Dave and Heather Hamar shared a dream: A St. Petersburg performance space, centrally located, where musicians and dancers and actors, yoga instructors, Tai Chi teachers and practitioners of Pilates could play, work and workshop under one (decidedly non-leaky) roof in air-conditioned comfort.
The dream will meet reality Sept. 1 when The Mar (it’s kind of a play on the couple’s last name) opens at 2309 Central Ave., the former home of Mouse Trap Escape. There’ll be socially distanced live music and other presentations.
The Mar’s origins can be traced back to early 2019 when Dave, a longtime professional drummer, asked his wife what she really, really wanted out of life.
Heather, with a background in musical theater and production management for Busch Gardens and Norwegian Cruise Lines, didn’t have to think about it long. “I told him I want to own my own theater, where I can sing when I want to, and dance when I want to.
“And he was like, ‘If you do that, then I can have a space where I can record, and play music with people I love.’”
And so the search began. At first, their fantasy square footage was to include coworking space, a coffee shop, a podcast studio and more. They got serious about the old, vacant Playhouse Theater but found it was priced a little out of their range, and would require a massive re-buildout.
“We knew it was ambitious,” says Dave, “we didn’t know how ambitious until we were seven or eight months into it. And then we thought ‘This is not as easy as we thought it would be.’”
“But the thing was, we had made the decision,” Heather adds. “And we were going to do it, no matter what it looked like.”
In March of this year, they had settled on the current building (2, 342 square feet) and paid the deposit … then Covid stopped everything, and everyone, cold.
They hammered out a “work with us” deal with their understanding landlord, and agreed upon the September opening date. “We’re putting everything on the line here,” Heather says. “It was all of our money.”
The months between have been taken up with tearing out walls, repainting and putting in a new floor. There are several small, studio-sized rooms in addition to the massive main area.
The Mar had a “soft” opening two weeks ago, when the Ballet Academy of St. Pete held classes on the 22×37-foot main floor, with mirrored wall.
“When I saw them dancing in there, kids smiling, I was like ‘We did it!’” Dave recalls. “‘We’re not done, but it’s happening!’ I got choked up.”
The Hamars are very aware that there’s another community performance space, thestudio@620, just a mile or so to the southeast. “See, I don’t think of it as competition,” says Heather. “I think of it as collaboration. We’re not exactly like them and they’re not exactly like us. In fact, I want to partner with them and see how we can lift each other up.”
The Mar, it is anticipated, won’t have an art gallery, one of the strongest selling points of thestudio@620.
“The thing that’s never going to change,” Heather continues, “is that we’re in this community of amazing art, and artists, performance and visual alike, it’s so good. There are so many great things here.”
Indeed, they’ve got big plans for The Mar, which includes a 24×12 moveable stage and can fit 150 people – under normal circumstances – under the city fire code. “You could have a full band, but still be spaced out six feet apart,” offers Dave. “And record the whole thing.
“At least get together and play, because that’s something across the board with all my friends that we talk about: The money is one thing, but I need this interaction that I’ve been having. This drug I’ve been having for the last however many years. And now it’s gone.”
There are things they know they probably haven’t even though of yet. “We’re leaving it open to however it ends up being used,” Dave explains. “Far be it from us to limit somebody.”
Adds Heather: “It’s sort of like this: ‘Come in here and check it out. What do you want to do in here?’”