By PENNY FLETCHER
When Lew Resseguie moved to Sun City Center after a 30-year career in theater, television and commercials, he expected to spend most of his time playing golf.
“But as time passed, my need to pound the little white ball began to diminish, and I started looking around to find some theater activity in the area,” he said.
Some heard of his effort, and he was contacted by Shirley Jones, one of the founders of the Pelican Players, who asked if Resseguie would direct a show.
“Without any hesitation or thought, I said ‘yes,’” Resseguie said in an interview by email earlier this week. “Right around that time I started to try and put together a group who were interested in building a new theater somewhere in the South County area close to I-75.”
Resseguie said nothing came of that effort, except that he met Ed Brown, who had similar background and interests.
At first, a Performing Arts Club was formed, with the help of Walt Cawein, who was then president of the Sun City Center Community Association Board of Directors. “We quickly found that the Rollins Theater was badly in need of upgrading for us to use it,” Resseguie said, “so I set up a Renovation Fund and we raised $150,000. During that period, I met Larry Brown, who became the technical wizard who gave us our lighting system and first-rate sound.”
In the last 10 years, shows at the Rollins have attracted more than 60,000 theatergoers from all over South County and beyond, said Ellen Kleinschmidt, the current president and music director of the PAC.
Besides the money spent to renovate the theater, the group has sponsored more than 30 benefit performances, including one for the internationally known Make a Wish Foundation.
In addition, the group has provided acting and performing activities for more than 50 local people who love the theater, concerts and other performing arts.
Currently playing is Valentine’s on Route 66, with approximately $3,000 (so far) going to the American Cancer Society from first-night ticket sales and items such as “Valentine’s” cups and T-shirts for sale at the shows.
The last showings of this production are March 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee March 8 at 2:30. Tickets are $12 and are available in the Sun City Center Atrium kiosk Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon or by credit card with a telephone call to 813-400-7803.
The story of “Valentine’s” concerns fictional television personality Phoebe Snow, who is losing a battle with a disease she has been fighting for years. She decides to take a trip in a yellow Corvette along U.S. Route 66, made famous by the 1960s television show “Route 66,” with its unforgettable theme, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.”
The show is filled with colorful characters — bad guys — laughter and tears as cast members describe an experience you have to see for yourself to feel.
“For 100 years, the American Cancer Society has been the official sponsor of More Birthdays, a way to transform cancer from deadly to preventable,” Kleinschmidt said. “The cast and crew of this production have all been affected by cancer in one way or another, and in an effort to give back to help celebrate More Birthdays, have pledged to donate a percentage of the proceeds,” Kleinschmidt said.
Teri Council, the show’s co-writer with Kleinschmidt, says she had no idea just how emotional the ride of this particular theme would be.
“I don’t live in Sun City Center,” Council said. “But I have lived in the South County area all my life. PAC has touched my life in so many ways I can’t even express them all.”
Less than a year ago, the PAC sponsored Teri’s son Alex, a talented young singer, dancer and actor, on a trip to New York City.
“They gave me a grant that allowed me to attend a musical theater camp this past summer,” Alex said. “I got a manager, and since then, I have auditioned for some of the biggest casting directors in New York City.” His dreams of a future life to be based around acting was written in a feature story in The Observer News, the The SCC Observer and The Current last summer, and is still available in the archives at www.observernews.net.
People like Barbara Brtva, PAC’s current executive producer and box-office and stage manager, point out the need for a new theater because the current theater only has 200 seats and some of its equipment is in need of upgrade again.
“Hearing the laughter, seeing the tears and watching the numerous talented people who have performed, bringing such joy to others, has made the dream of a larger, better-equipped theater a dream of mine,” Brtva said.
Judy Brown, head of the PAC Tech Team, agrees.
“I think a new theater is vital to the future,” she said. “Not only will it allow us to dramatically improve the quality of the entertainment to the whole South County community but it will allow us to bring in a variety of professional shows. At this time, we have to travel significant distances to see these types of shows, and that is hard on many older residents.”
Chuck Collett, a member of the Sun City Center Community Association Board of Directors, says he thinks the board should consider a new theater now.
The board, however, has pledged that no type of lending be taken out for any building project — that all projects would be completely funded on a pay-as-you-go plan, with money in the Operating Fund coming from the resale of homes, which is $1,500 each. That fee is comparable to what developers pay the county as an “impact fee” on a new home built in Hillsborough County.
The board says that since the pay-as-you-go policy was put into effect by community vote, it can only be changed by community vote.
Collett thinks this should happen sooner than later.
“Recently I went to see another production put on by the Performing Arts Club at the Rollins Theater,” Collett said. “Even though I’m six-foot-two, the gentleman in front of me was even taller, and I had a really hard time seeing the show. I can only imagine the plight of smaller people!”
It is hard to get in and out of the rows when the theater is packed because the seats are so close together, Collett said, and there are no restroom facilities available without exiting the theater and walking outdoors to another building.
Those “are just a few of the inadequacies of our current theater,” Collett said in a letter distributed following a discussion of the topic at the Board of Directors meeting last month.
“Each year, more than 15,000 people use the theater,” he wrote. “They come to see theater productions, watch the Monday movies, listen to the Front Porch Pickers and attend movies shown by the Irish Connection. There are Art Club presentations and performances during Sun City Center’s annual FunFest. The list goes on and on.”
Recently PAC and the Pelican Players have formed an alliance that will increase use of the theater even more, he stated.
“There are ways to get this done now, so let the board know how you feel,” he added.
Resseguie says a new theater makes financial sense, as well.
“The bottom line of this,” he said, “is that the theater is inadequate with only 200 seats. Figure these numbers.
Two-hundred seats at $25 a seat is $5,000. When you subtract the costs of running the theater, advertising and all, the total income is at best $3,000. A loss of $2,000 per show. A 400-seat theater would allow PAC to hire top talent for certain performances like Broadway road shows and make it more comfortable for local residents and actors alike.
“Four-hundred seats at $25 per seat is $10,000, a profit of $5,000 a show. A new theater would definitely put Sun City Center on the entertainment map,” Resseguie added.
PAC is not just for Sun City Center residents. For more information about it, visit www.performingartscompany-scc.org.