Limelight series returns to Tampa Theatre with big achievers

The LIMELIGHT speakers series is back in 2022, featuring three long-awaited  speakers who weren't able to be in Tampa two years ago due to the pandemic.

On March 5, 2020, Olympic Gold-medalist snowboarder Shaun White was the only one who took the stage to bring talk of inspiration, encouragement and the drive to succeed. By the end of March, the COVID-19 pandemic had invaded the United States, forcing the Tampa Theatre and venues across the nation to close.

Those closures led to the postponement of the remaining three speakers in the theatre’s LIMELIGHT series, but with the slow lifting of some pandemic restrictions in 2022, those guests have been invited back. The LIMELIGHT series features some of the country's most inspiring leaders to tell their stories of success and what motivated them to achieve.
First up? Jonathan Haidt, professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of the New York Times’ bestseller “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” speaks on April 2nd at Downtown Tampa’s historic theater.

Sponsored by the Triad Foundation, Haidt will make his presentation on the topic: "How to Make Democracy Sustainable in Our Age of Polarization, Outrage, and Social Media.''

Haidt’s Limelight discussion will be followed by Geena Davis on May 27, the Academy Award-winning actor. She is also the founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute in Gender in Media and her Limelight participation will be sponsored by Film Tampa Bay and Visit Tampa Bay.

Lastly, Sept. 30, Limelight will present Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space.  She is also the founder and president of the Jemison Group and BioSentinent Corp., Leading 100 Year Starship and inductee into the National Women’s Hall of Fame & International Space Hall of Fame. Her appearance will be sponsored by Sabal Trust. 

With the help of the Vinik Family Foundation, the theatre and its staff are glad to be resuming the speakers’ series for 2022 and on, says Jill Witecki, Tampa Theatre director of marketing and community relations.
Witecki, in her 10th year at Tampa Theatre, says she is eager to resume the series after being disappointed to have to cancel the remaining LIMELIGHT speakers in 2020.
In 2019, the LIMELIGHT featured speakers were: Lou Holtz, renowned football coach and former ESPN analyst; Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, professor, futurist and New York Times best-selling author; Jenna Hager, best-selling author, contributing correspondent for NBC's Today, chair of UNICEF's Next Generation, and editor-at-large of Southern Living Magazine; Carl Hiaasen, best-selling novelist, Newbery Honor winner and Miami Herald columnist; and Platon, a British and world-renowned, award-winning photographer and founder of The People's Portfolio.

“It was immediately apparent that we weren’t going to be able to complete the rest of the series in 2020 and so then it became a matter of not if, but when could we complete the series,” says Witecki, who adds the bulk of 2020 tickets sales were for the series. “We owed it to the ticket holders and due to contracts with speakers to bring it back since it never really had the chance to get off the ground as a series.”

Although the theater has hosted individual speakers in the past, the idea for a series has been in the works based on that success at other theaters across the nation, says Witecki. 

“This venue is perfect for these speaker events. To put together a speaker series was kind of a natural evolution of that,” she says.

As far as who’s asked to participate in LIMELIGHT, Witecki says the theater administration’s criteria is someone with “something interesting to say, are thought leaders in their arenas, are interesting and across series, we’re looking for variety of viewpoints and speakers.” Speakers can come from a variety of areas of expertise -- sports, arts, politics, science, literature, and others to make presentations well-rounded with different viewpoints.

For LIMELIGHT, Witecki says the presenters generally speak for about 90 minutes with or without props. Platon brought a collection of his photos, White did an interview-style presentation along with Tampa radio host Pat Donovan and Hiaasen ended with an audience question-and-answer segment.
“Each one of the speakers sets their own structure as far as whether they prefer it to be a conversation or a presentation, so whether or not they do (audio-visual) is up to them,” she says. “But what all of them have in common is the opportunity for the audience to ask questions.” 

In 2019, the audiences tended to about 200 people and with the Tampa Theatre’s “sell-out” figure at 1,200, the LIMELIGHT presentations have a more intimate feel between audiences and speakers. Witecki says tickets are sold as series so even if an attendee may have heard of certain speakers, they may hear something they weren’t expecting or get the chance to see and hear unfamiliar presenters.

“Our goal with our series is that those guests are going to walk away having learned something or perhaps becoming privy to a point of view that they haven’t thought about before,” she says. “You’re going to be introduced to some people that weren’t necessarily on your radar.”
Witecki says LIMELIGHT is expected to continue as an annual event with no plans to end it in the future.
The name for LIMELIGHT was inspired by a bit of the lighting technology of the early 1800s that revolutionized the way theatrical stages were lit. “Quicklime” burned at more than 4500° F and focused through a thick glass lens which bathed scenes in an intense white glow. This allowed plays to simulate sunlight while highlighting individual performers. This then-new technology’s name went on to mean “fame and public attention.”
LIMELIGHT tickets range from $30 to $45 plus applicable fees. A limited number of VIP reception tickets are also available for $100; those include premium show seating, a photo opportunity with the speaker, and a pre-event cocktail reception with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.

For tickets, see or visit the box office, 711 N. Franklin St. Tampa. For more information, call (813) 274-8286.
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Read more articles by Paul Catala.

Paul Catala is a freelance writer whose work has been published across Florida, the U.S., and internationally. He has more than 30 years of experience working at the Charlotte Sun-Herald, the Tampa Tribune, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Provo (Utah) Daily-Herald, The (Lakeland) Ledger, and the Associated Press. He has a degree in broadcast telecommunication from the University of Florida and did post-graduate study in journalism at the University of South Carolina. Now living in Lakeland, Paul is an accomplished musician, playing keyboard and piano both solo and with bands around the Tampa Bay Area.