Presenting the top tickets in Venice area arts and entertainment for 2014-2015, plus best bets to the north—and more. By Kay Kipling

While many of us spend the summer relaxing around the pool or at the beach (or even out of town), the directors and staff of local theaters, musical ensembles and festivals spend theirs putting the final touches on their line-ups of shows and performances for the coming season. That’s why, come November, we have a plethora of dates on our entertainment calendar to look forward to.

That calendar offers all sorts of variety and choices, from classic and pop concerts at the brand-new Venice Performing Arts Center  to artful cuisine and conversation at the Hermitage Artist Retreat to high-flying entertainment at Venice Theatre, chuckles at the Lemon Bay Playhouse, and fun festivals featuring food and drink as well as entertainment. While some details are still under wraps, here’s a sneak peek at our list of the must-dos this season, in order by dates.

Sarasota Chalk Festival

In one of the biggest and most exciting arts-related events of the season, the Sarasota Chalk Festival is moving from downtown Sarasota to Venice, where it’s expected to draw thousands of spectators to ooh and aah as pavement artists create original pieces on the spot, from smaller 2D and 3D artwork to the largest 3D anamorphic street painting in the U.S. at the Airport Fairgrounds. (It’s rumored a Guinness World Record is in the making here.) The festival’s theme is Endangered and Extinct Species, allowing for plenty of creativity centered on the animal world. The event runs Nov. 10-17, with Miami Avenue West turning into the Festival Grounds; the Venice Art Center featuring an exhibition of festival artists; Venice Community Center hosting an opening gala Nov. 13; and much more, including storytelling, music, magic, and both student and children’s chalk blocks. (941) 954-5800,

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Mac Arnold

Venice Blues Festival  

Last year’s inaugural Venice Blues Festival was such a hit that it’s returning, and to a new, bigger venue, Maxine Barritt Park, on Nov. 15. The music plays from 11 a.m. or so to 7 p.m., featuring as headliner longtime Chicago blues man Mac Arnold, who’s played his left-handed bass with just about everybody from Muddy Waters to Eric Clapton to John Lee Hooker to James Brown. Other musicians in the line-up include the Joe Moss Band and Kat Riggins; the festival benefits Venice MainStreet. (941) 484-6722,

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My Pick “The Hermitage Artist Retreat’s Artful Lobster luncheon in November. I believe in their mission and in the preservation of the historic cottages there, and I enjoy meeting their visiting artists.”

—Deborah Beacham, realtor, Michael Saunders & Co.

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Artful Lobster 

Sure, this fund-raising luncheon for the Hermitage Artist Retreat features a luscious lobster for each guest, plus specialty cocktails, corn on the cob and all the fixin’s. But it also offers a chance to stroll the Manasota Key retreat’s beautiful Gulf-front grounds, peek into its cottages and get up close and personal with the creative types in residence there, to see what work they are in the process of making. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 15; tickets $175. (941) 475-2098,

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Venice Symphony/Exsultate!  

The official opening of the Venice Performing Arts Center is set for Nov. 6 (see page 47), but for many music lovers the first real event at the new hall will take place Nov. 21 and 22, when the symphony pairs with Exsultate! Venice’s Chorale, along with guest vocalists from the Metropolitan Opera and guest conductor Imre Pallo, to present A Musical Kaleidoscope—a varied start to the concert season. Then the orchestra and the chorale team again to perform Carl Orff’s revered cantata, Carmina Burana, Feb. 13 and 14 at the center. That should provoke some shivers down the spine. Symphony, (941) 207-8822,; Exsultate!, (941) 484-8491,


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Holiday Sparkle 

It wouldn’t be Christmastime in Venice without these three events: the downtown Venice Holiday Parade (Nov. 29), where thousands turn out to hear the music and see the lighting of the decorations; the Christmas Walk (Dec. 4), which sets downtown aglow with hundreds of luminaries; and the Christmas Boat Parade (Dec. 6), where boat owners try to outdo themselves and each other with their festively decorated water craft. Lots of photo ops with each celebration. Holiday Parade, (941) 488-8780,; Christmas Walk, (941) 484-6722,; Boat Parade, (941) 809-8100,

My Pick “So many wonderful events benefit our vital nonprofit partners. But I must say I’m looking forward to Children First’s ‘Rockin’ Lobster’ boil and beach party at Sharky’s (Nov. 1). Sand, sunset, lobster, all to benefit vulnerable children—what a way to kick things off in November!”—Teri A. Hansen, Gulf Coast Community Foundation

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Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story 

If you think you know the story of early rocker Holly from the movie starring Gary Busey, you may be surprised to find some of the movie’s inaccuracies corrected in this musical, which ran for 12 years in London’s West End and also had a Broadway run. Or you may not even care that much about the facts as long as you get to hear all that great music: That’ll Be the Day, Think It Over, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue, etc. Either way, it’s onstage at Venice Theatre Jan. 6-25; Matt McClure, who impressed audiences as the lead in last season’s The Elephant Man, will be wearing Buddy’s famous black-framed eyeglasses. (941) 488-1115,

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark  

Venice Theatre welcomes another first-time production to the area with this work by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined, Intimate Apparel). While Nottage has tended toward drama in her plays, Vera Stark is more comedic in nature, set in the screwball movie era of 1930s Hollywood. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a point to make—in this case, about the tough time a black actress could have trying to make it in a film industry where the competition is stiff for all those maid roles. Beatrice Fletcher-Miller stars as Vera. A Stage II offering, running Jan. 8-25. (941) 488-1115,

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My Pick “The Venice Symphony’s annual performance at State College of Florida Foundation’s Evening Under the Stars [April 11 at SCF Venice]. More than 1,200 residents experience the magic of our symphony and SCF music students. The last composition is played to a full-scale fireworks display.” —Darlene C. Wedler-Johnson, SCF Venice Campus executive officer

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Mary Poppins  

The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius musical about fiction’s most famous super nanny makes its Southwest Florida debut at Venice Theatre, Feb. 17 through March 15, so get the kids and grandkids ready to sing along to Chim Chim Cher-ee. The Cameron Mackintosh production features music from the Disney movie, with new songs as well—and a book by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. VT artistic director Murray Chase is at the helm, and at press time was still checking into companies to handle the flying scenes. (941) 488-1115,

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Italian Feast and Carnival   

Celebrate Venice’s Italian traditions with this fest, Feb. 19-22 on the Venice Airport Festival Grounds, brought to us by the Italian American Club of Venice. Musical performers announced at press time include Bandana and Jimmy Mazz; you can also expect dancers, midway rides and games, and plenty of Italian specialties. (941) 486-1492,

 Toast to Venice 

Here’s yet another chance to indulge in fine foods from local chefs, sample wine and beer, enjoy live music and a silent auction, and know you’re supporting a good cause (past beneficiaries have included Big Brothers and Big Sisters, South County YMCA, Habitat for Humanity and more). It’s all thanks to the Venice-Nokomis Rotary Club, which hosts this seventh annual fest from 2 to 5 p.m. March 7 at Maxine Barritt Park. (941) 375-4118,

Venice Book Fair and Writers Festival  

This fourth annual celebration of writers and the written word takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 28 in Centennial Park, and it promises a goodly gaggle of authors (names TBA) signing their books, along with workshops for fledgling authors to get them started in the publishing game. Proceeds benefit Venice Heritage Inc., which supports both the ongoing restoration of the Lord-Higel Pioneer House and Venice Museum and Archives. (941) 486-2626 ext. 24005 or (941) 237-0478,

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Sharks Tooth Festival 

Venice loves its festivals, and one of the most popular and long-running is the Sharks Tooth Festival, running April 10-12, for the 23rd year. More than 100 arts and craft vendors, food booths serving everything from seafood to barbecue, kids’ activities and continuous live entertainment are guaranteed with the fest, which takes place on the Venice Airport Festival Grounds and benefits Special Olympics Sarasota County. Oh, and plenty of sharks’ teeth and other fossils for sale, too. (941) 412-0402,

My Pick “The opening of the new Performing Arts Center. I’ve purchased season tickets for my wife and myself and we will attend as many performances as possible. This center will be a focal point for the entire community for years to come.” —Mayor John Holic

My Pick “The Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash in April, because it’s family friendly, with awesome BBQ, chili and dessert contests, nationally recognized bluegrass entertainment, a free kid zone and more.”—Ed Taylor, President, Equity Investment Properties


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Suncoast BBQ Bash 

Barbecue and bluegrass—it’s hard to go wrong with a combination like that. So when competing chefs face off for prizes in this sixth annual bash, we’re the real winners. Things kick off April 16 with a chance to meet the champions of past years at Snook Haven; that’s followed by a sporting clays shoot out, a fish fry dinner, hot air balloon glow and more April 17; and the BBQ Contest featuring 60 teams, an afternoon with Grammy-nominated Boxcars and the Claire Lynch Band, best dessert competition and more on April 18. All at the Venice Municipal Airport. (941) 809-5232,

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Venice Symphony/Aleron Trio  

The acclaimed international trio (violinist Solenn Seguillon, cellist Anne Suda, pianist Sophie Zuefei  Zhang) guests with the orchestra, under the direction of Kenneth Bowermeister, to present an all-Beethoven concert,  April 17 and 18 at Venice Performing Arts Center. A highlight: Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, the only completed concerto the composer ever wrote for more than one solo instrument. (941) 207-8822,



You’ll find plenty more cultural events this season not far from the South County area; here are some shows worth traveling for.

South Pacific The Asolo Repertory Theatre opens its season with this much-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on James Michener’s World War II stories (Nov. 14 through Dec. 28). You’ve seen it before, but when the Asolo Rep does a classic musical (with all-new orchestrations like this one), especially with director Rob Ruggiero (responsible for last season’s Show Boat), they always seem to find a fresh and revelatory approach. (941) 351-8000,

Peter and the Starcatcher This Tony Award winner is based on the bestselling novel by former longtime Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and it focuses on the “back story” of Peter Pan…how did he get to Neverland in the first place, anyway? A magical show to enchant the whole family, onstage Feb. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. (941) 953-3368,

The Golden Cockerel Something else brand-new to the area: this Rimsky-Korsakov opera about a king, a queen, an astrologer and a golden bird, premiered by the Sarasota Opera Feb. 21, 24, March 8, 11, 14 and 19. Grigory Soloviov is King Dodon, and award-winning scenic designer David P. Gordon provides sets as exotically Russian as the composer’s music. (941) 328-1300,

Trenton Doyle Hancock Exhibition This show by former Hermitage Artist Retreat artist (and 2013 Greenfield Prize winner) Trenton Doyle Hancock should be one of the most talked-about of the season. Hancock has had a two-decade-long career, much of it centered on paintings created around mythological creatures called the Mounds. But his Ringling show, opening April 16, promises a new direction, one focused more on multimedia and film. (941) 359-5700,

The Ballets Russes  The Sarasota Ballet, riding high after making its New York debut in City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival last month, continues to stretch itself (pun intended), offering both new and seldom seen works. The company closes its season with pieces that originally starred Ballets Russes legend Vaslav Nijinsky: Les Sylphides, The Afternoon of a Faun and Petrushka (the latter two company premieres), May 1 and 2 at the Sarasota Opera House. No word yet on which dancers will fill Nijinsky’s slippers. (941) 359-0099 ext. 101,


And don’t forget these annual highlights: Circus Sarasota (Feb. 10-22, 941-355-9335, and the Sarasota Film Festival (April 10-19, 941-366-6200, |||


Vhs vpac final renderings courtesy sarasota county schools city of venice and schenkelschultz architecture zt7nhn

Hello, VPAC!

Everyone’s been buzzing for months about the building going on over at Venice High School, where the long-awaited Venice Performing Arts Center has been coming out of the ground.

Now the doors to this new 51,000-square-foot hall, which seats nearly 1,100 and promises acoustic excellence, swing open with a public grand opening and ribbon cutting at 6 p.m. Nov. 6. It will be the first glimpse into the future of the Venice performing arts scene, providing a new home for concerts by the Venice Symphony, Venice Concert Band and Exsultate! Venice’s Chorale and supporting other community arts programs as well.

The center is also home, of course, to Venice High’s band, chorus, orchestra and drama department—and it’s perhaps the crowning achievement of the $91 million reconstruction of the campus. (Price tag for the center itself: $12.7 million, $7.3 million of which was contributed by the city of Venice.) Dan Tarzinski of SchenkelShultz Architecture is credited with creating a welcoming, airy concert space that also fits nicely into the campus setting.

Community arts leaders are thrilled. “It opens all kinds of new vistas,” says Kenneth Bowermeister, Venice Symphony conductor/music director. “The stage gives us the space to do things we’ve never done before, like our performance of Carmina Burana; we can actually fit a 75-piece orchestra and 120-member chorus there. I think it will help the orchestra improve, and will also open up all kinds of possibilities for the community. It’s spacious, comfortable and beautifully appointed. It’s such an unusual hall for a city the size of Venice to have.”



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