Nine months after losing its home, a Gainesville theater company has embarked on a new adventure as a nomadic troupe. The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre is touring around the city and raising money for a new building in the process.
Acrosstown Repertory Theatre has been part of the Gainesville art scene since 1985. After leaving its home of 36 years, the company opened its first show in a new space.
The theater company was housed in the old Baird Hardware Company Warehouse, now known as South Main Station. This historic building is owned by Hoch Shitama and houses the Heartwood Soundstage, multiple restaurants and other businesses.
Acrosstown Repertory Theatre occupied a space in that plaza from 1986 to 2022.
The theater’s president, Andrea Young, said Shitama gave the company a deal on rent for years. But in 2021, he did not give the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre an opportunity to renew its lease.
The company was struggling to pay for the space after the pandemic, and the surrounding businesses simply were bringing more people to the area.
Shitama knew that the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre had been looking for a bigger space for a while, so he thought letting them go would be a win-win.
“I did feel pretty good about that,” he said. “They’d been here for a long time, and I supported them for a long time.”
He was ready to make a change in his plaza, and the theater was ready to find a space where it could grow and house larger audiences.
“It was hard for me,” he said. I wish them the greatest of success.”
The company started looking for a new location in 2019, because it was ready to expand. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was no longer financially prepared to relocate.
The company is still searching for a new home. In the meantime, the troupe is embracing its homelessness.
The newly nomadic troupe held a Shakespeare in the Park event this April.
“The Tempest” was a three-weekend event held in various locations around Gainesville: The Thomas Center, Bo Diddley Plaza and Fourth Avenue Food Park.
One hundred and fifty people attended the shows at the Thomas Center, and 140 were in the audience at Bo Diddley Plaza. The show at Fourth Avenue Food Park is up next, and the City of Gainesville reached out to the company to schedule a fourth weekend.
Attending the show is free, but the company is collecting donations for its “building fund” before and after the shows, as well as on its website.
During the first two weekends, the theater company raised about $500 in cash. This number doesn’t include any online donations.
Fun and interesting challenges came along with figuring out this new format of production.
“We had difficulty finding places to rehearse at first,” said Young, who also directed “The Tempest.” “We tried rehearsing in my backyard, which didn’t turn out so great.”
Throughout the process, the cast rehearsed at Buchholz High School, Westside Park and even the Thomas Center, where the first weekend of shows took place.
Lena Sakalla, who plays Miranda in “The Tempest,” said the rehearsal process felt very fast.
“We were working in almost an experimental type phase, because we’d been rehearsing without any kind of set,” she said. “Usually, you move into the space to rehearse and get used to the setup before you do the shows. This was a different kind of format, which definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone.”
Even though the company’s situation comes with new challenges, Young has been content with her cast.
“Everybody has been really committed and is flexible and willing to go anywhere to put this project together,” she said.
Gail Dewsbury, an audience member who has seen many Acrosstown productions, said she was glad to see the theater back in business.
“I’m here to enjoy it,” she said. “It’s an elaborate play. I’m surprised to see they’re doing such an elaborate Shakespeare.”
Regardless of the production quality, one sentiment was present among most patrons of the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre: getting them a new home.
After nine months, this may finally be possible.
“We did find a place that we might be able to take over,” Young said. “We are working with the realtor to see if they are willing to accept our offer.”
In the meantime, the company plans to continue the touring format with a production of “No Exit,” a play by Jean-Paul Sartre. This production, which will take place in September, will be a “revival” of the company’s 2017 production. The original director and cast will be coming together once more to tell the story all around Gainesville.
The company also will continue the Shakespeare in the Park format, Young said. The free admission helps make the arts more accessible to people in Gainesville.
“We’re hopefully going to keep going and make some good art in the future,” she said.