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Live theater to come to the Shell Factory

By Staff | Sep 26, 2019

One of the best-known names in Southwest Florida theater is about to move to one of north Lee County’s oldest landmarks

The Shell Factory & Nature Park announced Wednesday that Players Circle Theatre, currently at 16554 N. Cleveland Ave. in Fort Myers, will place its new theater at the North Fort Myers attraction.

In partnership with the Actors Equity Association (contract pending), the inaugural season is slated to kick off Dec. 3, and will include five professional shows that should give theatergoers an intimate experience so close you can almost touch them, officials said.

Pam Cronin, owner of the Shell Factory, said this will mark a new beginning for the 80-year-old attraction.

“It’s a fabulous new era for the Shell Factory and for North Fort Myers. The pairing between two well-known organizations will make for a wonderful arts experience in our area,” Cronin said. “I’ve already had people stopping in and thanking us for bringing a theater to North Fort Myers.”

Robert Cacioppo, an award-winning theater owner of more than 35 years, said he is very excited to be moving to a growing area.

“We’re excited by the proximity of one of the largest cities in Florida. We want to connect with the city of Cape Coral in a bigger way than when I was downtown,” Cacioppo said.

Cacioppo said he had been looking for a new location for more than a year, including a return to their old location on Sanibel.

After a location on the corner of College Parkway and U.S. 41 fell through, Shell Factory owner Pam Cronin contacted Cacioppo a month ago to express interest in a temporary location in the Dolphin Room.

“When we went out there, we decided this wasn’t a temporary location. North Lee County is growing and will be the next boom area,” Cacioppo said. “Twenty years ago, nobody was downtown and we helped revitalize it. Now, I think with the revitalization money and the growth here and in the Cape, I think the Shell Factory is on the cusp.”

The venue will be a flexible black box theatre with shows performing in the round (audiences on four sides), three-quarter thrust (three sides), alley (two sides) and proscenium (two sections facing the set) configurations.

Seating up to 192 guests, the audience will be close to the action, never more than five rows from the stage. It will have a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, accompanied by a Bluetooth loop hearing aid system and hearing headsets at no charge.

“People prefer the ‘little theater.’ Nothing replaces the excitement of being 10 to 15 feet from the actors. It’s the intimacy factor,” Cacioppo said.

Adjacent to the theater, a lobby adorned with more than two dozen vintage chandeliers and marble top bar will double as a cabaret space.

The 1,000 square-foot space will seat 50-plus, and the walls will showcase 180 framed vintage Broadway Playbills ranging from the 1920s through today. Prior to the show, audiences will be able to experience Southern Grill as well as the new tiki bar, Tommy’s.

Performances will include Broadway-level entertainment with prices starting at $25. VIP seating and subscription packages are also available.

“I want a theater my mom and dad could afford. We have ways for people to see the shows for $25 and give them $100 entertainment,” Cacioppo said.

A list of performances will be announced, and tickets will be available in October. The first season is expected to last into May, with the possibility of starting a summer camp for kids and year-round shows starting in 2020-21.

The Cacioppos have a track record of success in the theater industry, including being founding members of the Florida Repertory Theatre, the largest not-for-profit arts organization in Lee County.

Currently, donations are being accepted and show sponsors are needed. The theatre has already raised more than $220,000. Plans are to buy $100,000 in theater chairs, risers and draperies and another $100,000 for the sound and lighting system.

Its three-fold mission is to create a home for a variety of theater employing an ensemble of professionals who will form long-term working relationships to become an outlet for community involvement in the arts, and to enrich, educate, inspire and entertain the community with classes and performances.

The Shell Factory at 2787 N. Tamiami Trail. For more information, email at Info@PlayersCircle.org.