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Chamber gets update from Player’s Circle director

November 27, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The new Players Circle Theatre is being hailed as a game changer for north Fort Myers and the Shell Factory.

On Nov. 20, at the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Leaders Luncheon at Heron's Glen, Robert Cacioppo, Producing Artistic Director of the theater, talked about the new venture, how he got there, and what the inaugural season will be like.

Cacioppo said he came to Florida to chase a girl, whom he caught. She had started the first professional theater in Lee County in Sanibel called The Pirate Playhouse in the mid-1980s.

Article Photos

From left, Brian Avery, Brian Wierima of the Gulf Coast Humane Society, Chamber President John Gardner, Carolyn Graves and Linda Lindquist. The chamber presented the Gulf Coast Humane Society with a check during the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Leaders Luncheon at Heron’s Glen on Nov. 20.


"I followed her here, married her, had two beautiful children and, in 1992, a new theater was built by the same name. It was the first actor's equity theater, and it ran until 1998," Cacioppo said.

The city of Fort Myers offered them the use of the old Arcade Theatre in 1999, on which the city had spent $3 million to renovate, but had little success. In 1998, for example, they had only 35 usage days out of 365, Cacioppo said.

"It was a beautiful theater, but nobody was going to it because downtown had a bad reputation. People told me not to go there," Cacioppo said. "We not only got the building rent free, but $150,000 per year to supplement the budget."

The Fort Myers City Council passed the measure, with Veronica Shoemaker casting the deciding vote, saying she could hear "Ca-ching, Ca-ching."

For 20 years, the Florida Repertory Theatre helped change the face of downtown and became the largest arts organization in county history.

The Cacioppos spent a year looking for something new when Shell Factory owner Pam Cronin came calling. Cronin gave Cacioppo the old Dolphin Room, administrative and box office space, and even a space to build sets.

The Players Circle will be a 180-seat, black-box theater, meaning it's flexible. Shows can be done on a traditional stage, in the round, even in the corner. Nobody will be more than 10 feet from the performance.

"We did this at the Arcade. We had a 390-seat theater with perfect acoustics and added a black-box theater with 100 seats. They liked the smaller theater because nothing beats being 10 feet from the action," Cacioppo said.

The first show will be "Ho! Ho! Ho! The Christmas Show," which starts Dec. 3 and runs through Dec. 22.

Cacioppo said he wants the Shell Factory to be a one-stop shop for the arts. Start the night with dinner at the new Southern Grill (formerly Fishbones) before catching the show and wrapping things up at the Circle Club with cocktails, or maybe even visiting Tommy's, the soon-to-be completed tiki bar.

He also asked the business community to do what it can to contribute, whether by ordering a season pass or in a Playbill and told them of the specials the theater would offer. At the Lights Up fundraiser at the theater, they raised $62,000. In six months about $300,000 has been raised.

In other business, the Chamber of Commerce raised $700 for the Gulf Coast Humane Society at its Calvin Peete Golf Classic. The Chamber presented the organization with a check and photo op at the meeting.



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