DPAC decision to self-produce surprises, upsets supporters

By : Tom Dyer
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Anticipation is building as the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts takes shape across from City Hall. Scheduled to open in the fall of 2014, the striking new $386 million facility will replace the antiquated Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre and bring shows and concerts within walking distance of the downtown residential core.

But supporters were taken aback by a Dec. 13 decision of the DPAC’s executive board to kick the Florida Theatrical Association to the curb and self-produce Broadway touring shows. For many, it raised concerns about the management and future viability of the ambitious but expensive facility.

FTA has presented touring Broadway shows in Orlando for 24 years. It is affiliated with Broadway Across America, a “powerhouse company that controls 70 percent of Broadway tours,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. That includes exclusive deals with Disney Theatrical and other major Broadway producers.

For the past 13 years, FTA’s president has been Ron Legler, a popular mover-shaker and strong supporter of local theater and downtown cultural development. Legler and partner Andrew Springer are also recognizable members of Orlando’s LGBT community.

“[DPAC’s] board needs to reconsider this decision,” wrote Ted Maines, who along with partner Jeff Miller was named the city’s top “Power Couple” by Orlando Magazine. “FTA has proven expertise in growing membership, creating community loyalty and handling the intricacies associated with presenting touring Broadway productions. Self-producing could prove disastrous.”

Under Legler, season subscriptions for the Broadway series’ have grown from 5,500 to 8,500. Many believe DPAC would not have been built without that base of support.

“I don’t think [DPAC] should be in the business of hurting local arts groups,” Legler said. “It shouldn’t be the goal to take out a major local arts organization.”

The executive board justified the decision by saying they would save $700,000 annually by self-producing.

“Every dollar we save is a dollar we don’t have to raise,” said DPAC board chairman Jim Pugh.

Ironically, unless an additional $75 million can be raised to build an all-important acoustic hall for the Orlando Philharmonic and Orlando Ballet, DPAC will be dependent on Broadway productions. There are indications that fundraising has grown difficult, and this controversy could alienate potential donors.

Legler will meet with DPAC later this month to see if a working relationship can be salvaged. If not, Legler says FTA will continue to produce Broadway touring shows at a different venue.

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