Live, from Gainesville

UF School of Theatre and Dance's production of “Guys and Dolls.”

UF School of Theatre and Dance
Published: Friday, August 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 11:02 a.m.

When Russell Etling moved to Gainesville from Miami three years ago, his biggest concern was that the area's cultural offerings would be sparse compared with the vibrant atmosphere he was leaving in South Florida.

Now, as cultural affairs interim manager for the city of Gainesville's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, Etling says, “We have an extraordinarily rich cultural community here. Even coming from Miami, where I was born and raised and lived and worked for the past 20 years, there are more opportunities here for jazz in one month than there are in Miami.”

And not just any jazz, he adds. Etling says that before Michael Ward-Bergeman moved to New Orleans this year, he often played the accordion at Leonardo's 706 with Marty Liquori and his jazz ensemble.

“He is arguably the best accordion player in the country,” Etling says of Ward-Bergeman, who played in a quartet with Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic for a national television audience on New Year's Eve. “And you could go listen to him for free at Leo's 706 for the cost of a pizza.”

Not all that jazzed about jazz? No problem. Gainesville is home to three performing arts halls, including the P.K. Yonge Performing Arts Center and, of course, the University of Florida's Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which recently was ranked one of the top five university-based performing arts halls in the country. The community's latest addition, the Santa Fe Fine Arts Hall, which opened in 2012, brings state-of-the-art technology to the college's teaching programs and big-name talent to its stage.

Gainesville also boasts a national ballet company, Dance Alive!, a community orchestra under the direction of nationally renowned conductor Evans Haile, and one of just three state-designated regional theaters, the Hippodrome Theatre.

In 2011, the Actors' Warehouse opened on North Main Street, joining two other all-volunteer community theaters in town: the Gainesville Community Playhouse in the Vam York Theater on Northwest 16th Boulevard and the Acrosstown Repertory Theater on South Main Street. The Actors' Warehouse, an intimate black box theater, is home to The Spirit of Soul Company. Under the artistic direction of Steven H. Butler and technical director S. Khaleel White, the company prides itself on staging productions with multicultural and non-traditional casts while maintaining the artistic integrity of the plays. The Actors' Warehouse also houses the Star Children's Theatre, under the artistic direction of Rhonda Wilson.

Not only is there a lot going on, but the quality of the programming is surprisingly high. More often than not, the performers are nationally and internationally renowned, and the performances themselves are world-class. For instance, two years ago, the city of Gainesville's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs added Jest Fest to the lineup of star performers. The month-long festival, featuring free, family-style entertainment every Saturday night in April at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, brought in such headlining performers as The Flying Wallendas, the Cirikli Stilt Birds (puppets) and Cirque de Soleil acrobat Cory Tabino.

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