Mission & History

Home / Mission & History

About Gulfshore Playhouse

new

Learn More

new

A Short History of Gulfshore Playhouse

new

Gulfshore Playhouse, Naples’ only fully professional theatre, was incorporated as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit professional theatre on May 21, 2004 in Naples, Florida, with a fiscal year ending June 30th. We work with the Actors’ Equity Union on an SPT 10 Contract, United Scenic Artists’ Union (USA), and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).

In 2004, after spending many years in New York City working for Broadway Producers, Kristen Coury moved to Naples and founded Gulfshore Playhouse because she saw a niche in the local arts community that could be filled by creating a professional, self-producing theatre. She was determined to bring Broadway-quality theatre to Naples by hiring the best professional actors and designers from New York and around the country.

Over the next year and a half, Kristen single-handedly created 6 successful fundraising events, which included headliners such as Carol Channing, Carol Lawrence, and Anna Maria Alberghetti. Producing full-length plays was challenging without a base of operations, rehearsal and performance space, or a location for set building, storage, and office space.
In 2006, Gulfshore Playhouse premiered its first full-scale production: Oleanna by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet, starring Tony Award-nominee Alan Campbell. It was at this time that the Norris Center, a municipal building run by the City of Naples, became available. With an intimate 200-seat performance venue, as well as the necessary classrooms and storage space, it was a perfect home for a young theatre company.

Aside from the work being done on stage, the opportunity finally arose to establish an education program that could provide unique and essential opportunities to the children of Southwest Florida. ThinkTheatre, providing in-school residencies which combine content curriculum with arts integration, was created in 2007 under the name ART SMART.  In order to provide even more opportunities for children in the region, Gulfshore Playhouse proudly debuted its STAR Academy after-school and summer programs in 2009.

Gulfshore Playhouse incrementally expanded its staff, season of professional programming, educational offerings, and reputation in Naples as a premiere artistic home catering to performers, designers, and audiences from around the country. In 2012, the Playhouse proudly announced six full productions spanning the entire season from October to April. In addition, Gulfshore Playhouse inaugurated its New Works Festival, which brought playwrights, directors, and actors from around the country to nurture the growth of new plays. Furthering its commitment to fostering and producing New Works, the 2013-14 season saw Gulfshore Playhouse produce its first World Premiere – The God Game, by Suzanne Bradbeer. 2014-15 saw another World Premiere – The Butcher, by Gwydion Suilebhan.  The 2016-17 season’s World Premiere Do This, by Karen Siff Exhorn was presented by special arrangement with Tony Award winning producer, Ken Davenport. The 2017-18 season included two World Premieres: Scapino, by Gulfshore Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Jeffrey Binder and Miss Keller Has No Second Book, by Deb Hiett. This critical success and audience favorite grew directly out of the New Works Festival implemented just a season before.

By 2014, the growing staff had outgrown its 300-square foot office space in the Norris Center and moved to a 2100 square foot office suite located above the FGCU Renaissance Academy on the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue.  In June 2021, the Playhouse once again expanded to 5,500 sq ft in the Poinciana Professional Park.

Today, Gulfshore Playhouse employs 43 team members, produces summer programs (including 2 full-scale productions) serving children ages 6-18, has a $5.2 million budget, an Annual New Works Festival, theatre that challenges and delights from October through May, and numerous other excellent and evolving programs, including The Synergy Series, which offers a variety of free opportunities for audience members to dig more deeply into the content of the plays onstage.  Gulfshore Playhouse continues its commitment to being the finest professional theatre in Southwest Florida, hosting the best theatre artists from around the nation as well as fostering a flourishing and ever-growing education department. Since 2009, the annual budget has grown 775% and the Playhouse continues to operate without debt.

During the Covid pandemic, after ceasing productions for several months, the Playhouse brought staff back and continued to produce a season, becoming one of only seventeen theatres to be approved by Actors’ Equity to produce safely.

In 2016 Gulfshore Playhouse announced a $10-million matching gift from philanthropists and long-time benefactors of the theatre, Patty and Jay Baker. This extraordinary gift ignited a multi-million-dollar Capital Campaign designed to build a state-of-the-art Tony Award-winning professional theatre and education center.

In April of 2021, the Bakers once again ignited fundraising efforts by offering a second $10M matching challenge which was met in a mere six weeks, resulting in a campaign total of $55M.  Construction will commence on the 45,000 sq ft state of the art Baker theatre and education center.  Designed by H3/ Architectonica, this cultural campus will include a 350-seat mainstage, 125-seat studio, classrooms, rehearsal studios, and rental space.