THIRTY YEARS AND COUNT­ING

BBMANN HITS A MILE­STONE

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Craig Gar­rett is Group Edi­tor-in-Chief for TOTI Me­dia.

The Bar­bara B. Mann Per­form­ing Arts Hall is an artis­tic sanc­tu­ary founded by a cul­tural icon. The hugely pop­u­lar BBMann is cel­e­brat­ing three decades in South­west Florida.

When Bar­bara Balch Mann died in 2013 at age 100, many were left with sweet mem­o­ries of her long life and ca­reer. Among the mourn­ers was Bobby Logue, an ac­tor who had per­formed at the Fort My­ers the­ater named in her honor. Logue says the Bar­bara B. Mann Per­form­ing Arts Hall, on the cam­pus of Florida South-West­ern State Col­lege in Fort My­ers, pro­vides op­por­tu­nity and billing cred­its to South­west Florida’s stage com­mu­nity. It also brings in vis­it­ing ac­tors and show di­rec­tors, from whom the lo­cals can learn, ab­sorb­ing their wis­dom and at­tend­ing their work­shops. “We’ve been very lucky,” says Logue, a veteran per­former to­day work­ing as chore­og­ra­pher and artis­tic di­rec­tor for the Herb Strauss The­ater at BIG ARTS on Sani­bel. “It’s like an artis­tic haven, bring­ing big Broad­way shows to our area. The im­pact has been tremen­dous.”

This sea­son marks the 30-year an­niver­sary of the per­for­mance hall many re­fer to as the BBMann. It’s also the 10-year an­niver­sary of its gen­eral man­ager, Scott Saxon, a wit­ness to the ex­cite­ment that live the­ater gen­er­ates, as well as a prac­ti­cal ad­min­is­tra­tor. His job is to bring a mix of per­form­ers and shows that drive in­ter­est and ticket sales, dif­fi­cult in a mar­ket of di­verg­ing ages and tastes in mu­sic and drama, he says. “Some­thing for ev­ery­one,” Saxon says in de­scrib­ing his role. “You want to push the en­ve­lope [with

such shows as Spring Awak­en­ing], yet bal­ance the sea­son. A lot hap­pens. It gets in your blood, and you sort of live it.”

The op­por­tu­nity for 180,000 ticket-hold­ers last sea­son would not, of course, have been pos­si­ble with­out the vi­sion of a diminu­tive woman who in her later years couldn’t re­call be­ing handed a high school diploma in 1929 by Thomas Edi­son, but clearly re­mem­bered in­ter­act­ing with his wife, Mina. “Mrs. Edi­son was very nice. She had a huge bas­ket of flow­ers de­liv­ered to me on stage [after a school play]. That was a lot more ex­cit­ing,” Bar­bara Mann said in a news­pa­per in­ter­view.

It is no ac­ci­dent that a large per­for­mance hall was named in Mann’s honor―she was a tire­less sup­porter of mu­sic and the arts, ac­quain­tances re­call. She even met her fu­ture hus­band, Ge­orge, while both were per­form­ing in a play at the Plea­sure Pier in 1935, the same build­ing that later served as a USO Cen­ter for sol­diers sta­tioned at Page Airfield in the 1940s. They were mar­ried in 1938. To­gether they started Ge­orge T. Mann Con­struc­tion in 1947, with Ge­orge as the gen­eral con­trac­tor, his wife serv­ing as of­fice man­ager and book­keeper. Their marriage spanned 59 years un­til his death in 1996.

Mann had re­quested that, upon her death, con­tri­bu­tions in her honor be for­warded to the Fort My­ers Com­mu­nity Con­cert As­so­ci­a­tion, which she helped found in 1948, and that mourn­ers ob­serve a “light­hearted” re­cep­tion.

Saxon re­calls with a smile a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion for Mann, on­stage prior to a sold-out per­for­mance of the mu­si­cal Catch

Me If You Can. Mann, he says, “was very in­volved right un­til she passed. An amaz­ing woman.”

In­set photo shows Bar­bara B. Mann Per­form­ing Arts Hall un­der con­struc­tion. It opened on Jan. 12, 1986.

Scott Saxon (above) has been gen­eral man­ager of the hall for a decade. At right, Bar­bara B. Mann posed for pho­to­graphs on her 100th birth­day.

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