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The Insider’s Club
VIP experience offers backstage look
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House to half – go. As the cue is uttered, the house lights dim and eager audience members turn their attention to the stage. The show is about to begin.

House out and electrics 2 – go. The house lights and preset lights are now extinguished and the theater is dark. Anticipation mounts.

Fly 1 – go. The curtain opens, and – like magic – a story unfolds.

Making that kind of magic happen involves a virtual army of dedicated individuals and weeks of planning. The audience usually only sees the most evident contingent of that resourceful company: the actors who take the stage. Behind the scenes is a crew of equally inspired and imaginative people who together form the production staff.

The Insider’s Club – a special VIP experience – is designed for those interested in getting a glimpse at what happens behind the curtain. The event will be presented Friday, May 2, in conjunction with the premiere of Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “Grease,” at Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo.

Insider’s Club tickets are $75. Proceeds will benefit the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation and its programs at the Largo Cultural Center. Space is limited. To purchase tickets, call 587-6793 or visit the box office.

The ticket includes admission to the 8 p.m. performance of “Grease” as well as a pre-show cocktail party in the elegant Parkview room, hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Engarde Catering, a swag bag filled with Oscar-worthy treats, a backstage tour of the Largo Cultural Center and a post-performance question-and-answer session with the director and stars of the show.

John Toppe, current president of the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation, explained how the special fundraising event came to be.

“The idea of the Insider’s Club is to build a cadre of supporters who might become donors to the Largo Cultural Center and to the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation,” Toppe said in an interview.

The foundation’s most visible fundraising event is its annual gala, a black-tie event that features a catered dinner, silent and live auctions, dancing and a show. Last year’s affair was themed “Once Upon a Time” and many attendees arrived dressed as favorite fairy tale characters.

For the Insider’s Club, the foundation wanted to do something innovative. According to Toppe, organizers wanted to give the VIPs something really special.

“To give them honored treatment, to give them a special experience and to build support for the theatrical and educational activities we do at the cultural center,” Toppe said. “It’s an important part of the business of building friends and building relationships within the community – particularly within the business community.”

With any luck, the Insider’s Club won’t be a once-upon-a-time opportunity.

“Our goal is to make the Insider’s Club a continuous activity, not just simply a once-a-year event,” Toppe said. “Our intention is to start with this upcoming show, repeat it again prior to ‘Hair’ and do it next year prior to opening nights – or some important night, probably opening nights – of each of our Eight O’Clock Theatre shows.”

Going forward, Toppe explained that the foundation seeks to give the Insider’s Club patrons a special reason for being members and being supporters of SPAF and supporters of its programs. He suggested that next year, Insider’s Club members might do something with the children’s camps and summer programs when the kids present their end-of-camp theatrical performances.

“We really do want this to become a permanent part of SPAF and something that happens maybe quarterly that is for insiders only and more than just a behind the scenes peep.” Toppe said. He predicts that as the program evolves, Insider’s Club members will have an opportunity to gain insights into the production process and “in-depth knowledge about shows we’re presenting (such as) the technology and technique of presenting shows, and maybe some of the theory and ideas behind selecting a season and creating memorable experiences for all of our guests and creating educational opportunities for the children of our community.”
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