Pensacola, Florida
Monday October 14th 2019


Fall Guide Part 1: Arts

By Jennifer Leigh, Hana Frenette and Peyton Banfell

If you have yet to indulge in the rich cultural arts of Pensacola, you’re missing out. As the fall season begins, so do the anticipated performances of our local opera house, ballet company, symphony orchestra and community theatre.

These nonprofit organizations have been working through the summer to find new ways to push the envelope.

“Trends in dance move so quickly,” said Richard Steinert, artistic director for Ballet Pensacola. “Every year we work to find a strong balance between what is trending and an adherence to the classical foundation that drives it.”

Each year is a brand new list of shows to take in—with a few annual traditions we couldn’t do without. Often there’s too many experiences and not enough time.

“We are so fortunate to live in an area that has such a diverse arts community, and it can seem overwhelming at times to try and fit everything into your schedule,” said Lenae Voellmecke, spokeswoman for Pensacola Little Theatre. “We advise to stick with their favorites, but try something new every now and then.”

If you’re looking to expand your cultural horizons this season,  you can take a sneak peak at what’s in store for our annual Fall Arts Guide. And don’t be intimidated, said Jerome Shannon, executive director of Pensacola Opera.

“Think it’s only for the rich and famous? Think again. Our tickets start at only $25,” he said. “Don’t know what to wear? Don’t worry. You can wear anything from jeans and a tee to a tux and a gown.  All we ask is that you do wear something. Go ahead and take that first step, we promise an experience you won’t soon forget.”

Pensacola Little Theatre
Each year the Pensacola Little Theatre (PLT) debuts its roundup of performances, providing cultural experiences and making history as the oldest continually operating community theatre in the southeastern United States.

Time Stands Still
Sept. 9-17
A photojournalist and foreign correspondent work together telling the toughest stories in a world that seem to have gone crazy. When their own story takes a sudden turn, the pair tries to come to terms with a more conventional life.

Dearly Departed
Sept. 23-Oct. 2
Funerals are usually anything but funny, but when the Turpin family tries to gather for their father’s funeral, their dysfunctions overshadow the sad event.

24 Hour Theatre
Oct. 15
The highly anticipated 24 Hour Theatre brings a brand new, original show to the stage after writers, directors and actors put it together in 24 hours.

Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oct. 28-Nov.5
A cult classic comes to life during Foo Foo Festival. See the “Time Wrap” live on the little stage with all of your favorite characters. And yes, audience participation is encouraged.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Dec. 9-18
The famous comic strip characters learn the true meaning of Christmas in this classic story based on the TV special.

On Golden Pond
A couple returns to their summerhouse on Golden Pond for the 48th year. This time, however, they have a guest — their teenage grandson.

Short Attention Span Theatre
Feb. 3-14
A night of six one-act plays. This year is No. 14, which means there are some favorites to look forward to.

My Fair Lady
March 3-19
See PLT’s take the renowned musical of Eliza Doolittle and her journey to become a dignified lady.

Charlotte’s Web
April 28-May 7
This Treehouse Theatre production tells the classic tale of Wilbur, a prize-winning pig, and his barnyard friends.

Wonder of the World
May 12-20
A discovery in her husband’s sweater drawer sends a woman out on a journey to Niagara Falls, where she meets a string of wild characters.

June 2-18
Kick off your Sunday shoes for this musical adaptation of the 1980s movie about a teen moving to a small farm town, shaking things up and getting people to dance.

Meet the Performers

Maureen McNeill
What do you love most about performing with PLT?
I think anybody who is involved would tell you it’s [our] second home. I started doing stuff when I first moved to Pensacola from the D.C. area, and it’s just a comfortable place to have a creative outlet and meet new people. There’s always new people, but at the same time, lots of familiar faces. It’s kind of like our little clubhouse, just a safe space for a lot of fun and creativity.

What is your advice for people who want to perform with PLT, but are too scared to audition?
Everybody has their first audition, and everybody did their first show. A lot of times you don’t even really know what you’re capable of. This is a great place to feel that out. It’s a mix—some people are just starting out and want to talk to people who’ve been doing it for 25 years.

What is your pre-show preparation?
Lots and lots of sleep if you can. Getting as much rest and drinking as much water as possible, plus boosting up on vitamins. You’re just pushing it to the max, and you’re in tight quarters with people. Another thing that a lot of people forget is just making the effort to spend a little time with friends and family outside of the theater world. Right before show, it’s usually a really intense week and most people have a full-time job, then get home at midnight from the theater. It’s nice to take the time to say thanks for cooking dinner or being supportive, or walking the dog when I couldn’t.

What is your favorite thing to do in Pensacola when you’re not on the stage?
Getting back to the Red Skins fan club. My family is really into it. It’s just this fan club that meets at Shooters at Cordova Lanes, but it’s something I really look forward to. It’s a good fall activity full of family time and football.

What PLT performance are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m obviously focused on “Dearly Departed” because I’m directing it. I’m also excited about auditing for “Wonder of the World.” Sarah Jessica Parker actually did it when it was on Broadway and it was just so funny.

Chantelle Cognevich
What do you love most about performing with PLT?
I love the sense of community. PLT was the first place I auditioned out of high school (WFHS), and I felt welcome and wanted.

What is your advice for people who want to perform with PLT, but are too scared to audition?
Well, you just have to do it. I was terrified. I have horrible stage fright, and auditioning can be nerve racking. But everyone is rooting for you. They WANT you to do well. They are on your side. It is much easier on the other side of auditions and you get better at handling the nerves just by auditioning as often as you can. Practice, you know?

What is your pre-show preparation?
I am that person who arrives super early, like 90 minutes before call. I get dressed, get makeup and hair done; then I can take time to get in the right mind space. I do stretches and vocal warm-ups, then listen to music. And it’s funny, but I like Eminem “Till I Collapse” especially on a matinee. Gets me energized. Or if I’m wound up and need to calm down, Mumford and Sons is good. But no other musicals or they get stuck in my head.

What is your favorite thing to do in Pensacola when you’re not on the stage?
Besides seeing everyone else’s shows? I like The Wine Bar. They have wine and Guinness and crème brûlée.  And that great soft cheese thing with the fruit in it.

What PLT performance are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m in “Time Stands Still” in PLT’s Studio 400, but I can’t wait to see “Dearly Departed” on the main stage. It is so funny.  And it was the first play I ever did in high school (I worked backstage). I’m also excited for “My Fair Lady” in the spring.  It’s such a classic.

WHERE: 400 S. Jefferson St.
DETAILS: 432-2042 or


Ballet Pensacola
It’s been said many times that Ballet Pensacola is not the average ballet company and every year it rings more and more true. There’s a mix of classic and contemporary each season making the art of ballet accessible to everyone.

Jukebox Time Machine
Oct. 8
Travel back in time with this high-energy performance designed for kids ages 3 to 10 with original choreography by Ballet Mistress Christine Duhon.

Wizards and Warriors
Nov. 10-13
It’s a classic story of good and evil in an enchanted world of spells and wizards. Original choreography is from Duhon and Artistic Director Richard Steinert.

The Nutcracker
Dec. 16-18
Because no ballet season is complete without “The Nutcracker,” Clara and her Nutcracker Prince return to transport you to a winter wonderland.

Romeo and Juliet
Feb. 3-11
Shakespeare’s tragic love story is told through original choreography from Steinert. In the backdrop of Verona, watch the tale of the star-crossed lovers with the familiar score from Sergei Prokofiev.

Alice in Wonderland
April 7-9
Fall down the rabbit hole and onto the Ballet Pensacola stage, where dancers retell the famous story by Lewis Carroll with more original choreography from Steinert.

Meet the performers

Erin Lapaglia-Kottler
What inspired you to start dancing and what makes you want to continue?
My mom and dad have always told me that even before I could walk, I was moving to music. I started taking dance classes at age 6 and never wanted to stop. For me, dance is like breathing; I can’t live without it.

What is your advice to aspiring dancers who want to make a career out of their passion?
Set goals and strive to reach them. Work hard, but try to always stay humble and gracious. Embrace corrections from your teachers. Remember, sometimes things won’t go the way you expect or want, but if it’s really what you want to do, then stay positive and don’t give up.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Pensacola when you’re not working?
When I’m not at the studio, I like to cross train with aerial yoga and pilates. I enjoy going with my husband and our two dogs to one of the local dog parks or for a nice walk downtown. I always love going to the beach to relax with a good book or even take a dip in the Gulf.

What Ballet Pensacola performance are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m excited about this whole season, but I’m most looking forward to “Wizards and Warriors.” It’s a new ballet that our Artistic Director is creating that will be presented during the Foo Foo Festival.

Debi Janea
What inspired you to start dancing and what makes you want to continue?
I wanted to dance since I was a little girl. I begged my mom to put me into ballet lessons. Finally, for my seventh birthday, she put me in ballet classes, and I’ve loved it ever since. It is easy for me to continue because ballet is my passion. It is an art form and a lifestyle that I would never choose to live without.

What is your advice to aspiring dancers who want to make a career out of their passion?
My advice would be to never give up. Keep pushing through those times and always hold on to why you started dancing and why you love it. Part of the reason that ballet is so rewarding is because we devote so much time and effort into trying to perfect something that will probably never be perfect.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Pensacola when you’re not working?
I love going to the beach. I grew up in this city, and the beach has always been a favorite place of mine. Many of my days are spent riding my bike around the beach or through downtown.

What Ballet Pensacola performance are you most looking forward to this season?
“The Nutcracker” is always one of my favorites. Even though it happens every year, there is always something new to learn or dance and I love that it is a classic and a favorite of Pensacola. I’m also looking forward to “Alice in Wonderland,” because it was one of my favorite stories growing up.

WHERE: 400 S. Jefferson St.
DETAILS: 432-9546 or


Pensacola Symphony Orchestra
Music comes to life through the talents of  Pensacola Symphony Orchestra (PSO) musicians. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Maestro Peter Rubardt.

Opening Night!
Oct. 1
Join PSO for their anticipated opening night with guest violinist Bella Hristova. Music includes Dvorák,’s “Three Slavonic Dances,” Op. 46, Nos. 1,2, and 7, Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto”, Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso”, and Debussy’s “Iberia.”

Kobrin Plays Brahms
Nov. 5
Guest Pianist Alexander Kobrin joins PSO for a night of music. Pieces include “Symphony No. 1” in D major by Bach, “Pulcinella Suite” by Stravinsky and “Piano Concerto No. 2” by Brahms.

Celebrate the New Year
Dec. 31
Ring in New Year’s Eve with the symphony. Wycliffe Gordon will be performing on the trombone with PSO for an evening of music and celebration.

Beethoven & Blue Jeans
Jan. 14
A returning and popular PSO event featuring the music of Rossini, Ravel, De Falla, Delius Bates and, of course, Beethoven. Pianist Jon Nakamatsu will be performing.

Movie Music of John Williams
Feb. 11
Movie lovers unite for this unique evening of musical scores from the composer who created music for movies such as “Jaws”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Star Wars.”

Mahler Symphony No. 3
March 4
Mahler’s “Symphony No. 3” will be performed alongside the talents of the University of West Florida’s Women’s Chorus and Pensacola Children’s Chorus.

Russian Spectacular
April 1
Guest William Eddins will be conducting the evening through pieces that include Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances,” suite from “Mlada” by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.”

Bernstein & Beethoven
April 29
Frank Almond will join PSO playing violin for the final show of the season. Music includes “Celestial Night” by Danielpour, “Serenade (After Plato’s Symposium)” by Bernstein and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”

Meet the Performers

Tony Chiarito
What instrument do you play and why?
I play the French horn.  I started my music career in seventh grade in chorus, and the chorus teacher was also the junior high band director. She told me I should play the French horn because I had a “good ear,” meaning, basically, I could sing and carry a tune pretty well. I continue to play horn because the instrument has the most beautiful sound of any wind instrument.

What tips or notes would you give to a first-time PSO patron?
I would tell them to arrive early enough to look around the historic and beautiful Saenger Theatre and to attend the pre-concert lecture that gives information about the music on the program for that concert. If they miss that, they can read about the musical selections in the printed program, about our incredible music director and about the history of the orchestra. After the lecture, they can watch and listen as the musicians on stage warm up—they will be amazed at the very high ability level of the musicians in the PSO.  Patrons can expect a sold-out, amazing, moving, exciting, beautiful evening of incredible music.

What is your favorite thing to do in Pensacola when you’re not performing?
Conducting and playing in the Pensacola Bay Concert Band, playing golf, and camping at Fort Pickens.

What PSO performance are you most looking forward to this season?
Mahler’s “Symphony No. 3” is an epic work that uses a large orchestra, children’s chorus, women’s chorus, and soprano soloist. Much of the greatest music written for orchestral horns was written by Mahler.

Grace Kim
What instrument do you play and why?
I have played the violin since I was 4-years-old. I wanted to play percussions, but my dad was not about to let a 4-year-old loose on the drums. My parents made me do it in the beginning, but it all changed during my late teens. Now I think music is awesome and nothing parallels the feeling of getting up on stage and performing for an audience.

What tips or notes would you give to a first-time PSO patron?
I mean this with so much love and appreciation to those who do this, but there is an unspoken etiquette that when a movement ends, the audience does not clap. But if you do, we’ll still love it. I promise. If you look in the concert program, some pieces have multiple movements just like an essay has multiple paragraphs. Wait until all movements have ended, or just wait until other people start clapping.

What is your favorite thing to do in Pensacola when you’re not performing?
Spending time with my husband, Asher Kelly, who is also a classically trained musician. He is an oboist and we enjoy playing music together.

What PSO performance are you most looking forward to this season?
Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7” in A major, Op. 92, included in the Masterworks concert series.

WHERE: 205 E. Zaragoza St.
DETAILS: 435-2533 or


Pensacola Opera
During it’s more than 30-year tenure, Pensacola Opera has transformed from a small grassroots organization to a premier opera company. Talents from all over the country and our own backyard perform each season in a small, must-see, season of shows.

Jukebox Gala
Oct. 15
The gala that lets you experience Pensacola Opera like no other. Enjoy a four-course dinner and drinks while being serenaded by 25 opera arias during a tableside concert.

Glory Denied
Nov. 10-13
“Glory Denied” is based on the oral history by journalist Tom Philpott. The opera tells the true story of an American soldier held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1964-1973. This showcase opera is being produced as part of Foo Foo Festival.

Jan. 20 & 22
Giuseppe Verdi’s heartbreaking story of forbidden love follows the story of an Ethiopian princess, Aïda, and the young Egyptian warrior, Radamès. The two must decide between their love or loyalties to their respective countries.

Dead Man Walking
March 17 & 19
It’s the Florida premiere of this modern opera that follows the story of a murderer and a woman of God trying to find humanity in the man who committed such a brutal crime. The opera is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, which was also adapted into a movie.

Meet the Performers

Michael Mayes
What led you to become an opera singer?
I grew up in a trailer in Texas, playing football like most folks do. I sang a lot of gospel music in church, and I ended up my breaking fingers in high school, which prevented me from completing typing classes. My options for a new class were choir or drama. I had already been singing, so I figured I could get my ‘A’ and leave if I did choir. I ended up making the all-state choir and really fell in love with it. I got a scholarship from the University of Texas, and I was able to combine singing and acting. From there I was pretty hooked. I remember the reason I didn’t want to join drama in high school was because I thought the kids are weird, and then I realized I was totally one of those people.

What was the first aria you heard and what significance does it hold in your life?
I had no idea what opera even was. We didn’t have YouTube back then, and I ended up going to see “Samson and Delilah” at the Fort Worth Opera, and I was thinking to myself, this a bunch of corny nonsense. Of course, I was an 18-year-old redneck, and I had no idea what I was watching. The more I learned about it, the more I loved it. Then I saw “Street Scene” by Kurt Weill—it’s this hyper-romantic German kind of thing, set in America about depression. It covered racism, poverty and infidelity, and for me that was so much more appealing that the things I was exposed to before. There was an American subject, you could see the audience respond immediately. That opera had an enormous impression on me.

What’s your favorite things to do in Pensacola when you’re not performing?
We don’t get a lot of time here, but we always like to try and visit the beaches. I also try to eat as much fried seafood as possible.

What Pensacola Opera performance are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m definitely looking forward to “Dead Man Walking.” My co-star is an amazing committed performer and I’ve never had a chance to see her do this in person. This is the most performed modern opera in the world right now, with about 50 productions. Whenever I’ve done this show, I’ve always felt like when I walked out of the town, the town was different. You can come into this opera being for the death penalty and when you leave, you might still be for it. But this show just makes you ask yourself “Why do I believe what I believe?”

Mary Elizabeth Williams
What led you to become an opera singer?
As a child, I always sang. My parents were avocational singers, and they introduced me to many genres of music. They encouraged me to take piano lessons and voice lessons and generally supported my extracurricular musical activities for many years. Although I enjoy all types of music, opera and classical music specifically quickly ignited a passion in me, even at a young age, for two reasons. First, I love the challenge of studying and singing foreign languages. I live in Milan now with my husband, and speak Italian at home with him. I have also lived in Paris and Wiesbaden (Germany). I am very drawn to multicultural experiences, and opera satisfies my desire to flex my linguistic muscles. Second, I like the musical complexity of opera. Opera provides me an opportunity to sing very technically difficult repertoire, which compels me constantly to learn and grow as a musician. Singing opera will never be something I can “phone in” and I like that.

What was the first aria you heard and what significance does it hold in your life?
I cannot remember the first aria I ever heard. There are many pieces of music, of all genres, that remind me of people and moments from my childhood. I can remember very clearly that the first album I bought as a young girl was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

You’ve sung leading roles in several Verdi operas. Is he one of your favorite composers?
Yes, Verdi and I get along well. Or, at least I like to think we do! Joking aside, I immensely admire his musical taste, his melodic and rhythmic language, and his wise choices in stories to tell. Vocally speaking, I find that Verdi wrote in a way that stretches the voice, and seems to explore every corner of it. To me, his music is difficult in a good way; singing difficult phrases in Verdi operas encourages me to figure things out, and ultimately become a better technician and steward of my own instrument. This is absolutely not always the case. Some composers leave you worse off than you were when you started.

What about Verdi speaks to the modern-day listener?
Why is his music as important today as it was 135 plus years ago?
Verdi, in my opinion, is unique because he was able to infuse an enormous degree of passion in his music while also crafting a melody that was both pleasing to listen to and an interesting (but achievable) challenge for the musician playing or singing it.

WHERE: 75 S. Tarragona St.
DETAILS: 433-6737 or