Kristofer Geddie and the Venice Theatre would like to diversify your theater-going experience

By : Jeremy Williams
Comments: 0

Venice, Florida, is a quaint little town of a little more than 20,000 people just south of Sarasota. It isn’t as worldly known as some of the bigger cities surrounding it – Tampa, St. Petersburg or Orlando – but the small Gulf Coast town is home to one of the most well-known theaters in the U.S., the Venice Theatre.

“Who knew that would happen here? Before I came here I never knew that Venice’s community theater was one of the largest in the country,” says Kristofer Geddie, Venice Theatre’s director of diversity.

Venice Theatre, which was started in 1950 by a group of volunteers at the Venice Airport, is actually the largest per capita community theater in the United States.

Even with a demographic of 98 percent of Venice residences being white and 80 percent being over the age of 45, two statistics that have a tendency to point to social conservatism, Geddie says that Venice is as open and accepting as any place he has lived. That is saying something as Geddie is an openly gay, black man who came to Venice by way of New York City.

“In 2010, I came down [to Venice] because they were doing a production of Ragtime and I knew friends who said it was a great place, and that they needed black men for the production,” Geddie says. “I was getting ready to start grad school, and I thought, ‘I’ll do one more show before I do it.’ I came down for six weeks and I never left.”

While the cold New York winters were enough of a reason to stay in Venice, Geddie says the deciding factor to make a home in the small coastal city was the residents’ love for theater.

“New York had become just about the work; everyone was going to auditions and rehearsals and it lost all the pleasure,” Geddie says. “Here the people were in shows and going to rehearsals because they wanted to be here. It’s community theater; people weren’t getting paid to be here, they just wanted to be here doing this show. It was such a different concept, this right here is what love of theater actually is.”

Geddie’s love of theater was fostered in him at a young age, starting with his parents in their home in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“It was interesting because my parents were the kind of parents who said no sports in our house, so you had to do something in the arts because that broadened your mind,” Geddie says. “So there was never an option of not doing something in the arts, so luckily I loved it and didn’t have to be forced to do it.”

Geddie grew up taking piano lessons and performing dance and theater on stage. His love of the arts and talent took him across the world, including across Europe on tour with a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Geddie chronicled his journey from Fayetteville to Venice in a cabaret show earlier this summer, singing songs from his Southern upbringing to the big budget Broadway shows he performed for audiences around the world, but his greatest passion right now is being able to bring art to those who may not necessarily have that opportunity without him.

“I’m working on getting more school kids in to see shows,” Geddie says. “I’m always trying to figure out ways to get them involved early.”

Geddie also recognizes that there is a lack of diversity in the town of Venice and that some extra attention is needed to make sure that those of different ages, cultures and backgrounds have an opportunity to see shows that speak to them.

“We are trying to find a way to tell those stories and how we do that effectively without being offensive,” Geddie says. “It’s not something that’s a perfect model; it’s not something that we’re perfect at. It’s something that we’re striving to do because our world is changing and if we don’t change with it we’re all going to suffer. I don’t get to just look outside the box but I get to throw the box away and I love it.”

Venice Theatre is showing its diversity in a big way bringing shows like Sister Act and Billy Elliott to the theater this fall, plus having successful runs of Ragtime and Hair, the latter of which was directed by legendary stage and television actor Ben Vereen. Vereen’s production of Hair was the most successful show in Venice Theatre’s more than 65 year history.

“Being able to work with Ben Vereen, I mean he is one of the reasons I started performing,” Geddie says. “We brought him here to do a concert and he like most people fell in love with Venice. He adopted us and we adopted him.”

Even though he keeps busy as director of diversity, Geddie has not abandoned his love of acting. He will appear in the Venice Theatre’s production of The Toxic Avenger.

“This show is based on the 1984 B-, or more accurately C-, movie. They made three of them and I wouldn’t suggest watching them because you’ll have a long night ahead of you!” Geddie says. “I think it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen but the musical is amazing.”

The Toxic Avenger was written by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, the duo who wrote the Broadway musical Memphis, and is based on the 1984 film of the same name.

“They took the concept of someone trying to save New Jersey from toxic waste, which is timely, and they reduced all the characters to a five-person show,” Geddie says. “So there’s the Toxic Avenger and his girlfriend, then another woman who plays the mayor and the Toxic Avenger ‘s mother; and then there’s two guys left in the cast and their character names are White Dude and Black Dude and they play all the other characters in the show. I am the black dude.”

The Toxic Avenger will play at the Venice Theatre Sept. 30-Oct. 23.

Share this story: