(Sarasota, FL) — Produced for the first time ever south of the Mason Dixon Line, Richard Strand’s Butler opens in Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre on December 11, 2015. This SOUTHEAST REGIONAL PREMIERE presents audiences with a unique perspective of the imagined conversations behind closed doors during one of the most significant times in American history. Subscriptions for all four Mainstage shows can be purchased for as little as $59 online at FloridaStudioTheatre.org, by phone at (941) 366-9000, or by visiting the Box Office.
The year is 1861, in the heat of the Civil War at Fort Monroe, Virginia. An escaped slave seeks sanctuary, but the laws of the land are unrelenting. With sharp wit and tongue-in-cheek humor, Butler takes audiences on a journey through the legal loopholes that led to the freeing of 10,000 slaves. The New York Times calls it, “Uproarious…thoughtful and rollicking.” Broadway World describes this production as, “Provocative” and “Captivating.”
Now, 150 years after the Civil War, FST’s production of Butler explores not only the historical impact of General Benjamin Butler and slave Shepard Mallory, but the intellectual reality of what their interactions might have looked like. Directing this intriguing production is FST’s own Associate Artist Jason Cannon. Audiences may recognize Cannon for his role as Ever Montgomery in the 2014/15 production of Dancing Lessons.
Cannon explains the appeal of a play that brings modern perspective to what many think of as ancient history. “Even though this play is set right at the beginning of the Civil War, it’s not a play about history, but a play about TODAY – The volatile conversation about race and immigration, the re-energized furor over the Confederate flag, the resonance of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Our society is grappling with a fundamental shift in how we even CONCEIVE of race, and Butler is a prescient addition to the conversation. Personally I’m excited to work on this play because it relies on humor, wit, and an intellectual cat-and-mouse that delights while it informs. The laughs allow us to get dangerously close to the issues raised, and the play ultimately provokes us to think about our own assumptions and biases in the here and now. That’s the most impressive aspect of this show: I didn’t just learn something about history, I learned something about myself. My hope is that our audience leaves the theatre not just a little more informed about a fascinating moment in our nation’s history, but maybe even empowered to resist becoming numb to the deluge of negative sound bites that currently masquerade as debate.”
Playing the sharp-tongued slave Shepard Mallory is returning FST company member, Shane Taylor. Taylor was recently seen in FST’s hit production of FLY, playing the part of J. Allen. Now portraying a historical figure that altered the course of all slavery, Taylor explains his approach to this role stating,
“I approach every character differently depending on what the demands are. With Shepard Mallory being a historic 19th century figure, much of my interpretation will be based on research from the era he represents. His language is very specific and unlike any other character from the period that I’ve come across in recent times. I think my challenge here is to keep him specific to the period and not too contemporary. It’s challenging because he feels so very contemporary in regards to behavior and cadence. It’s going to be an interesting challenge to keep him grounded in his reality and not viewing him through the 21st century prism.”
Taking on the role of the Major General Benjamin Butler is returning company member Eric Hoffmann. Hoffman was previously seen in FST’s production of Over the River and Through the Woods in the role of Frank Gianelli. Playing alongside Taylor and Hoffman in the role of Lieutenant Kelly is Joe Ditmyer. Ditmyer was last seen at FST in the 2009 production, Shear Madness. His recent credits include: Harvey, On Golden Pond, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Ditmyer speaks of his preparation before he takes to the Keating stage in just a few short weeks. “The story we are telling in Butler is incredibly exciting to be a part of. We are dealing with some very special circumstances that occurred, that arguably led to the end of slavery in America. After I first read Butler, it was clear that I needed to play Lieutenant Kelly sometime soon. The fact that I’m doing it now, at FST, makes it as sweet as it possibly could be. In preparation, aside from working on Richard Strand’s amazing script, I’m doing a lot of reading. There are endless options from all different viewpoints on the civil war, but it’s a gift that there is so much written on General Butler and his time at Fort Monroe. I look forward to starting rehearsals and beginning the process of bringing this story to life.”
Rounding out the cast is FST’s Associate Managing Director, Jim Sorensen, playing the role of Major Cary. Sorensen shares his excitement in being a part of this production as well as how he balances working at a desk during the day but also on stage as an actor at night. “I’ve been involved in the theatre for nearly 30 years now, primarily as an actor, and I’m especially happy to be onstage here at FST. One of the best parts about my job is when I get to meet and interact with our audiences, and it’s a great icebreaker to be able to say, ‘You saw me onstage in Butler.’ For the five years previous to coming to FST, I was at freeFall theatre in St. Petersburg as the Managing Director, and was able to balance my administrative work with time onstage, both at freeFall and at other area theatres. It’s necessary for me – I’m a performer at heart, and being on stage keeps me integrally connected with the reason I do what I do in the office. That’s what I’ve been so impressed about with FST – we’re a company founded by an artist and run by artists.”
Butler opens on December 11, 2015 in the Keating Theatre. Subscriptions for all four Mainstage shows can be purchased for as little as $59, online at FloridaStudioTheatre.org, by phone at
(941) 366-9000 or by visiting the Box Office.
About Florida Studio Theatre
Known as Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre was founded in 1973 by artist, Jon Spelman. Starting out as a small touring company, FST traveled to places such as migrant camps and prisons. The company then acquired the former Woman’s Club building, becoming the first permanent venue. Shortly after Producing Artistic Director, Richard Hopkins arrived, the building was purchased and renamed The Keating Theatre. In the years that followed, Florida Studio Theatre established itself as a major force in American theatre, presenting contemporary theatre in its five venues: the Keating Theatre, the Gompertz Theatre, the Parisian style Goldstein Cabaret, the John C. Court Cabaret, and Bowne’s Lab Theatre.
Even with its growth, Florida Studio Theatre remains firmly committed to making the arts accessible and affordable to a broad-based audience. FST develops theatre that speaks to our living, evolving, and dynamically changing world. As FST grows and expands, it continues to provide audiences with challenging, contemporary drama and innovative programs.