The New Tampa Performing Arts Center gets its close up with first fall festival

Sometimes things take a while but perseverance pays off in the end.

Take, for example, the New Tampa Performing Arts Center. When the 354-seat, 20,000-square-foot, venue opened in March, it was the culmination of a more than two-decade journey to bring a performing arts center to suburban New Tampa.

Hillsborough County, which owns and operates the center, introduced the new performing arts hub to the larger community. over the weekend with the first New Tampa Performing Arts Center Fall Festival, which ran Friday, September 8th to Sunday, September 10th at the center, 8550 Hunter’s Village Rd., near the entrance of the Hunter’s Green neighborhood.

“We wanted to not only unveil the building with something large and festive for the community but also kick off the upcoming performance season,” Keith Arsenault, the general manager of the New Tampa center, says in an interview before the event. “Everything is free and open to the public. We have performances by a wide range of Tampa Bay area arts organizations. There are some from here in the north Hillsborough, New Tampa area and some from other areas of the county. We’ll have everything from high school students  to the most professional performers imaginable performing.” 
It was back in 2001 that community arts advocates first organized to look at bringing a performing arts venue to the rapidly growing New Tampa area. That effort launched a community theater group, the New Tampa Players, in 2002. The late Doug Wall, a  co-founder and artistic director at New Tampa Players, advocated and worked for years to bring a performing arts center to the area. Wall passed away in 2017. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist and current County Commissioner Ken Hagan continued to work on the project. In 2021, the County Commisison approved $7.3 million to build the center. 

The New Tampa Performing Arts Center opened in late March, with a dedication to Wall and a musical storytelling performance by the New Tampa Players, who finally had a permanent home for performances after two decades.

“This is definitely our first permanent home,” says New Tampa Players Producing Artistic Director Nora Paine. “Over the years, We’ve performed at almost every venue in Tampa practically…Now the New Tampa Players are performing in New Tampa, which is good. It only took 20 years to be able to do that.”

Since the center opened, the New Tampa Players have put on a production of Beauty and the Beast through their Penguin Project, a local initiative that’s part of a national theater program for special needs youth and adults, and a production of Grease. Beauty and the Beast sold out all its performances. Grease was at 95 percent capacity one weekend and sold out all shows the following weekend, Arsenault says. 

During the Fall Festival, New Tampa Players performed selections from the Great American Song Book on Friday night and have Broadway trivia on Sunday. The three-day event also included the Tampa City Ballet performing excerpts from their production of “Alice in Wonderland,” Rudram Dance Company, the Tampa Brass Band ensemble, ATLAS Modern Ballet, performers from Countdown Improv Festival and much more.

Arsenault says the festival's inspiration is the performing arts festival the Arts Council of Hillsborough County used to hold decades ago at the old Curtis Hixon Hall downtown. He was part of the staff that helped run those events.

“This is sort of my take on what we did back in those days to make the arts accessible to the widest group of people and introduce these organizations to the public,” Arsenault says.

Following the festival, Arsenault says the New Tampa Performing Arts Center has a busy schedule ahead.

“We’re busy,” he says. “There was certainly a pent-up demand for the space. We have no problem getting it booked with local organizations who want to use it.”

A concert series of local groups will include Brazilian jazz group O Som Do, Chicago tribute band Pieces of Eight Chicago, the Tampa Bay Symphony, The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and Opera Tampa. The Tampa Jazz Club and musicians from the University of South Florida music program will also perform four Thursday night concerts. That series begins September 14th.

The center will launch a film series featuring  Bollywood films for the large Indian community living in the  New Tampa area. A Saturday morning animated movie series begins during the festival with Encanto. The Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department, which runs the center, will also put on a youth Saturday morning drama program.

The New Tampa Players will put on Shrek the Musical in October, Dreamgirls in February and then their next Penguin Project production.

The theater has a stage and orchestra pit and a capacity of approximately 350 seats. It is also a flexible space that can be reconfigured for smaller performances and other events. Arsenault says there are also two 25-by-50-foot rehearsal halls with the same suspended dance floors as the  American Ballet Theatre studios in New York City. There is also room for a future 10,000-foot expansion. 

For more information go to New Tampa Performing Arts Center.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.