Florida State University Theatre alumna Linda DiGabriele (BA 1970) retired in 2023 after a fifty-year career with Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre. During her tenure, Asolo Rep transitioned from a small regional theatre to the premier professional theatre in the State of Florida and one of the most impactful arts organizations in the Southeastern United States.
DiGabriele attended FSU during a transformative time for the university’s theatre program, during which the Fine Arts Building was constructed, and the School of Theatre grew. She served as stage manager for the very first stage production in what is today known as the Richard G. Fallon Theatre, named for the beloved School of Theatre dean who she knew well.
Throughout her career, she received a number of honors and awards including the Florida Professional Theatre Association’s Richard G. Fallon Award for Excellence in Professional Theatre and the Florida Theatre Conference’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She gave back to the national community through service as a member of the board of directors for the League of Resident Theatres, an advisory panel member for the National Endowment for the Arts, a president of the Florida Professional Theatre Association and more.
Starting her job at Asolo Rep shortly after graduating from FSU, DiGabriele served in several roles at the theatre before settling into the Managing Director position in 1989. Over her tenure the organization grew to welcome over 100,000 patrons annually to its rotating repertory season.
We recently sat down with DiGabriele to discuss her career, her Seminole pride and how FSU and Asolo Rep maintain their special relationship despite the distance.
I started at Asolo Rep as my second theatre job after leaving FSU, which was not surprising. There has always been a special connection between the two organizations, so of course I knew about the theatre. The dean at the time, Richard Fallon, was often back and forth between Tallahassee and Sarasota.
I joined Asolo Rep in 1973 in the marketing department, and then transitioned to leading the touring programs for many years. We became one of the largest touring operations in the county produced by a regional theatre, performing to over 100,000 people a year with as many as five professional companies at a time: a mainstage tour and up to four professional Theatre for Young Audiences tours.
I started at Asolo Rep at just about the same time as the first group of MFA Acting Students from FSU. Having that program embedded with the theatre has been a very special part of our connection.
Even though we’re geographically far apart—about a five and half hour drive—we have managed to continue a very strong and wonderfully symbiotic relationship. I think we each have much to offer each other.
My responsibilities have varied dramatically since 1989. In the earlier days I was handling more managerial tasks, such as contracts with our artists. But over my career, the job grew into a strategic leadership position.
As managing director, I served as an executive leader and the chief administrator, working in collaboration with the producing artistic director. I led the senior staff team in the development and supervision of budgets, strategic planning and the establishment of policies and procedures. There was a great deal of interaction with the board and development— fund raising and friend raising. Negotiation, with unions and artist agents, was a significant part of my job.
Those four years I was at FSU were transformative for the department and the college. I was able to participate in many grassroots activities and departmental growth. I explored many different facets of the theatre, trying a little of everything and I loved it. I know theatre and production at a deep level.
There are truly so many. I have been fortunate to have a full career doing what I was trained to do and am passionate about. There were numerous magical moments as we produced extraordinary theatre experiences over the years.
What we achieved during the pandemic really stands out for me. I was proud of how the theatre managed our situation and how we supported our staff and our artists. We built an outdoor stage, the Terrace Stage, right outside of the performing arts center and performed a season of five different shows.
The first show was entitled “We Need a Little Christmas” in December of 2020. It was a lot to ask of our patrons to come sit in the cold, outside in a parking lot, but we often had more than 200 people in attendance. People cried because they couldn’t believe they were together seeing live theatre again.
We used the entire face of the building as a backdrop for projection, achieving something that we could never have done inside. It was breathtaking, and I am proud of what we did. It took a whole village, and it was a bold thing to do.
Be open to every opportunity, even if it doesn’t seem to line up with what you plan to do. When I was at FSU, I didn’t know I was going to be a managing director—I didn’t know exactly where it was all going to lead.
Take every chance you get to participate, even if it means getting a little less sleep; be in that meeting, stay connected and see everything you can see. Try to be open and exploratory, because you don’t know where it might take you. Everything you learn about the craft will deepen your understanding of the field and contribute to your endeavors.
As everyone in theatre is aware, success has a lot to do with the people you meet and relationships you build. You never know when you are going to interact with someone who is going to be an important friend or colleague who can help you get to the next step.
Are you interested in supporting the next generation of leaders in the theatrical arts? You can support FSU’s theatre programs at give.fsu.edu/theatre.
The FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training in Sarasota has consistently ranked as one of the best graduate acting programs in the world, in no small part due to its location at Asolo Rep. You can help support this program at give.fsu.edu/conservatory.