I can remember the first-ever conversation I had with Graeme Woodbrook and Doug Wall about trying to bring a professional performing arts center to New Tampa. It was the year 2001 and Woodbrook and Wall (the founder of the New Tampa Players) were both on the original organizing committee and both of them told me they believed that one day, their shared vision would bear fruit.
Fast forward 22 years, to the evening of March 25, 2023, and even though Wall — who passed away in 2017 after battling pancreatic cancer — unfortunately didn’t live to see his Players take the stage at the sparkling new, 350-seat New Tampa Performing Arts Center (NTPAC), Woodbrook and I were both on hand to see the Players’ “Prelude & Recognition Performance” at their new home.
As new NTPAC general manager Keith Arsenault was proud to proclaim to that evening’s packed house, “Mission Accomplished!”
Arsenault, who we introduced in our last cover story about the NTPAC, said he has been involved in Tampa’s arts scene for 50 years, since his mother owned a ballet studio near the University of Tampa. He thanked Woodbrook, former Hillsborough County Commissioner (and State Senator) Victor Crist and former Tampa City Council member (and State Rep.) Shawn Harrison, as well as original Players Lydia Macias, Jennifer Barnakow and Janine Hartfield (who is still a member of the theatre troupe today), current Players producing artistic director Nora Paine (“who is everywhere and doing everything,” he said) and, of course, Wall.
Arsenault, who called the NTPAC a “state-of-the-art” theatre, also said, “We also would not be here without the continuous efforts of (current Hillsborough County Commissioner) Ken Hagan,” who he then introduced as the evening’s next speaker.
Hagan, who said he has been involved in trying to bring the PAC to New Tampa for, “at least 15 years,” also thanked many of the same people — and especially focused on Wall.
“The theatre was Doug’s heart, soul and light,” Hagan said, quoting Wall’s cousin Neil Berg, himself a Broadway composer and producer. “We wouldn’t be here tonight if not for his efforts. We realize Doug’s dream tonight!”
Hagan also noted and displayed a photo of a plaque created in Wall’s honor and memory that wasn’t quite finished in time for the “Prelude” performance, and mentioned that until the PAC was completed, the Players were a “theatre troupe without a home.”
Also speaking before the performance was Michelle Giles, the current chair of the Players’ Board of Directors, who presented Paine with a pre-performance floral bouquet.
The “Prelude & Recognition Performance” itself included almost 30 musical performances by the 13 current Players, interwoven with explanations of how the troupe’s shows are chosen, how the audition process works (including for directors and choreographers) and other ins and outs of the community theatre business.
The performances themselves were amazing and I’m sad that I don’t have room here to hit all of the highlights, but here are a few:
Kyle Fisher’s “One Last Kiss” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” Janine Hartfield’s “No Time at All” from “Pippin,” Bri Filippelli’s “Do Re Mi” and the title song from “The Sound of Music,” Makayla Raines singing “Little Girls” and Olivia Carr’s “Tomorrow” from “Annie,” and “We Go Together” from “Grease” by the entire company. What a great night!
Speaking of “Grease,” that will be the first show produced by the Players at the NTPAC. As shown in the ad below, the auditions will be held at the Uptown Stage at University Mall on Monday & Tuesday, April 24-25, and all performers are welcome to try out at this open audition.
For more information, to volunteer and/or make donations to the New Tampa Players, visit NewTampaPlayers.org.
For questions about the NTPAC, email ArsenaultK@HCFLGov.net.