While the theater world stood still last year, Kristen Coury, the force behind Gulfshore Playhouse, was a whirlwind. As the founder, CEO, and producing artistic director of the professional production company, Coury was re-thinking how to bring theater virtually to local audiences while negotiating with the Actors’ Equity Association for approval for live productions. She was also keenly focused on developing a cultural campus, with the Baker Theatre and Education Center taking centerstage.
The Gulfshore Playhouse Next Stage Capital Campaign kept pace with Coury. The construction documents for the $60 million campus were finalized in September, giving potential donors the opportunity to take “a digital fly-through,” Coury says, of the 350-seat mainstage and 125-seat studio theaters, rather than assessing the scope of her vision from a sole exterior rendering. “We showed people the depth of the project and how it will serve the community and be impactful,” she says. “There are many ways this campus will engage people and change the face of downtown.”
Many agreed it was worth supporting: Since November, eight donors have committed $14.5 million, bringing the total raised to more than $35 million. To celebrate the momentum, Coury is hosting a VIP, invitation-only event on April 21 on the future campus’ vacant, three-acre site at the corner of First Avenue South and Goodlette-Frank Road. (An official groundbreaking ceremony will take place in the fall, when financial and permitting finishing lines have been crossed.)
The “Foundation of Excellence” appreciation party will include tuxedoed servers passing Champagne and hors d’oeuvres and live performances by Broadway’s Jason Danieley and Grammy- and Emmy-winner John McDaniel. Donors, potential donors, members of the media, and community leaders are expected to attend. “We’ve got huge momentum,” Coury says.
There will likely be a toast to Jay and Patty Baker, who provided the initial $10 million matching gift challenge in 2016, which was followed by the land’s purchase and was ultimately met, totaling $20 million, by 2019. More recently, two anonymous Naples couples made combined commitments of $3 million. Other benefactors who share a long-standing commitment to cultural and educational missions include:
- Steve and Jane Akin donated $5 million. He is chairman of Gulfshore Playhouse’s board and co-chair of the capital campaign committee. She is a former professional opera singer.
- Rich and Glenda Struthers pledged $2.5 million. He serves on Gulfshore Playhouse’s board and is co-chair of the capital campaign committee. She is a former docent at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
- Susan Regenstein and Barry Frank, long-time supporters of Gulfshore Playhouse, pledged $1 million. She serves on Gulfshore Playhouse’s board and is co-chair of the capital campaign committee.
- David A. Wilson, PhD, and his wife Jane committed $1 million. He serves on Gulfshore Playhouse’s board, and is a trustee for Johnson & Wales University, where the couple has provided needs-based scholarships for more than 25 years.
- The John and Carol Walter Family Foundation pledged $1 million. John and Carol Walter serve on prominent cultural boards nationally, including Steppenwolf Theatre and Joffrey Ballet, and locally, including the Naples Children & Education Foundation.
- Long-time Neapolitans David and Vicky Smith, who are loyal supporters of Naples Botanical Garden and other local organizations, committed $500,000.
The Bakers are among the most prolific and visible philanthropists in Naples, with legacies at NCH (Downtown Baker Hospital), Artis-Naples (The Baker Museum), and the city park near the Gulfshore Playhouse property (Baker Park). Patty has a deep history with theater; she earned her degree summa cum laude in directing and is an astute Broadway investor and producer. In a campaign video, Jay Baker says, “We want to be the first two people in the seats when it opens up” and Patty, not missing a beat, pipes in, “prime seats.”
Coury notes that the pandemic showed “the importance of personal gathering. This will be a cultural center that people will want to gather around.”