FORT PIERCE — Sharon Engle, the longtime assistant to the director at the Sunrise Theatre, will serve as the theater’s interim director while a search is conducted to replace John Wilkes, Fort Pierce City Manager Nick Mimms said today.
Mimms on April 23 presented Wilkes, 65, a letter of termination from his $128,000-year-job effective today.
“The Sunrise Theatre is the premier performing arts venue on the Treasure Coast and a pivotal piece of Fort Pierce cultural landscape,’’ Mimms said in a statement released today. ”The Sunrise has served as a catalyst for the development of our community and will continue to be a destination for patrons locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Despite the successes over the past 10 years, the Sunrise Theatre has struggled to become financially solvent, which is crucial for the economic viability of the City of Fort Pierce.’’
Mimms in his April 23 letter thanked Wilkes for his service and what he had accomplished at the Sunrise. Wilkes said in an email to friends last week that he hoped the community would support Mimms’ decision.
Under the terms of Wilkes’ employment contract with the city, Wilkes will receive six months’ pay with benefits.
With an impressive resume as director of the Van Wezel in Sarasota and Kravis center West Palm Beach, Wilkes was hired as director in the Sunrise in 2008. During his tenure, Wilkes brought major headliners such as Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Frankie Valli, Ringo Starr and Smokey Robinson to the Sunrise. He also opened the theater’s Black Box, a smaller venue adjoining the main theater.
A financial statement Mimms released Monday showed net income losses at the theater of $899,475 in 2015, $1.18 million in 2016 and $1.6 million in 2017. The losses for the current year are expected to be available on Tuesday.
During the search for a new director, Mimms said “the community will still enjoy the same wonderful experience and service at the Sunrise during this period as programming and scheduling for the upcoming season will proceed as normal.’’ Mimms’ selection of a new director for the theater is an administrative matter that does not require approval of the City Commission.
In her role as assistant to the director, Engle routinely handled negotiations and booking of talent as well as finalizing contracts.
Mimms said that in June the city will hold a public workshop to collect the public’s input on their desires for the future of the Sunrise. He said the city will also launch an online community survey to “elicit thoughts and opinions about the Sunrise Theatre as well as arts and culture in general.’’
The 1,200-seat Sunrise, one of the largest theaters on Florida’s east coast, opened in 1923 in the waning days of Vaudeville. It closed in 1983, but was reopened in 2006 after a renovation that included about $11 million in public money.
This story is distributed by Treasure Coast Business, tcbusiness.com, a service for the readers and advertisers of Indian River Magazine.