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The Mar, St. Petersburg City Theatre join forces

Bill DeYoung



Heather and Dave Hamar at The Mar, opening week, fall 2020. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

What goes around, comes around. Heather Hamar knows there’s some truth in that old cliché.

Hamar and her husband Dave are the owners of The Mar, the performing arts incubator and rehearsal space that’s operated from a repurposed Central Avenue storefront for the past three years.

The Hamars have partnered with St. Petersburg City Theatre, the city’s longest-lived community theater, and are moving The Mar to the SPCT facility on 31st Street South.

“When we first started dreaming up this idea of opening The Mar, we were actually looking at the Playhouse Theatre [a long-shuttered facility at 1850 Central],” Heather Hamar explains. “And from there, we found the St. Pete City Theatre and we were like, ‘This is so amazing.’ So this conversation has been in the works for many years now. This is kind of like a dream realized.

“We do love our space in the Grand Central District. Our landlord has been amazing to us, but this was just the right thing to do.”

The Mar’s main rehearsal tenant, Ballet Academy of St. Petersburg, recently relocated. “So we don’t necessarily need to have the space to still be an incubator,” Hamar explains. “So our needs are shifting as well as our business, and we are going to focus on education in the performing arts, and also events.

“So we still are an incubator, but on a smaller scale, if you will.”

Hamar says the focus will shift, at least in the beginning, to holding The Mar’s performing arts classes in SPCT’s newly-renovated lobby. The goal is to add new classes for adults – improv and songwriting among them.

“We get to help them activate their space even more, and bring performing arts education to that part of the community. And both of our support systems will now be able to merge. Which is really, really cool. I know it will help us both grow.”

As SPCT approaches its centennial year (it began in 1925, downtown, as the Sunshine City Players), President Stefanie Lehmann believes the partnership with The Mar is a win-win.

“They’ve been building their brand really well downtown,” Lehmann observes. “They’ve been growing year-by-year, so there’s some benefits, I think, for both parties.

“We’re starting in the short-term; we’re going to see how it works. They’re going to come in and fill in the gaps in what we’re currently able to program.”

SPCT doesn’t currently hold classes for adults. “We are really dedicated to holding tight to our core mission,” Lehmann says, “which is serving our diverse population through those community-produced productions, and our youth and teenager camp and workshop experiences that are production-focused.”

An important piece to this puzzle, she believes, is “entry to the arts.” Auditioning for a show can be a big, scary step – “so a classroom setting is a nice little bridge for a lot of our community to have a way into the room.”

The Mar’s acronym (and credo), Lehmann points out, is Mistakes Are Required. “Their whole mission of ‘It’s OK to screw up the first couple of times, we’re all learning together, there’s nothing to be embarrassed by or ashamed of,’ that really resonated with our board. ‘This is about the process, and embracing the process,’ which is at the heart of what we do.

“The hope is that, with some of those acting classes, people will catch the bug and go ‘Wow, I think I’ll audition for a show now. I feel really confident.’”

Classes are scheduled to begin at the new location April 8. The MAR website.

Saying goodbye the Grand Central District is bittersweet for The Mar’s owners. However, Hamar says, there are plenty of upsides to this newly-minted partnership.

“It gives us more parking, that’s for sure,” she laughs. “That’s the added benefit – the super awesome frosting on this beautiful cake.”
























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