The Mahaffey Theater: Home to live arts


By Faye Tippy

PETERSBURG — When I first came to St. Petersburg, I went exploring. I also decided to volunteer, which I found is one of the best ways to learn a new city.

Since I love the arts of all kinds, I looked to find something that would satisfy my needs, give me a chance to give back to my new home city and meet new people in the process.

I guess you could say I’m pretty social. I love meeting new people and learning their stories, and I love history.

I found the Mahaffey Theater fit the bill. I applied to volunteer and was accepted.

Us new volunteers were welcomed by staff, hosted in a luncheon and given a tour of the facility by outgoing volunteer director Ann Sayce.

The Mahaffey is majestic and graceful. At 2,031 seats, it is the kind of theater that has excellent views from pretty much any angle, and the acoustics is pleasing to the ear. Situated next to Dali Museum in downtown St. Pete, it features European-style box seating, fantastic waterfront views and an elegant ballroom space.

Mahaffey hosts top-quality national and international artists and the renowned Florida Orchestra. The theater also supports Class Acts, which, according to their website, is an educational performance series that enables school children to experience the performing arts through in-theater performances as well as in school outreach and extension programs.

Since 2011, more than 100,000 local school children have been able to experience the theater through the program.

By way of history, it was opened in 1965 as a part of the Bayfront entertainment complex. A renovation began in 1987 and was renamed Mahaffey Theater for the Performing Arts for a St. Pete family who contributed significantly to the capital campaign.

Progress Energy and the City of St. Pete announced a 20-year partnership to rename the facility Progress Energy Center for the Arts. In 2012, Progress Energy merged with Duke Energy, and the facility was renamed Duke Energy Center for the Arts.

I saw a lot of similarities between the Mahaffey and the Chicago Theatre, which was built in 1921–same elegance and beauty. The Chicago Theatre tour guide coincidentally is from St. Petersburg. He spends his summers in Chicago, but when in St. Pete, he’s my downtown neighbor. Small world.

At the Mahaffey, I have volunteered for a wide range of events such as The Florida Orchestra, the Jeffrey Osborne / Gerald Albright concert and the Firestone Grand Prix. Last December, I even volunteered for a performance of “The Family Blessing.”

My duties have included greeting, collecting tickets and have helped facilitate the media, among other things.

I also visited the theater with a group of children from Mt. Zion Christian Academy on a field trip to see a Duke Energy sponsored program about electricity featuring Dr. Kaboom! The kids were able to get up close and personal with an electric car thanks to Derick Farfan, a Duke Energy representative.

One of the kindergarten students I worked with last year named Zaryiah Johnson said to me as we entered:  “Ms. Tippy, this place is beautiful. I don’t ever want to leave here.”

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