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Live Oak Theatre receives $100,000 anonymous donation for Brooksville performing arts center

For the Live Oak Theatre Company, the show will go on.

The company, now in its eighth performance season, has raised nearly $138,000 in donations toward its campaign to purchase a former Hernando County administration building at 21030 Cortez Boulevard and transform it into "The Live Oak Center for the Performing Arts."

On Feb. 26, the theatre company received a $100,000 check from an anonymous contributor, its biggest donation so far.

"I’ve never written that many zeros on a deposit check in my life," said Live Oak president and artistic director Randi Olsen. "I was completely blown away by their generosity and their faith in us. There really are no words to describe that feeling."

Along with the donation came a separate "challenge" grant from the same family. If the company raises another $100,000, the family will match it with $100,000.

"We’re ecstatic because this donation has totally legitimized the campaign … and solidified the fact that we will be in Brooksville as a performing arts center," said Vince Vanni, vice president of the group. "We have our work cut out for us, because we need to raise $100,000 on our own."

Prior to the family donation, the company had raised nearly $35,000. Donations came in change jars filled to the brim, one-time donations from community and company members, and donation pledges toward the company’s monthly mortgage payments.

For the past five years, Live Oak performed in Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but as time went on, the theatre company began to outgrow it.

Company leaders rearranged show schedules and gave each spring, fall and Christmas show two full casts, known as double-casting, to accommodate the 150-member group. Soon, the demand for shows became too much for the church’s schedule, and the theater group needed its own space.

"We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for that space," Olsen said, "but we outgrew them."

After their Christmas show, ‘Annie,’ sold out — even with an extra performance added — the company began its search for a new location that could house their swelling crowds and dream of creating a performing arts center. A performing arts center in Brooksville, Vanni said, "will do a lot for the culture of the city."

Nearly every Sunday on his way to church, Vanni drove by the two-story, 13,000-square-foot county building on Cortez Boulevard. On Jan. 23, Hernando County commissioners voted unanimously to accept Live Oak Theatre Company’s offer of $500,000 and sell it.

"Everybody has been stepping up and giving us what they can," Olsen said. "The anonymous donation really made it become a community effort … People feel like they can step up and give what they can, too."

All the group needs to do now is "determine what we need to do to improve the building before we occupy it," Vanni said.

Their spring show "ReUnKnighted," an original musical, debuts April 20 and will be the group’s last production at Faith Evangelical.

Contact TyLisa C. Johnson at [email protected] Follow @tylisajohnson.

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Live Oak Theatre receives $100,000 anonymous donation for Brooksville performing arts center