The stage door is broken, the roof leaks and the air conditioning needs to be updated, but St. Petersburg City Theatre feels more like a well-loved home than a rundown building.
For the past 59 years, cast and crew members have signed their names on the walls backstage. The theatre has been collecting these memories since it moved into the 31st Street S. location in the 1950s.
After nearly six decades, St Petersburg City Theatre will be closing its doors on 31st Street S.
The 92-year-old stage company boasts of being the oldest, continuously operating community theatre in Florida. Known as St. Petersburg Little Theatre since 1933, the theatre was renamed in 2011.
However, these memories will be lost after its final mainstage production this month. The theater has been facing financial issues for several years.
“I was sickened by it, and sad because it was just such an important part of my son’s life,” said Robin Samuels, a former education committee member and decade-long supporter.
Robin’s first interaction with St. Petersburg City Theatre was in 2006 when her then 9-year-old son, Grayson, became involved in one of their summer programs.
According to Robin, her son almost didn’t return to the camp after his first audition. “He told me he did awful,” said Robin. However, Grayson found himself playing the lead antagonist in the musical “Oliver.”
“He was happy from that moment on. He found a home at a young age and it became his comfort zone,” said Robin.
As time went on, the Samuels family continued their involvement, with Grayson performing and even directing productions, Robin joined the education committee and Scott Samuels acted as treasurer for a year.
“Sadly, this meant we saw the end coming,” said Robin. Despite being privy to the theater’s financial issues, Samuels said the closure still came as a surprise.
Kacy Vance, a junior mass communications major and box office manager for freeFall Theatre Company was also saddened by the news.
“It’s really disheartening when something that’s supposed to be a staple in your community can’t be upheld by the community anymore,” said Vance.
According to Vance, successful, sold-out shows can put even professional theaters in the red. “Audience members don’t realize how much money it takes to keep a theater running. Coming to the shows isn’t enough,” said Vance.
Community theaters like St. Petersburg City Theatre rely on ticket sales, memberships, donations and grants for support. They also rely on the community to provide actors, ushers and technical crew. “Volunteers are indispensable,” said Vance.
St. Petersburg City Theatre struggled with costs beyond regular maintenance. Roof leaks and air conditioning issues plagued the theater for years. The theater paid for several patches but hasn’t been able to afford to replace them.
“We are losing a huge part of history if we lose that building,” said Latoya McCormick, a former USF student who has been involved with the theater since the 2005 production of “Music Man.”
St. Petersburg City Theatre was McCormick’s first experience with performing.
“I did my first show and then I was a part of every musical for two seasons. Now musical theater is part of my life,” said McCormick.
McCormick teaches music education at Meadowlawn Middle School. Originally certified in music education, McCormick was inspired by her involvement with City Theatre to also get certified in musical theater education. She now teaches musical theater classes and leads the school’s drama club.
“Those of us that have performed there and written our names on the wall — we care about it, but it’s not important to the city. The government is not supporting that history and we’re about to lose that history,” said McCormick.
Theaters like Largo’s Eight o’Clock theater are financially supported by the city, however, St. Petersburg has yet to take that initiative.
“So many children have gone through their programs and so many people have come through those doors. It’s the oldest theater in the state of Florida and you can’t find money to save this historic building?” said McCormick.
Currently, the theater is looking for other options to continue their legacy. According to Vance, freeFall is considering hosting St. Petersburg City Theatre’s summer education programs, which were canceled due to the building closure.
The theater’s final mainstage, “Squabbles,” will be showing Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 5-14. Tickets are $15 for students and $22 for general admission.