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The Collaboratory, Ghostbird’s latest site-specific venue


Ghostbird Theatre Company’s next production takes place at the new home of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation in the Collaboratory on Jackson Street (across from the bus terminal and adjacent to the new Fort Myers Fire Station).

Everyone on this Train is another site-specific production from the troupe that’s built a reputation as one of the ten best companies in Florida for live theater. Ever striving to partner with just the right venue for its productions, co-founder and FGCU Professor of English Jim Brock has chosen a building this time that served as the Atlantic Coast Line railway station between 1924 and 1971.

“I wrote the play specifically for this historical location,” says Brock. “And it’s also influenced by the mission of the Foundation, as it celebrates community and inclusivity.”

The Spanish Mission-style building was completed in 1924 as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad’s new freight and passenger station, replacing the original depot that had been built in 1904 on the site of Evalina Gonzalez’s home at the confluence of Monroe Street, Oak Street (now Main) and Riverside Drive (now McGregor Boulevard). After passenger service to Fort Myers was discontinued by the ACL’s successor by merger, Seaboard Coast Line, the building sat vacant for nearly a dozen years. But in 1982, the City converted the historic structure into a museum. The Southwest Florida Museum of History occupied the premises until it merged with the Imaginarium in 2015, forming the re-imagined IMAG History and Science Center.

The train station and museum’s most recent transformation began in February of 2017 with a floor-to-ceiling renovation and the addition of 15,000 square feet of new LEED Gold certified space. At the risk of oversimplification, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation made its home in the renovated train station with the new space providing a state-of-the-art venue for meetings, social gatherings and special events. However, Ghostbird’s production of Everyone on this Train will take place on the north side of the building, which was actually the front of the train station as originally constructed.

Jim Brock’s specially-crafted vignettes depict various travelers seeking connections – no matter how fleeting, elusive or contingent – to their past. And that was precisely the focus employed by architects Parker/Mudgett/Smith in renovating the former train station. Recognizing that America’s rail stations form an integral part of local, regional and national history, Parker/Mudgett/Smith took great pains to preserve the ACL depot’s unique characteristics. Like the ticket counter and separate waiting rooms, restrooms and baggage areas for white passengers and people of color. (Jim Crow laws were in effect locally and throughout the nation.)

Parker/Mudgett/Smith didn’t stop with door and window restoration or inclusion of ponderous wooden benches in the outdoor waiting areas. With a self-evident stroke of genius, the architectural firm retained the actual metal rails and underlying ballast not only in the parking lot and exterior space in front and behind the building, but through the lobby that separates the Community Foundation’s offices from the Collaboratory.

“We designed the play to take place outside the Collaboratory,” adds director Barry Cavin, “where the original depot remains intact. We want to use as much of the old station as possible, and then fill it with light and sound and movement.”

December 31, 2018.


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