Theatre Founder Has a Good Rep
Not every production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes wins the admiration of Terry Teachout, theatre critic for the Wall Street Journal. But “The Florida Repertory Theatre,” he wrote this past January, “is doing it very, very right, and the results are superlative.” The critic, who visits the theatre annually, had special praise for actress Carrie Lund, who came “within a whisker of stealing the show as Birdie, Regina’s downtrodden sister-in-law.”
Carrie Lund Cacioppo ’79 and her husband, Robert, cofounded Florida Rep in 1998 as associate producer and artistic director, respectively. In 15 years, the Fort Myers theatre company has grown from a dream to a two-stage, 520-seat equity house that draws 80,000 theatergoers each year.
Even as a B.F.A. undergraduate in acting and directing, Cacioppo had already begun producing, starting a little theatre company—an IC-Cornell collaboration— during her junior year. As an undergrad, she says she learned how to find employment in the theatre world. IC prepared her on how to audition and, above all, network. She has hired IC alumni and student interns at the Florida Rep. “I immediately look at where a talent has been trained,” she says.
After graduating from IC, Cacioppo spent time on the soap opera As the World Turns, was a resident artist at Pittsburgh Playhouse, and acted with Pittsburgh’s American Ibsen Theatre and New York’s Players Theatre. She worked a few seasons at the Green Mountain Guild, a professional theatre in Vermont, but she says, “New England was saturated by then.”
The Erie, Pennsylvania, native was drawn to the warmer climes and untapped opportunities of Florida’s Gulf Coast. She learned of a small community theatre, the Pirate Playhouse, which had been started on Sanibel Island in the early ’60s by a pair of former vaudeville actors. In 1984 she began producing there and on Captiva Island; Robert joined her a year later.
Cacioppo acted and produced on Sanibel until 1998, when she and Robert had the opportunity to bring their company to downtown Fort Myers. “It was a dramatic, fast move, not planned,” she says. The space they were offered was the Arcade, a 1908 vaudeville house and former cinema where Thomas Edison had watched his first films. Having fallen into shambles, it had been fully restored in 1991 after a benefit campaign organized by ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“We arrived at this beautiful theatre that had been underutilized for a decade,” Cacioppo says. “There was no activity nearby.” But almost overnight, the theatre became the anchor for downtown Fort Myers.
In subsequent years, Cacioppo says, “It’s had a great economic impact on the community, drawing restaurants, shops, and hotels to the area.” Both Cacioppo and her husband have received regional awards for their artistic leadership in the Fort Myers and southwest Florida community.
Cacioppo, who has had teaching stints at area colleges, has also continued acting, taking on occasional voiceover work and performing in Florida Rep’s mostly contemporary shows such as Other Desert Cities and God of Carnage. The current season features six main-stage and three studio shows as well as a year-round children’s theatre, with classes and a summer camp for kids. Cacioppo is particularly proud of the Arcade’s newly renovated ArtStage Studio Theatre, a flexible space seating 120.
“It’s like a fairy tale, ” Cacioppo says of acting and producing in an attractive space for an appreciative community. “I feel like a princess who found everything she ever wanted.”