SARASOTA, Fla. -- Without question, managing the complexities of bringing a performing arts production to life is no easy task. With so many opportunities and positions required to make it all happen, it’s a wonder that women fill barely 30 percent of all arts leadership positions. The tides may be shifting, however, with more women advancing up the ranks. The Suncoast has an abundance of world-class performing art venues, so consider this your invitation to get to know more about our women in the arts.
Linda DiGabriele, Managing Director of Asolo Repertory Theatre, has had a longstanding career in performing arts in nearly every capacity. In addition to her work with Asolo Rep, DiGabriele is also the VP of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County and serves on the executive committee for the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), a national organization of regional not-for-profit professional theatres.
Originally from Michigan, DiGabriele moved to Florida with her family when she was very young. She is no stranger to life as a performer, having a Vaudeville grandfather who also played the ukulele. With this early influence, DiGabriele knew that she would pursue a career in the arts. In fact, it was in elementary school that she staged and directed her first theatre production.
As a very determined and resourceful junior high school student, DiGabriele convinced a teacher to sponsor a performing arts program at her school when there wasn’t even a working theater. Armed with hand-crafted tin can lights made with salt-water dimmers, DiGabriele successfully managed her first fully functioning theater show. “I enjoyed where I was because I got to do a bit of everything; doing each phase was a wonderful part of my early career,” says DiGabriele.
DiGabriele always had a desire to share performing arts with young people, including those with developmental disadvantages. In college she worked for a short time in speech therapy, where she toyed with the idea of somehow combining her work with her love for theatre art education. Undoubtedly, this early interest provided the foundation for her to pursue opportunities to lead children’s theater programs, which is exactly what she did when she arrived in Sarasota. DiGabriele began managing and directing the children’s theater program at the Golden Apple, but most important to her was having opportunities to make theater arts accessible to children of all ages. That desire led her to facilitate national tours for Asolo Rep’s educational programs.
Unquestionably, DiGabriele could have taken her enthusiasm and tenacity to a much larger city with more creative opportunities long ago, but the Suncoast is still very appealing to her. “We live in an outstanding community that is so supportive of the arts, and I believe it is the level of artistic excellence we have in so many organizations that make it possible for our community to support it,” she says. “I’m grateful for that.”
When asked if she’s seen a shift in the number of women in arts leadership positions, she says, “For major regional theaters, specifically women in senior management positions, which is more than 50 percent, women in leadership is only 27 percent. There are a significant number of women in top positions but not in top leadership positions.”
Although she sees an evolution in women pursuing and achieving management level opportunities, DiGabriele believes that it falls to those who are already leading the way to be more proactive, to help model change by mentoring younger women. Specifically she says to young women pursuing an arts leadership role, “One of the best things you can do as a young person is to become engaged in an organization where they are doing the kinds of things you can see yourself wanting to do; bury yourself in that organization as deeply as you can because you will learn incredibly by being in that environment, seeing firsthand the culture and what makes the organization work.”
After nearly 40 years in theater and performing arts management there could be room to lose joy and passion. Not so for DiGabriele. “I look forward to going into the theater and seeing a wonderful play, when the lights go down it’s absolutely thrilling. That’s the core of it, being in the theater and being transformed and transported, you’re in a different world.” She says, “I believe in the power of theater to have an incredible impact to change people’s way of looking at things, their perspectives and to connect them in a way they may not expect.”
DiGabriele’s love and dedication for the craft of performing arts, the actors and even the operational process remains intact, and her continued passion to her profession is commendable and inspiring.
Jaszy McAllister will be sharing more stories in the coming weeks about Suncoast women in the arts. Would you like to nominate someone to be featured? Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Suggestion for Jaszy.”