In Acrosstown Repertory Theatre’s final performance of “Hamlet,” the titular character asks a dire question: “To be or not to be?”
As the company is priced out of their current building, the ART’s staff and actors face the same question.
Located at 619 S. Main St., the ART began holding performances at the Baird Center — an enclave tucked in the space behind Heartwood Soundstage — in 1985, which is where it has remained for decades. After 37 years in its current location, the theater is temporarily shutting down and leaving behind a legacy of talented performances.
According to their website, the ART was committed to producing “theatre that transforms.” Ranging from Shakespeare renditions to off-kilter comedies, shows were designed to reflect the theater’s smaller space — creating a closer connection between audience members and performers.
For Nicholas de Mojana di Cologna, the ART was “a place where magic happened.”
De Mojana di Cologna, 29, was a frequent patron of the theater for three years — and he valued the historic role it played in the Gainesville community.
“The actors were passionate, and it always seemed like the stories and their message were respected and at the center of the stage,” de Mojana di Cologna said.
This isn’t the first time the theater, which was founded in 1980, has faced relocation. Prior to the Baird Center, the ART hosted community theater shows at the Star Garage in downtown Gainesville until the city sold the building in 1985, bringing the theater to its most recent location. Now, the theater is once again in need of a new home.
For more than four decades, the ART has provided members of the Gainesville community with the opportunity to partake in theater, whether they’re beginners or veteran actors.
Ted Lewis, 64, is one of these longtime volunteers. Lewis, the theater arts teacher at Buchholz High School for 22 years, has directed shows with the ART on and off for 25 years.
His theater journey began when he was 12 years old after his mother volunteered him as an actor for her friend, who worked at the Daytona Beach Community Playhouse. Lewis then became an active member of his school’s theater program and started the first drama club at Mainland High School in Daytona.
After stepping away from theater for a few years in college, Lewis returned to Gainesville, where he’s been an active member of the city’s theater community since his early 30s.
Alongside directing shows, Lewis occasionally invited some of his theater students from Buchholz High School to perform in shows at the ART, including “Forbidden Broadway” and “The Who’s Tommy.”
For “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” one of Lewis’ favorite performances, the set was designed and built by his technical theater students.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “It gave the kids a chance to work in a different environment with a different type of stage than what we had normally.”
After decades of memorable performances, Lewis said, the ART is unable to afford their current location, which has led to the temporary closure. Finding a space for the theater to relocate to for a reasonable price is near impossible, he said.
Despite these challenges, Lewis said, he has seen first-hand the impact the theater has had on the community.
“I think it has been very much a part of the growing history of theater here in Gainesville,” he said. “I’ve always felt that it was a really important theater — it really has made me sad to figure out that they were going to have to finally close.”
Still, many people are interested in efforts to keep the theater alive, Lewis said.
The board will host a final public meeting at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre at 7 p.m. Sept. 8. Community members are encouraged to attend and join the discussion about saving the theater, with conversations of relocation and new leadership at the forefront.
In a message posted to the theater’s website Sept. 2, Carolyne Salt, the ART president since 2015, urged patrons to attend and lend a helping hand. “We have always provided theatre for the community by the community,” Salt, 54, wrote. “And it’s time now for that community to rise up. It’s time to give the ART a new home, new leadership, a more cohesive family and a future.”
Contact Isabella at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaMarzban.
Isabella Marzban is a fourth-year journalism major and an avenue reporter for The Alligator. You'll usually find her going on hikes, listening to classic rock on her record player, and doing yoga with her friends.