City Repertory Theatre, Palm Coast’s most daring and unpredictable theater company, will have a home for its rapidly approaching fourth season after all: the company is staying put where it’s been since 2011, at City Marketplace, thanks to an arrangement with the mall owner and real estate broker. City Repertory’s future had been in doubt for months with the departure of Hollingsworth gallery, which had been its landlord until its departure this month.
“Jerry Masiello, who’s the broker, called us and said ‘we want you to stay.’ And we said OK, let’s hear what you have to say,” John Sbordone, who founded the theater troupe and is a member of its board of directors, said Monday evening, minutes before a press preview of Tennesee Williams’s “Suddenly last Summer.”
“They’re going to make it comfortable for us to be here, and if for any reason they sell this block or rent out this block of things, they’ll move us to empty studios somewhere else in the complex,” Sbordone said. “It’s a really good arrangement.”
Since August 2011, when City Repertory opened with a Shakespearean vaudeville show Sbordone wrote, the theater has worked in close collaboration with JJ Graham’s Hollingsworth Gallery, next door. Graham essentially donated the space at first, and as the 50-seat theater developed, and packed many of its performances—Sbordone also packed each season with numerous productions—the company started paying its share (with Sbordone himself shouldering half the costs out of his own pocket). But the arrangement naturally led to a bit of tension too, as both the gallery and the theater’s success chafed against each other.
“JJ was absolutely magnificent to us, but now we don’t have to worry about classes next door or he doesn’t have to worry about our noise, and the artists here don’t,”
Monday evening, even as Sbordone was talking about the new, more independent arrangement, Graham was shuttling between his gallery next door and a moving truck downstairs as the gallery was making its move to the grounds of NatureScapes in Bunnell. Graham was not yet aware of CRT’s new arrangement.
“It was great having them here but I do think they’re outgrowing me, and that’s a good thing,” Graham said, standing at the foot of his moving truck in the fading light. “I want them to be big. I’m glad they’re going to take care of them. Bottom line is I’m not an outlet mall kind of guy. I’m not pissed off about anything. I’m happy to go to NatureScapes. It’s more my speed. I’m going to support John, I’m glad that they worked with him, I was hoping that they would. I’m very happy about the situation. I probably would have liked to take another month to get out of here but I got the letter from them and they’re cracking the whip about me moving.”
John C. Bills, who owns the company of the same name that runs City Marketplace, handled CRT quite differently from the way he’d handled other renters, including Hollingsworth, Palm Coast government (Bills’s biggest renter by far) and the Flagler County Sherriff’s Office. By the time he’d turned to the theater he’d eased the harsher approach that had characterized dealings with other tenants. Bills had backed down from earlier demands from the city and sent a more conciliatory letter to tenants, likely realizing that the earlier approach was alienating the very tenants he needed to preserve, since the city will be gone by next year’s end. But it was too late to keep Graham and Hollingsworth.
For the theater company, the new arrangement entails very reasonable rent and no CAM fees (the Common Area Maintenance fees, suddenly and drastically imposed on merchants, in some cases retroactively, has been a central bone of contention). Palm Coast, too, gets to stay another tear with no CAM fees. The arrangement with CRT is in place “for at least a year,” Sbordone said, as Masiello thought it would be a year and a half before things would happen on that side of the four-building complex, with the city moving out. “John C. Bills and Jerry Masiello have been very generous and very welcoming,” Sbordone said. He’d never gotten any letters from the company, saying all along that he would “wait and see. We did, and it worked out very nicely.”
Moments later, Sbordone was introducing the staged reading of Tennessee Williams’s “Suddenly Last Summer,” a production scheduled for Aug. 16 at the Lohman Auditorium in Marineland. The production, starring Annie Gaybis and Ann Kraft, was Gaybis’s idea for a fund-raiser benefiting the Palm Coast Arts Foundation. (Tickets are available by emailing here.) The fund-raiser will help the foundation move toward building its first structure in Town Center, where Palm Coast leases it a vast parcel.
CRT is preparing for a new season, starting with Avenue Q, the two-act musical by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx that mixes live characters with puppets who interact with them. That starts Sept. 12, to be followed by “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on Oct. 24 and four more productions after that, through May.