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My Life in Sarasota as an Actor at the Palm Tree Playhouse

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Guil (Dudley) Fisher
Credit: Courtesy of Guil (Dudley) Fisher Collection

Sarasota History - My Life in Sarasota as an Actor at the Palm Tree Playhouse photo

I began my Sarasota experience in 1957 when I was hired in New York City by Stuart Lancaster, the owner of the Palm Tree Playhouse to work for him as an Intern/actor position.  We were put up locally and I stayed in the home of Mason Baldwin on Second Street.

This experience lasted four wonderful years.  Working with Stuart.  Getting to know many local performers and professional actors as well.  It was also the time that Ringling was still coming out of Sarasota.  In fact met some wonderful circus people like Chuck Burnes, a clown.  I still am in touch with Chuck and his wife Bambi, also a circus performer, who now reside in California.

I was given some exciting acting work to do, among them, BULLFIGHT, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, TWO FOR THE SEESAW, SEPARATE TABLES and many, many more.  At the time critic Lawrence Dame spoke very highly of my work.

One of my highlights in those four years was meeting, working and getting to know the wonderful Hester Ringling Sanford, Stuart’s mother and daughter to Ringling himself.  A grand old dame with such history.  She was living on the Ringling Estate at the time and had me over for tea several visits where she took me on tour to the circus costumes, hundreds of them, in the Estate.  What a thrill.  In fact I borrowed one of the splendid sequined capes to go to the Beaux Arts Ball.   Every strike night, when we were taking down the old set and putting up the new set, usually an all-nighter, Hester would come in late at night with a huge pot of Lentil soup for us all.

She also appeared in several of the plays we did.  I was fortunate to be in several of them, notably Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (she played Big Mama to my Brick, her son) and Mademoiselle Colombe where she played a great diva actress and again I was her rascal of a son. (Hester Ringling Sanford is pictured seated, and Guil Fisher is standing in the light colored suit behind her).  I still have a lovely letter from her among my treasures of theatre history.

At the time there were two other well-known locals who continued to perform with us; Mason Baldwin and Frank Rothe and his wife Toni.  They were consummate professionals and great fun to work with.  Stuart was a sensational director.  I had just completed my studies with Sanford Meisner in New York.  To then work with a director who believed in the same way of approaching his work as Sandy was a dream come true.  I loved my four years at the Palm Tree Playhouse.  I am also glad it was never torn down and that it is still being used as a theatre.