Kevin Stone is one of those people who knew early what they’d like their life’s work to be — and they do it.
Stone, 36, marked his one-year anniversary in December as the director of programming at the Florida Theatre, the latest chapter in a career in theater arts that began with high school productions.
Attending Sheridan College near his native Toronto, Stone learned the technical side of the business, like building sets and designing lighting.
Along the way, he worked in event and production management, touring the U.S. and Canada with a few stops in Bermuda and England. Eventually, life on the road lost its appeal and Stone knew it was time for a change.
“It was do a show, drive eight hours, do a show, drive eight hours. I decided I just couldn’t tour any more,” he said.
The final stop on that final tour in April 2005 was Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. As fate would have it, the venue’s administration was looking to hire a new production manager.
Within a month after that show, Stone packed up his condominium in Toronto and headed to Clearwater to begin the next phase of his career.
“That’s where I became interested in booking and programming,” he said.
With more than 200 performances each year on the stage in the theater, Stone quickly learned the art of choosing shows that would sell tickets and became director of entertainment.
“It was a master class in event booking,” he said.
When he learned there was an opening for the director of programming job at the Florida Theatre, Stone interviewed and got the job. His first day at work in December 2013 wasn’t the first time he had been to the historic venue.
“One of the stops on one of the tours was the Florida Theatre. I remember our truck broke down while we were here,” he said.
The year before Stone took over the booking responsibility, the Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center Inc., the nonprofit that manages the city-owned hall, promoted only about 50 shows.
During Stone’s first year, bookings increased to 89 dates. This year is on pace for more than 100.
“I hit the ground running,” he said.
According to a survey by Pollstar, 80,636 people went to shows at the Florida Theatre in 2014, placing the 1,900-seat hall in 82nd place worldwide among venues with fewer than 10,000 seats.
By comparison, 33,327 tickets were sold at the 2,900-seat Moran Theater at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, which came in 153rd in the survey.
Stone said the concept is to offer entertainment across all genres that’s appealing to all age groups.
Arlo Guthrie was booked in the theater Thursday, followed by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, who is performing tonight.
The February lineup includes The Piano Guys, Vince Gill and The Time Jumpers, cable television chef Alton Brown, two Lynyrd Skynyrd shows, Diana Ross, Wild Kratts Live, Howie Mandel, Marcus Roberts Trio, Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx, Masters of Illusion, Jackson Browne, The Midtown Men, comedian Wanda Sykes and Savion Glover STePz.
Tickets for an April 26 concert by Ronnie Milsap went on sale Monday. Other shows on the schedule include Loretta Lynn, Three Dog Night, the B-52s, Jane Lynch, Diana Krall and Weird Al Yankovic.
“We’re trying to appeal to everyone,” Stone said. “We need to make it accessible to everybody.”
Not every act has been a hit with local fans, however. Stone cited Straight No Chaser, an a cappella vocal group that sold plenty of tickets at Ruth Eckerd Hall, as a show that didn’t attract many fans in Jacksonville.
“We tried some things that worked in Clearwater that just didn’t work here,” he said. “But that’s OK. It’s a learning experience.”
Working with talent agents in New York City, Los Angeles and Nashville, Stone said he looks every day for opportunities to bring more and varied entertainment to the theater.
“We want the fans to trust us that we are scouring the country for good, solid talent,” he said. “We are in the game.”