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A new act for John Martin, executive director extraordinaire of the Florida Repertory Theatre

John Martin, executive director of the Florida Repertory Theatre, announces his resignation. FLORIDA REPERTORY THEATRE / COURTESY PHOTO

John Martin, executive director of the Florida Repertory Theatre, announces his resignation. FLORIDA REPERTORY THEATRE / COURTESY PHOTO

John Martin has been a mainstay of the Florida Repertory Theatre for 23 seasons.

You haven't seen him act on stage. He doesn't give any greetings or announcements before the show.

Even if you regularly visit Florida Rep, you may not know him.

He is a gentle, soft-spoken man who works behind the scenes to make sure everything works.

Martin is the theater's popular manager and has decided to retire at the age of 70.

“I'm ready for the next generation,” he says. “I've worked 51 years of my life. I think it's time for a change.”

Although he is retiring, “I am not quitting,” he clarifies. “I will be a supporter and volunteer at the theater.” He will stay with the theater during the transition period and support the board and staff leadership team as they go through the interview process.

Florida Rep was founded in 1998. The original founders, Robert Cacioppo and Carrie Lund Cacioppo, convinced Martin, who was then working in San Francisco, to return to the east coast of the country, albeit to the west coast of Florida.

Greg Longenhagen, Florida Rep's artistic producing director, with John Martin outside the historic Arcade Theatre. FLORIDA REPERTORY THEATRE / PHOTO COURTESYGreg Longenhagen, Florida Rep's artistic producing director, with John Martin outside the historic Arcade Theatre. FLORIDA REPERTORY THEATRE / PHOTO COURTESY

Greg Longenhagen, Florida Rep's artistic producing director, with John Martin outside the historic Arcade Theatre. FLORIDA REPERTORY THEATRE / PHOTO COURTESY

“I was encouraged and persuaded,” says Martin. “I wanted to join an Equity theater company. They are my dear friends and I had known them for many years. They persuaded me to move from the West Coast to the East Coast.”

Although Martin had a law degree and worked in a law firm, theater was not new to him.

His brother Tom founded a community theater called The Green Room in their hometown, just outside Newton, North Carolina. Martin himself was the executive director of the Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco before moving to Fort Myers.

His primary responsibilities at Florida Rep included overseeing finance, development and corporate governance.

“I oversee the finance team, from the staff to the auditors to the bookkeepers,” he says. “I'm in constant communication with our board, with all of our patrons and contributors. I also have to make sure our guest artists are comfortable. I spend a lot of time getting to know each and every guest artist. Season after season, I make people feel at home while they're on stage doing the most demanding work of their lives. My mom always said to me, 'John, it sounds like you're babysitting.' Not really. But sometimes it can feel that way.

“It was an absolute honor to work alongside John Martin,” said Greg Longenhagen, production manager. “I can't imagine having survived the last five years with the pandemic and then Hurricane Ian without John's wisdom, patience and fortitude.”

“No two days are the same. I don't like the annoying things on my plate so much, but I know I always have them on my plate. Something is going to happen.”

He says he has 15 tasks to do every day and knows he can maybe handle five of them, and he's only half joking.

He is never involved in the artistic side of the theater.

“I'm a spectator,” says Martin. “I just enjoy it immensely. It doesn't matter whether it's a drama, a comedy, a musical or a dramedy.”

He calls “August: Osage County” his all-time favorite play and admits he saw it at least half a dozen times when it was performed at the Florida Rep.

“My job is to keep track of all administrative activities,” he says.

According to a press release from the Florida Rep, “Martin's administrative leadership led the company through a period of growth from a seasonal employer of 10-20 employees to over 50 year-round seasonal employees and interns, as well as over 100 guest actors, directors, designers and stage managers that the company employs each season. During Martin's tenure, the company's annual operating budget increased from $1.2 million in 1998 to nearly $4.8 million now.”

During his tenure in Florida Rep., he had to steer the theater through difficult waters.

When the theater was ten years old, the Great Recession hit.

“It was a huge hit to our savings and endowments,” he says. “But Florida Rep prevailed because people stepped up to make sure we had the operating funds to get through the '07-08 and '08-09 seasons. We had our supporters, our donors and the city of Fort Myers. They are always instrumental in our success.”

“The loss of our founder and charismatic leader (Robert Cacioppo) was traumatic, but we got through it. The change in leadership was heartbreaking for me.”

Like all theaters across the country, the Florida Rep lost revenue due to the pandemic and was forced to close. When it was allowed to reopen, the theater rebounded by holding performances in the parking lot, with audience members wearing masks and sitting six feet apart.

Then, when Hurricane Ian struck in September 2022, downtown Fort Myers was flooded and the historic Arcade Theater was submerged in up to three feet of water.

“I wish the drama was only on stage, but it happens in real life too,” says Martin. “Our neighbors have suffered so terribly too.”

However, the venue was able to open its main stage season as planned at the end of October.

When asked what he is most proud of, he cites Florida Rep's production values.

“It's extraordinary,” he says. “We're a medium-sized regional theater. It's amazing how our production quality improves every year.”

“We're a small to medium-sized city, so there's not as much money in our community as there is in a much larger urban area. We bring people to downtown Fort Myers. We're a major economic driver here. Year after year, this incredible staff has worked together as a regional theater.”

After 27 years as a general manager/chief executive in California and Florida, Martin will be looking for a new direction.

“I think the next chapter is exciting,” he says. “I can only look to the future with optimism.”

He wants to travel, citing Southeast Asia and Africa as two places he'd like to visit. He also wants to travel around the United States, spend more time with his family, and visit friends who live scattered across the country.

“I will continue to live in Fort Myers and be involved in the arts community here in any way I can,” Martin says. “My life will remain as busy and full as ever. I'm excited to see what happens with Florida Rep. I'll be a part of it.”

“There are still many wonderful plans ahead of us.” ¦

Anna Harden

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