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The Mar performance space celebrates its first year

Bill DeYoung



Dave and Heather Hamar opened their rehearsal/performance space one year ago, in the middle of the first pandemic wave. And now? "The Mar community is getting bigger and bigger," she says. "And it makes my heart feel good. We are definitely thriving. For sure." Photo is a screen grab from "The Catalyst Sessions," Aug. 31, 2020.

Come Sept. 1, one full year will have passed since The Mar opened at 2309 Central Ave., the former home of an all-but-forgotten business called Mouse Trap Escape.

Envisioned by owners Dave and Heather Hamar as a combination rehearsal and performance space, with studios and offices for arts businesses and solo practitioners to incubate, contemplate and otherwise work things out, The Mar was launched smack in the middle of the first, scary wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Would it work? Could it work? The couple talked about it in their first Catalyst interview Aug. 10, 2020.

The Hamars celebrated their business’ one-year anniversary Sunday with an afternoon and early evening block party with vendors and stage performances. Despite almost constant, intermittent rain, they considered the event a success.

They consider their first 12 months a success as well.

“The proof, I guess, is in the pudding because we’re still open,” Dave said Monday. “And we’re breaking even. Next month, Heather may be able to pay herself a little bit. Which is super-exciting.”

The Hamars are currently Incubating more than a half-dozen arts businesses there, including three dance groups. There are musicians in the studio, theater rehearsals are fairly constant, and both Turkey Creek Collective and Off-Kilter Theatre launched new productions in the space.

“But the coolest thing about the last year is the fact that we’ve been able to reach out and connect with so many different performing artists and groups,” said Heather. This was part of the original vision.

There have been a few bumps along the road, naturally. “We’ve learned that visions change, almost daily,” she explained. “When we first started out, we wanted this to be a performing arts center, where there are just shows, or mostly shows. And then it adjusted – oh well, OK, let’s do live streaming! Then that adjusted, and it was more like intimate gatherings, and rehearsals.

“We wanted to program a lot of our own stuff, and we’ve learned that isn’t necessarily possible, because you’re trying to run the business! Programming it all the time is just not feasible. That’s the main takeaway I’ve gotten.”

Added Dave: “In the details, maybe it wasn’t what we envisioned, but in the grand scheme of things, it was. We have people here who want to be here, want to create, and they find value in this place because it’s relatively unique to St. Pete.

“And we tried marketing in a whole bunch of different ways, but it seems as though good old word of mouth is the way that we found the most success. I think that’s a testament to the community here in St. Pete.”

Heather and Dave Hamar. And The Mar. She has a background in performing arts and production; he’s a professional drummer. “If I can’t do my regular job,” Dave says, “I might as well do this.” Photo by Bill DeYoung (2020).

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