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Theater Company Raises Preservation Funds for Historic Church

BRADENTON  — The Hat Theater Collective, a new immersive theater company in Bradenton, recently announced that it succeeded in raising $4,400 toward the cost of needed repairs and maintenance of the 1887 Church located at the Manatee Village Historical Park. 
The funds, which the theater company raised from proceeds collected through its inaugural production’s ticket sales, were donated to the Manatee County Historical Commission, Inc. 
The small theater company’s experimental immersive production, The Ballad of Old Manatee, received rave reviews from attendees and columnists alike. The production ran from April 21 through May 7, at the Manatee Village Historical Park—a site which is maintained by the Manatee County Historical Commission, Inc. 
The commission maintains the historically-significant buildings located at the park where the pioneer heritage of Manatee County's founding period of 1840-1918 is preserved. The park contains 14 preserved and replica structures representative of Manatee County's founding period, including the 1887 Methodist church. 
"The purpose of The Hat Theater Collective is to be a catalyst for change, community, and conversation," shared Danae DeShazer, Producing Artistic Director and Co-Creator of The Ballad of Old Manatee in a press release. "With our world premiere musical, we achieved just that. Not only did we create a completely new and immersive theatrical experience that the community of Bradenton has never seen before, but we were also able to raise thousands of dollars for historic preservation. That is how the arts can shape a community."
The Ballad of Old Manatee is a historical drama inspired by early Manatee County history. The immersive tale tells the dynamic love story of James C. Vanderipe and Sarah Lee—and an intense conflict between James and Sarah's father, the Reverend Edmund Lee. This conflict, shrouded in mystery and intrigue, leads to James' death and burial in what is called "The Lonesome Grave." 
The immersive production invited audiences to step back in time as they followed the characters through the Manatee Village Historical Park as each scene unfolded amongst its treasured landmarks. Through its charming narration, strong character development, entertaining dialogue, original music, and a "stage" that could only be described as transformative and uniquely engaging, The Ballad of Old Manatee hit every mark if the goal was to find the sweet spot where creative expression could blend harmoniously with education and a tale inspired by local history. 
Not only did the nearly 140-year-old church play a central role in several of the production’s scenes, but through the retelling of its legacy, the storyline revealed how the church was also rooted near the heart of the production's tragic love story. 
Chairman of the Manatee County Historical Commission Jeffrey Downing expressed gratitude on behalf of the commission for the theater company’s donation.
"We are so grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with The Hat Theater Collective and we look forward to teaming with the organization again and continuing to make a difference together," Downing shared in a press release. "Thank you so much to the community for supporting a great cause. The event was a resounding success bringing the community together and raising funds to repair the 1887 Church," he added. 
To date $19,580 has been raised toward restoration efforts of the church, including repairs to its ceiling, and foundation, and for the replacement of the structure’s roof. 
The Hat Theater Collective is a new collaborative theater ensemble created by Danae DeShazer in Bradenton, FL. Through innovative and immersive theatrical experiences, The Hat strives to be a catalyst for change, community, and conversation. The Hat’s original historical drama inspired by local history, "The Ballad of Old Manatee," raised more than $4000 for historical preservation—and will return to Downtown Bradenton in April 2024. The Hat's focus is on site-specific theater, which activates unconventional spaces and brings together communities through new plays, contemporary musicals, and cabarets. Learn more by visiting https://www.atthehat.org.


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