Sarasota Dreaming

memoirs, usa travels

Back to the “throwback” posts inspired by all the memorabilia I have stored here in the nooks and crannies of my Mom’s house, I thought I’d make a nod to my dear adopted home of Sarasota, Florida.

Right after college, I was on a quest to figure out how to actually use the education I’d just gotten, and on a hunch that dramaturgy might be my path, I accepted an internship in the literary department of a theatre in Sarasota that produced contemporary plays. I eventually took a job there and stayed for three years, and when I finished grad school, I returned for another three years to run the literary department before moving to Australia. As you can imagine, with so much history at such pivotal points in my life, I can’t begin to say everything I want about Sarasota, and I certainly can’t mention all of the people I met there who have impacted my life in a profound way … mostly for the better.

Instead, I’ll scratch the surface with a few pieces of evidence I’ve unearthed in boxes, most of them relating to my early days in the old SRQ.

The most important place in my early Sarasota life was the Yellow House. I’ve talked before about the Pink House, and across the street, is a big yellow house that’s divided into four apartments known as the Intern House or the Yellow House. I actually have no idea if the house still stands, but for many classes of interns, it was the most important landmark of our time in Sarasota. One member of the intern group after mine even wrote a song that we can all hum to this day … “In our little yellow house/barely big enough for a mouse…”

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This picture is cut straight out of my beloved scrapbook, as you can probably tell.

I lived in the top left apartment. We shared a phone with the apartment across the hall. Luckily, I had a cell phone, but in 2000, that wasn’t a given. My roommates were Kristin, Kara, and Julie, all interns in various departments at the theatre. We usually kept the door open and wandered back and forth between the apartment across the hall and ours. We were silly, noisy, liked to stay up extremely late, and had occasional personal dramas amongst ourselves, which were usually resolved by having one-on-one time out at one of the downtown restaurants, or Perkins if it was late. For awhile before Kara moved in, we had a male roommate from Brazil. He was a terrible misogynist and hated us in particular (can’t exactly blame him – see above). He cooked rice and chicken breasts at every single meal and designated himself one pan, plate, fork, knife, and glass, which was necessary as we girls almost never did our own dishes.

My room was great because it opened up onto little balcony that went out onto a very sketchy alley, and it also had a built-in ironing board that folded out from the wall. The back porch was where we kept the contraband neighborhood cat and her kittens that we fostered until we adopted all the babies out.photo 2 (13)

The house had a front porch, which we used for endless parties almost every night of the week. Or, we’d have “classy” parties in our apartment where we’d drink sangria or boxed wine and eat brie. Always with the brie. We were so broke, living on $75 per week stipends, yet somehow we always had brie money.

Class.

Class.

There were several of us in my intern year and the following year who shared an abiding love for folk singer Dar Williams. When she came to town, my friend Kristin and I went to the show and stayed afterwards to meet her. Because we were the only ones who didn’t have to work that night, given the theatre schedule, we had her sign a poster for “the Yellow House kids.” We made copies, and I found what I believe is the original in my photo album.

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It’s true that my early years in Sarasota centered around the theatre’s communal housing, and all of my favorite people who came and went from there, but Sarasota is such a special town, I have to devote some space to talking about it. It’s located on the Gulf Coast about an hour south of Tampa. It’s one of those towns that is large enough to have amenities, but small enough that I was always running into people I knew at the weekend farmer’s market or at The Sports Page sports bar (a moment of silence for the demise of The Sports Page a couple of years ago … thank you). It has this amazing quality of being both a beach town and an arts destination. When I lived there, Sarasota had three professional theatres, as well as professional opera, ballet, and symphony, and a performing arts touring house. When I would do stints in the box office, people would come up with their calendars and say, “I can’t go that night, I have the symphony. No, not that night. I have the opera.” There are two colleges that keep it funky, the determinedly offbeat New College and Ringling College of Art and Design where I would eventually do three years of adjunct teaching. The Ringling Museum stands on the waterfront on property once owned by circus magnate John Ringling. There is an art museum, a circus museum, and the Ca’ D’Zan (“House of John” home). When I arrived, the Ca’D’Zan was actually closed because it was undergoing reconstruction after being used as the degrading mansion in the Great Expectations film. A circus town, Sarasota is also home to a lot of circus legacy, including the incredible Nik Wallenda. One day, we watched him from our office windows tightrope walk between two buildings, just a humble warm up to his Niagara Falls and other feats ahead.

The balcony of the Ca'D'Zan was always a favorite spot.

The balcony of the Ca’D’Zan was always a favorite spot.

The water, of course, is a vital part of Sarasota life and we were never very far from it. Downtown where we lived, we were literally one block from the water, but it was about a 10 minute drive to Lido Beach (or a 40 minute walk that took you over the beautiful Ringling Causeway bridge, which was one of Partner-in-Crime and my favorite weekend activities). During my intern days, the second most important spot in our social lives was Azure Tides, a little tiki bar right on the beach where big groups of us would go after work to drink rum runners and sit in Adirondack chairs to watch the sunset. It was a heartbreaker when Azure Tides closed down. It’s also a 15 minute drive to Siesta Key, which is often voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. During my intern days, we used to spend the day on Siesta and then go to the nearby oyster bar where we’d eat raw oysters and drink cheap beer. Ah, to be young again.

Sarasota sunset.

Sarasota sunset.

Given how delightful Sarasota is, it’s no wonder that a number of celebrities have homes there. Like Jerry Springer, who came to one of our shows when I was an intern, and was an exceptionally good sport.jerryjerry

I realize that I haven’t yet said anything about the work that I did in Sarasota, which was obviously the most important part of my life there. However, because it was so consuming and large, I’m at a loss as to where to even begin talking about it. Instead, in the continuing spirit of “just scratching the surface,” let me share three things I found in a box.

photo 1 (15)This picture I found in a frame, and I hope my friends and colleagues will forgive me for posting it here, as I don’t usually post photos of other people. It was taken at the opening night party for Brassy Broads, which was the first show I helped to develop at the theatre. The theatre’s Cabaret space features musical reviews developed in-house, and over the years, I would go on to work on a number of them. For Brassy Broads, I was a research assistant, and also got to sit in the development meetings, even having the chance to offer my opinion now and again. For someone who aspired to work on the development of new plays, it was a thrilling moment in my young career.

I could write pages about every person in that picture, but to get us to the next found item, let me just mention the gorgeous woman in the white jacket on the left, Rhonda. Now, she deserves to have not just pages but novels written about her and her life, but I’ll just say that in the ensuing years, she became my collaborator on another Cabaret showed called Guitar Girls. That show was my first baby, and Rhonda and I worked on it passionately for months, becoming unlikely and dear friends in the process. I was so proud of what it became after the full treatment with a whole development team and some incredible cast members. We dubbed the show “Chicks With Picks” and Rhonda designed a little unofficial logo. The cast was kind enough to adopt me as an honorary guitar girl, even though I couldn’t play a chord, and this is the gift that I handmade for everyone for opening night.gg mug

The other person from the photo I’ll mention is the white haired gentleman in the back, Jimmy Hoskins. I’d been thinking about Jimmy this week when I found this piece.

photo 3 (8)While Guitar Girls had been “my” music, one of the most interesting things about working on Cabaret shows was that I got to learn about music I didn’t know, otherwise, and none more so than with A Vaudeville Cabaret. We dug deep to unearth a trove of songs and sketches from the Vaudeville era, and I think it was a gem. Jimmy was the choreographer, and another character about whom volumes could be written. For each show he worked on, he’d create an art piece like this one and give a copy to each member of the creative team. The theatre is full of framed copies, and with A Vaudeville Cabaret, I finally got one of my own.

Jimmy Hoskins passed away this week. You can read a tribute to him here. I am reminded of how many dear, creative, wonderful people passed through my life during my time in Sarasota. I may not have kept in touch with all of them, and admittedly, I didn’t know Jimmy well enough to keep in touch with him after I left, but I love so many of them regardless of how fleeting our time together was. I carry their indomitable artistic spirits and bravery with me, along with the feel of the Sarasota sand that will always be between my toes.

11 thoughts on “Sarasota Dreaming

  1. Tracy Pecina Zingg

    Sorry to hear about Jimmy. I have a few of his drawings as well. I also still have my Guitar girls mug, and my Dar Williams poster, and my memory of the very first smiling face a met at FST!

  2. Kara

    So sorry the world lost a great man! C-ristin what an amazing moment in time. You are a wonderful person. An amazing writer and
    Obviously a fab wife and mommy! Someday I hope we can all reunion with our families at siesta key. Miss you my Aussie! Xoxoxox

  3. Ashley

    So many amazing memories! In fact, when I saw your post on FB I immediately started humming “in our little yellow house”. The Dar concert happened my intern you, so you had already moved to the pink house. That was such a wonderful summer for me! Love ya!

    1. Cristin Post author

      Yes, I definitely remembered that you, Tracy, and maybe John H (?) were the fellow Dar fans. Lots of porch sing alongs.

  4. Kristina

    Hi, Cristin! You probably won’t remember me because my role at FST was a bit-playing Cabaret waitress, but I thought you should know that this post brought back many dear memories. I loved that snapshot in time. Thank you for sharing it!

      1. Cristin Post author

        What lovely comments, thank you!
        Oh, and “The Christians and the Pagans” is the perfect choice for this time of year. Now I’m humming it, too! 🙂

    1. Cristin Post author

      I don’t think I do. I have to admit that almost everyone I know in Sarasota is or was involved in theatre in some way.

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