greeks.
It takes a village to make Florida Studio Theatre the regional arts leader it is today. Learn more about our Staff and Board of Trustees.
Explore past productions from our 49-year history, producing the best of contemporary theatre.
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access at FST
FST seeks to create an environment where diverse identities, cultures, and ideas are encouraged. FST embraces diversity in all its forms.