About the Van Wezel
Crown Jewel of Sarasota Bay
A true pioneer in the cultural development of Sarasota, the Van Wezel, (pronounced Van Wayzull), presents a broad spectrum of the world's finest performers representing the diverse tastes of Southwest Florida residents and visitors. This season, with more than 100 events, the Van Wezel has carried on the long tradition of presenting spectacular Broadway musicals, top national and international performers, popular comedians, world-class symphony orchestras and a compelling mix of classical, modern and ethnic dance. The Van Wezel also hosts more than 50 performances and events presented by the Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Ballet, the Sarasota Concert Association and the Ringling Library Town Hall Lecture Series.
In carrying out the mission of the Hall, the Van Wezel's education program brings visiting artists into the community and area schools for a wealth of educational and outreach activities. Each season more than 25,000 students from Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties are introduced to the performing arts through Van Wezel Schooltime Performances. And through our partnership with the Sarasota County School Board and the John F. Kennedy Center Partners in Education program, hundreds of local classroom teachers participate in professional development workshops, learning to teach in, through and about the arts.
The Van Wezel Story
To present a broad spectrum of the world's finest performing artists in order to meet the diverse cultural needs of all of Southwest Florida's residents and visitors.
To bring visiting artists into the community for meaningful education and outreach programs that help develop new audiences.
To provide a quality home for other local cultural organizations that present their programs here.
The Van Wezel is owned and operated by the City of Sarasota. The Hall contains 80,000 square feet, including Roskamp Auditorium and its state-of-the-art stage house, lighting, and sound system. There are also two lobbies, the Grand Foyer with a fully-equipped professional catering kitchen, the Selby Education Center, and administrative offices.
Backstage the theater is supported by 9 dressing rooms, 2 large chorus dressing rooms, a Green Room and catering kitchen for cast and crew meals, production and technical offices, an orchestra pit that, thanks to a large seat wagon, doubles as the first three rows of auditorium seating, and storage for the Hall's three grand pianos and stage equipment.
The 6,000 square foot Grand Foyer comfortably seats 35-350, and opens onto the Sunset Terrace and Bayfront lawn accommodating an additional 1500. The adjacent Founders Lounge is a popular gathering place for performance sponsors and Van Wezel Foundation donors.
The beautiful 1741-seat Roskamp Auditorium is named after Sarasota residents Bob and Diane Roskamp, whose generous $1,000,000 contribution supported the Hall's 2001 renovation. Continental seating provides generous leg room and the ability to evacuate the Hall in 4 minutes or less. The Hall is also completely compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and incorporates more accessible seating than required. Audiences find that there is not a bad seat in the house.
The back rows are only 110 feet from the stage, providing rare intimacy for audience and performers alike. Legendary performers such as Tony Bennett have been known to acknowledge that intimacy as well as the Hall's excellent acoustics by presenting impromptu a cappella solos.
Grand Foyer and Sunset Terrace
With magnificent views of Sarasota Bay, the Grand Foyer, Sunset Terrace and adjacent lawn are a popular location for weddings, meetings, and special events. Shade sails and landscaping were added in 2013, further enhancing the beauty and enjoyment of the Terrace. Each summer the Van Wezel presents free outdoor concerts on the lawn with its Friday Fest series, attracting thousands who enjoy the music of regional bands and a delicious variety of cuisines.
Don't forget to pick up a souvenir of your visit to the Van Wezel or a gift for someone special. The Van Wezel Gift Shop in the Main Lobby is open one hour prior to each performance and during intermission, and includes everything from miniature instruments, jewelry and other musical inspired items.
An architectural landmark and a cultural treasure, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall was built in 1968 and 1969 with monies from a city of Sarasota bond referendum and a bequest from local philanthropists Lewis and Eugenia Van Wezel.
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Sarasota Bay is the world's only purple seashell-shaped theater.
Renowned for his innovative organic structures, Van Wezel architect William Wesley Peters holds a vital place in the history of 20th Century American architecture. A chief architect at Taliesin Associated Architects of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and Wright's son-in-law, Peters collaborated with Wright for more than a quarter century on projects including Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum.
Renovation architect Anthony Puttnam pointed out that many of Frank Lloyd Wright's basic architectural philosophies are clearly evident in the work his son-in-law created. "It was designed based on the relationship to nature and with the site; the roof based on a seashell, opening the building to views of Sarasota Bay, the dramatic interior spaces, and use of humble materials to achieve an unexpected richness. They all add up to a 'celebration of circumstance,' as Frank Lloyd Wright said of other designs."
Even the bold color evokes the seashell theme. It was chosen by Wright's widow Olgivanna, based on a seashell she found near the Sea of Japan. That seashell now is on display in the Van Wezel lobby.
Renovation and Expansion
When the City of Sarasota embarked on the first major renovation and expansion of the landmark theater in 2000, the challenge was to bring it into the 21st century while preserving its architectural integrity. To do so, the City turned to the original designer, Taliesin Architects of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Renovation lead architect Anthony Puttnam was on the original design team, working closely with William Wesley Peters. He remembers Peters returning from an early site visit and excitedly emptying a pile of seashells from his briefcase. "This is it," he told his team.
Unfortunately, 33 years ago, when the City found itself short of funding, Peters had to scale back the design. He added a fold to the seashell roof-line to draw the building in, making the lobbies and bayfront Grand Foyer much smaller than originally intended. By going back to Peters' original concept and deleting that fold, Puttnam and his Taliesin team added 16 feet of valuable public space. The roof finally looked like the scallop shell William Wesley Peters envisioned.
Many other important elements were part of the $20 million renovation and expansion. The beautiful Roskamp Auditorium was renovated thanks to a generous $1,000,000 contribution from Sarasota residents Bob and Diane Roskamp. Also included were a new, much larger state-of-the-art stagehouse, first-ever elevators, quadruple the number of spaces for wheelchairs and triple the number of restrooms, a new Selby Education Center and administrative wing, as well as comfortably larger lobbies and Grand Foyer. Special measures were taken to protect the theater's superb acoustics, as well as the intimate feeling in the theater itself. The building became vastly more efficient and comfortable, while the iconic architecture remained intact.
Over the past 5 years the Van Wezel has continued to upgrade and update its facilities. In 2008 a new electronic marquee was installed at the intersection of Tamiami Trail and 10th Street. The original oil-piston orchestra pit elevator was replaced with a modern electric Gala spiral lift system in 2009.
The following year the Hall's out-of-date sound system was replaced by a state-of-the-art Meyer speaker array, required by today's touring performers, along with a Yamaha digital sound console on a relocated platform at the rear of the Hall. In 2011 the 40-year-old seats were replaced with new, more comfortable chairs, and the configuration was tweaked to add 25 more seats for a total capacity of 1741.
That same year a T-coil compatible hearing loop system was installed in the Hall and Box Office, generously underwritten by Sertoma Club of Sarasota. In 2012 the Van Wezel Foundation donated a new Grand Drape in a beautiful wine color. And new upholstered chairs replaced the old wooden folding chairs in the Grand Foyer.
2013 saw the addition of the unique shade sails on the terrace, together with new furniture, fire pit, and landscaping. Stage lighting equipment continues to be enhanced by new automated moving lights and LED fixtures along with new lighting consoles. And in 2015 a new portable Wenger orchestra shell was installed on stage, which allows for enhanced acoustics and more flexible storage when large Broadway shows are presented.
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall turned 45 in 2015. With more than 265,000 guests each year, the Hall has entertained 4 million people since its last major renovation in 2000. Not only had wear and tear taken its toll, but the Hall's amenities were dated and tired.
Several large projects were undertaken in 2015 to create a more elegant and modern experience for the Van Wezel's audience and patrons. A 2-year project to update the public areas was begun, with completely redesigned and renovated women's restrooms and new carpeting throughout the lobbies and Grand Foyer. The second phase in the summer of 2016 will include the renovation of the men's restrooms and updating the décor and amenities of the lobbies and Grand Foyer.
As it approaches 50 years of service to Sarasota and Southwest Florida, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall strives to present the very best in entertainment together with the type of 21st century experience our guests deserve.