Cultures were built on the performing arts. When exposed to live theater, children learn about creativity, values and fantasy.
As adults, they relive those fantasies, played out through the artistic expression of a team of talented actors, costume designers, set crews, and a host of skilled and dedicated support.
Anyone who has experienced the Show Palace in Hudson knows theatrical culture is part of the local landscape. And this one, not in Ybor City, Clearwater or St. Pete, still has the caliber one would expect at those locales without the commute.
Known for its nationally recognized productions, no season at the Show Palace leaves a seat unoccupied. And the more the community raves about the standard of quality displayed at the dinner theater, the more Tommy Mara, owner and operator, looks for bigger and better acts. Many are nationally performed with casts and set crews that rank at the top of the industry.
Mara is an optimist. But his experience in business has taught him that fantasy, while fundamental in the live theater industry, has no place in commerce. Keen skills in marketing, managing and maintaining a viable profit-making business is what keeps the doors open.
The Show Palace has been entertaining audiences for more than 15 years. And the box office stays busy.
But the Show Palace isn't all that Mara is tinkering with these days. An award-winning professional singer and performer, Mara knows how to keep his followers, both in show business and in business, satisfied. He also owns and operates the Palace Grand in Spring Hill.
The elegant special occasion facility boasts a grand entry, state-of-the-art ballroom, an upper floor banquet room and an elevator for dramatic entrances.
The Palace Grand has been the venue of choice for weddings and receptions, high school proms, holiday parties, organization meetings and more for years. The structure has recently been redone inside, with more updating planned to begin in the next few weeks.
Mara is well grounded in business, building several to the point where they turned a profit. Then he sold them. His passion, second only to show business, is the restaurant industry where his family has been succeeding for years.
It takes a dedicated commitment of quality to keep both establishments running. And Mara wants the public to know that the Palace Grand and the Show Palace are creatively climbing into a prosperous future.
Mara doesn't cower to gossip. Nor does he engage.
"If I want anything to come out of all this, it's to make the public aware that we are not going anywhere."
The businesses are run much like a tight-knit family because they are run by the family. Mara's wife, Vicki, is responsible for the box offices for both and does much of the inside work.
Mara's daughter, Jennifer, takes care of most of the everyday organization for both establishments.
The rapport is infectious, although both father and daughter admit they occasionally have their disagreements.
"But he is the dad," Jennifer said.
And judging by the pride he demonstrates when he looks at her, she's still daddy's little girl.
It isn't uncommon to catch Tommy or Vicki or Jennifer rolling up their sleeves to help out in the kitchen or doing other prep work for an event or production. They come from the stock that does whatever it takes to make it work.
The 2013-14 Season at the Show Palace began with "Hello Dolly," running through Nov. 10; "White Christmas," Nov. 28 to Dec. 25; "Guys and Dolls," Jan. 16 to Feb. 23; "La Cage aux Folles," March 13 to April 20; and "The Wizard of Oz" May 8 to June 5. Season and individual event tickets are available www.show palace.net.
Each production is a master-effort of talent, including complete crafting of production sets, costumes, etc. by Tom Hansen.
And the Palace Grand is available to book any party or event with specials running all the time.
"You might be shocked to learn how inexpensive our rates are," Mara said. He encourages that prospects inquire before they rule out the Palace Grand. "We can make almost any budget work," he said.
Mara is all about giving back to the communities where his businesses rest. He had been known to open Show Palace productions to those who can't afford to attend or hosting events at the Palace Grand to benefit a group or other who is struggling.
But you won't hear it from him. Jennifer said her father chose to decline a very lucrative career opportunity in Hawaii to focus on the two facilities. Both were in jeopardy and Mara stepped in to do what he could to save them.
The community has grown accustomed to both. Losing them would be a tragedy.