by Nicole Clayton
It’s hard to put into words the passion and appreciation required to work for and serve an organization for twenty years. Luckily, the work often speaks for itself. After spending the beginning of her career in Atlanta, Austin, and Clearwater, Rebecca came to FST in 1998.
Hopkins says, “I really only expected to be at FST for a season or two. I was looking to leave Florida, but needed time to figure out where I wanted to go. I applied for the Marketing Director position, but Richard had actually filled the position the day before my interview. He offered a position in the box office, which had lasted about two weeks when the person he hired for Marketing didn’t work out. I stepped right up. I guess you could say I’ve been stepping up ever since then.” Now, twenty years later, Rebecca Hopkins has witnessed tremendous growth and creativity blossom all around her.
“When I first got to Florida Studio Theatre, I quickly realized that my personal core values aligned with how FST works,” Hopkins recalls. “I was very in tune and connected here from the start. I think it’s important to keep yourself open to opportunities. That’s my improv nature, that ‘yes, and’ mindset. Let’s just see what happens.”
Well, a lot has happened. Just in her twenty years at FST, the theatre has grown from two to five theatres. As a whole, Florida Studio Theatre reaches over 200,000 attendees per year. Subscriptions have more than doubled to over 30,000 subscription packages, making FST the largest subscription audience in Florida and one of the largest in the United States. FST’s budget has grown from 1.8 Million to 7.6 Million. Throughout this surge of expansion, Hopkins’ own professional growth was a very organic one. In 2003, she took on her current role as Managing Director. Now overseeing all of the administrative departments, including the Business Office, Development, Marketing, Box Office, Front of House, Cabaret Restaurant; she is responsible for maintaining the overall quality of FST’s internal management functions.
“When I first got here, I looked for gaps and worked to help fill them in all areas of the theatre. We were just starting the Cabaret series, which first had its home in the Goldstein Cabaret,” says Hopkins. “Because I’d already had experience with front of house and restaurant management, I offered to lead those initiatives and fine tune those parts of our organization.”
One gap that Producing Artistic Director, Richard Hopkins, personally sought her assistance to fill was in the development of cabarets. Now, twenty years later, she has co-created over thirty Cabaret musical revues including all three of this season’s Winter Cabaret productions, Mack the Knife: The Bobby Darin Songbook, Blue Suede Shoes, and Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. She is the head-writer for the critically-lauded Laughing Matters series as well. “My first introduction into FST’s Cabaret was the development of the original Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits,” says Hopkins. “Richard knew I had spent 3 ½ years working with the Austin Shakespeare Festival. He asked me to help with the project. He intended for me to use my knowledge of the canon to connect with quotes, but I really got engaged. It actually was the first comedy writing I did for FST as I ended up writing a lot of the bridge material and jokes. I really fell in love with the Cabaret.
When it comes to creating our Cabaret revues, I’m fascinated by where the songs came from and the stories they tell about our culture. It’s incredibly exciting to see the caliber of talent from voices like Jannie Jones, onstage performing a piece that first only lived in my head. Working with Richard and Jim Prosser to develop these shows has been one of the great joys of my career.”
Collaboration is key to creating and evolving live theatre. Over the years, Hopkins has worked with many community leaders and organizations to further expand FST’s impact on all who walk through its doors. “There is no doubt in my mind, that FST would not have enjoyed the incredible growth we have experienced these past two decades were it not for the stability and good spirit that Rebecca has brought to the administrative offices,” says Producing Artistic Director, Richard Hopkins. “She is an ideal manager in my mind because she also loves and practices the art of theatre. She founded the FST Improv Program, and after ten years of growing that program, helped put the Sarasota Improv Festival on the national map. She had the selfless good sense to hire Will Luera to take over the program, so that it could grow even more, and it has. This ego-less devotion to the art of FST is something that only true artists possess. She has contributed to the massive improvement of our Cabaret productions through her devoted writing skills. (Not many people know that Rebecca is a core creator of the majority of our musical revues, and the principle writer for all of these shows, as well as the ‘lead writer’ for the ongoing Laughing Matters franchise.)”
FST Board of Trustees President, Dennis McGillicuddy adds, “There is virtually no aspect of the theatre that she does not impact in some way or another. Even though much of what she manages isn’t seen by our audience, it is the smooth operation of these managerial functions behind the scenes that have contributed significantly to the growth of our audience and, as importantly, to the high level of audience satisfaction that we enjoy.”
If all that wasn’t enough, in her spare time, Hopkins also serves as FST’s liaison to other arts and theatre industry organizations. Nationally, she serves as President for the National New Play Network and serves on the board of directors for both the League of Resident Theatres and Theatre Communications Group. Locally, she is on the Board of Directors for the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. She has also served as a panelist multiple times for the Florida Department of Cultural Affairs.
So what does the next 20 years have in store for Hopkins? Her answer might surprise you. “Staying open to the possibilities, partnerships, and opportunities for FST, “ says Hopkins. “I fell in love with Sarasota and with our theatre audience. Many of them come from places that already produce top-notch theatre. When they come through our doors, they expect to see the best in American theatre. Our audiences communicate with us about exactly what they want to see on stage. That makes it a challenging and very rewarding relationship for which I’m truly grateful. Once I knew this was going to be my permanent home my perspective changed and became very freeing. I’m not thinking about my next move or position. I’m thinking about how I can grow right here. My job is about serving this community. I’m constantly checking in with the national theatre scene to stay connected with other organizations and see what we all can do to keep this art form alive and thriving. When I think about what’s next, it’s not about me. It’s about my commitment to serving this community and always striving to make it better.”
Richard Hopkins sums it up quite nicely stating, “Florida Studio Theatre and our field at large, would not be what it is today without Rebecca Hopkins, nor would I for that matter. Rebecca has made my life and the life of FST complete. And now we can all grow into the future together. She deserves all the accolades that Sarasota can muster for her contributions to this theatre, this community, and the national theatre scene. May she have twenty more.”