THIRTY YEARS AND COUNTING
BBMANN HITS A MILESTONE
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.