That’s a wrap at the ART

After 36 years at the old Baird Center the ART is giving up its lease.

Shamrock McShane has portrayed abolitionist John Brown, Julius Caesar, Prospero and many other characters over decades within the cramped confines of the Acrosstown Repertory Theater.

“It is a very intimate space,” he says. “But intimacy is the key.”

With seats closely hemming him in on three sides, the veteran Gainesville actor says “I could focus on the audience and the audience would focus on me. They looked where I looked.”

“It’s a marvelous space, irreplaceable,” McShane said. “I’m devastated” by the news that the ART will soon be leaving the space it has occupied since 1986.

Since being displaced from its original home in the old downtown Star Garage 36 years ago, the ART has operated in the old Baird Hardware Center on South Main Street across from Depot Park.

That complex of early Gainesville buildings, recently rebranded South Main Station, also hosts the popular music venue Heartwood Soundstage, a restaurant, Akira Wood, a fine furniture shop, a weekly farmer’s market and other activities. And due to space limitations, noise conflicts with outdoor concerts and on-and-off financial struggles, the Acrosstown Repertory Theater is preparing to relocate before year’s end.

“Hamlet,” scheduled to run July 15-August 8, will be the last ART play performed in its current space.

The theater’s lease expires in December, but ART President Carolyn Salt said they have been asked to leave earlier to make room for a new renter. She expects ART to vacate by September.

“We’ve seen it coming for a while,” said Carolyn Salt, ART president. “We always knew this was a happening place. The rest of the world caught on and this area has become very gentrified. With success comes challenges.”

Hoch Shitama, owner of South Main Station “has been one of our best supporters,” Salt said. “He’s never charged us market rate” for rent “and we know that. We’ve been looking on and off for the past couple of years for a place, but there’s been nothing out there.”

The ART is the second Gainesville community theater obliged to relocate out of the downtown entertainment district since Covid threw the performing art world into a tizzy. The Actors Warehouse was similarly obliged to give up its lease on the restored church it once occupied on NE 1st Street in favor a building on NE 1st. Blvd, tucked in behind Ollie’s Bargain Outlet on N Main Street.

“I truly believe that our new space is appropriate for our name,” said AW director Steven Butler. “We are the Actors Warehouse and we are in a warehouse space.”

With the pending departure of the ART, the Hippodrome, Gainesville’s only professional theater, will be the last remaining downtown theater.

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