A river ran through it: How a historic Ft. Myers theatre survived Ian’s wrath
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hurricane Ian caused more than $2.3 million worth of damage to the Florida Repertory Theatre. For any business, especially a nonprofit, it’s an arduous task to get whole again.
The storm surge from Ian pushed water from the Caloosahatchee River right up to the entrance to their box office and continued flowing through the heart of the building from Bay Street and into 1st Street in downtown Ft. Myers.
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The nonprofit is in its 26th season since its first show in 1998.
The impact the theatre has on the community is profound.
According to their website, “performing in the Historic Arcade Theatre, Florida Rep produces a wide variety of comedies, dramas, and musicals and brings more than 87,000 people to the Fort Myers River District annually throughout its September to May season.”
The nonprofit doesn’t just put on shows; they give back to the arts community, serving 35-45,000 kids through education initiatives each year.
Before Ian, they built a new kitchen to make meals for opening night events. Longenhagen said they never “turned on an oven” before water destroyed the appliances.
The roof was described as “Swiss cheese,” despite patches, some areas leak water when it rains.
“We had just built a brand new rehearsal hall,” Longenhagen said. “I guess you could, you know, sit down and put your head in your hands and cry. But what good does that do? Theater people are tough. I mean, they, you know, they work long hours. It’s as much a vocation as it is an occupation. You kind of sell your soul to the theater when you join a theatre company. It’s that kind of heart and that kind of pride that can get you through some really tough times, and it certainly has gotten us through to this one so far.”
Longenhagen invites tourists from across the state and country to visit Ft. Myers to help with recovery efforts.
“Plan a trip and come down as a group. If you have 10 or more folks, you can come down and get discounts on tickets. We have all kinds of great restaurants here in downtown folks who aren’t familiar with Florida Rep and downtown Fort Myers. They don’t know what a great place it is. It’s a hidden secret in southwest Florida,” Longenhagen said.
“I’ll swallow swords. I’ll eat glass,” Longenhagen said. “If there’s money to be made, or if it’s going to help the theater, I will do it.”