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12 posts from November 2007

November 29, 2007

Light the Lights

Broadway_strike_2 Broadway is back.  The 26 shows shut down since Nov. 10 by a strike of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees' Local One (a.k.a. the stagehands' union) will be up and running tonight, following a tentative agreement between the union and the League of American Theaters and Producers.  (The limited-run holiday show, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, resumed performances the day after Thanksgiving, though its producers had to go to court force Jujamcyn, the owners of the St. James Theatre, to allow the reopening.)

Everyone involved in the start-and-stop, sometimes acrimonious negotiations was making nice and acting all holly-jolly happy after reaching the agreement late Wednesday.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League, commented, "What is most important is that Broadway's lights will once again shine brightly, with a diversity of productions that will delight all theatergoers during this holiday time."

James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local 1, said, "The people of Broadway are looking forward to returning to work, giving the theatergoing public the joy of Broadway, the greatest entertainment in the world."

According to the web site I Love New York Theater, theater fans who had bought tickets to performances canceled during the strike will get refunds (minus Federal Express delivery charges), and the entrepreneurial producers of Chicago were offering $26.50 tickets for tonight's performance, the first featuring ex-Sopranos stars Aida Turturro and Vincent Pastore.  (Too bad, though, for the folks who planned trips and spent money on plane tickets, hotel rooms and meals, hoping to have the kind of Broadway experience that draws so many tourists to New York. Maybe they got an early start on their holiday shopping?)

The economic fallout from the strike has been huge:  an estimated $2 million per day, or $38 million, in lost revenue to all the businesses tied to Broadway; a dip in box office receipts from $23.3 million during Thanksgiving week 2006 to $4.29 million this year.

Everyone touched by the strike  -- producers, stagehands, actors, taxi drivers,ushers, people working in Theater District restaurants -- is hoping that scads of VITs (Very Important Tourists) will be just as happy as they are that the Great White Way is glowing and going strong again.  And that the next League-labor negotiation doesn't lead to Strike: The Sequel.

November 27, 2007

What's New?

Each spring, the theater world flocks to Louisville.  The pilgrimage isn't because of the Kentucky Derby; this one is for the city's drama derby, a.k.a. the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays in March.

Nilo_cruz_stairs You don't have to go all the way to the city of smooth bourbon and fast horses to check out what's new in theater, though.  Florida Stage, nestled in seaside Manalapan just south of West Palm Beach, has its own new play festival, and the 2008 lineup looks like a strong one.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz (at left), who divides his time between New York and Miami (where he grew up), has a new script titled Interpreter of Desire, about lost love in 1960s Cuba.

Extremeties playwright William Mastrosimone is represented by Dirty Business, an inspired-by-fact play about a party girl caught between a Mafia bigwig and the American president.  Jeffrey Hatcher's G.I. Gay tackles the issue of gays in the military.

Marco_ramirez_headshot Christopher McGovern takes a musical approach to a spooky situation in A Crash in Roswell, about a New Mexico family and its unusual visitor.  And another Miamian, Marco Ramirez (right), crafts an amalgam of comic book and play in Macon City.

Taking place March 2-4, 2008, the second annual New Works Festival will also feature a keynote address by Pulitzer winner and 'night, Mother author Marsha Norman.

Unlike the Humana Festival, Florida Stage does readings (vs. full productions) at its festival.  But as a proven incubator for new works, the company has a knack for unearthing plays with promise.  Besides, the playwrights will be there, so anyone who likes to hang with artsy types should seriously consider a road trip.

November 20, 2007

The Fun in Fundraiser

The first, but clearly not the last, 24-Hour Theatre Project is history now.  Let's begin with a familiar final moment: the curtain call.  Around 10:30 p.m. on Monday evening, 24 actors, six directors, six playwrights and Naked Stage artistic director Antonio Amadeo (the amiable, unflappable, exhausted young man who served as the event's producer) poured onto the wide stage at GableStage to bask in the applause, cheers and standing ovation of a packed theater.  The response wasn't merely a part of the ritual of theater. It was earned, impressively so.

Amadeo observed, "Twenty-seven hours ago, none of these plays existed."  That was the magic of a project several people at the giddy after-party called "Summer Shorts on Speed." It was not just that six playwrights could create seven short plays, which could then be rehearsed, blocked and performed, all in the space of a day.  It was that everyone could do it so well, that a vast theater community could come together to support four small companies and their fellow artists, and have fun doing it.

In late afternoon and early evening, as half-hour technical rehearsals were making the weary actors, directors and playwrights even more jittery, many were regretting the day they heard of the 24-Hour Theatre Project.  Once it was over, anyone who was asked if he or she would do it again replied: "In a heartbeat."

Lisa_morganCarbonell Award-winning actress Lisa Morgan, who left her home in Palm Beach County at 5:30 a.m. Monday in order to make the 7:30 a.m. start time for the project, vamped her way hilariously through Ricky J. Martinez's Dime-Store Novel.  (That's Lisa at right, in a photo by the Herald's Carl Juste; she's not really crying, just showing the acting chops that got her two Carbonells.)  After the bows, she said the curtain call was something special:  "That feeling of community was like whoa, wow, we all just did this. It's fantastic!"

And it was.  There wasn't a what-were-they-thinking play in the bunch. Most were polished and solidly constructed, particularly given the mere hours allowed for their creation. Andie Arthur's clever Dinner at the End of the World was full of so many literary, religious and historical references that its wee gestation time was mind-boggling.

The 24-Hour Theatre Project was, in every sense, an event.  Amadeo is pretty sure he'll be recovered enough to do it again in December 2008.  But as for this one: bravo.

November 19, 2007

Adrenaline, Anyone?

Paul_and_michael It is late Monday afternoon at the beautiful Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, though hardly anyone involved in the 24-Hour Theatre Project is in any shape to appreciate the glories of the historic hotel that is home to GableStage.  Playwrights? Got little or no sleep, and they're hitting the wall.  Directors? Still moving actors around, and hearing too many plaintive calls: "Line?"  Actors? Well, for people who got a script at 7:30 a.m., learned lines (sometimes, lots of them, complicated ones too) and figured out how to move around the stage as they were delivering those lines, they're holding up pretty well.  Director Paul Tei (seated) and playwright Michael McKeever can even laugh; McKeever's play is quite funny, but this is also the laughter of the sleep-deprived. (Photo by the Miami Herald's Carl Juste.)

Though Todd Allen Durkin says with a smile, "I only have one eye now."  And Lisa Morgan, beaming, confides, "It's not too late to do The Cherry Orchard."

Everyone is bone-tired. But they're all still thrilled to be a part of a challenging, risky, inspiring benefit for four fine small South Florida theater companies.  You sense, in their manic drive to the finish line -- the single performance of seven remarkably good short plays -- a kind of validation of the talent that has made this theater community grow and mature.  And you suspect that, once the performance is over and everyone gets some sleep, they'll want to do it again next year.

Rehearse, Memorize, Open

Every one of the six playwrights involved in tonight's 24-Hour Theatre Project did his or her thing overnight, arriving at GableStage at 7:30 a.m. (the horror!) or so with finished scripts for a 10-to-20-minute play.

Marco Ramirez, who's an award-winning short play writer (he got the Heideman Award during the big-deal Humana Festival last spring, a buzz-inducing thing in the world of play writing), actually wrote two plays by this morning. (Way to make the other playwrights feel inadequate, Marco.)  One uses the title he originally chose, Twenty-Six, and stars Deborah L. Sherman and David Perez-Ribada (as her brother, who happens to be a giant).  The other, Strike, stars GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler and actor Scott Genn as a pair of Storm Troopers from Star Wars.  Everybody says that Adler, who donated his theater space for this creatively-driven fund raiser (benefiting Mad Cat, Promethean, Ground Up & Rising and The Naked Stage, which is producing the whole shebang) is very funny. We shall see.

Plays_gang For people who are compressing the entire theater process into just over a day, the actors, directors and bleary-eyed playwrights (most pictured at left, in a photo taken by the Herald's Marice Cohn Band, well before the madness ensued) remained a jovial lot throughout Monday morning.  (Note: The extremely adorable Lara Amadeo, being held by her dad Antonio [the energetic, excited, exhausted Naked Stage artistic director], is not in tonight's show.)

Cycling from Biltmore Hotel banquet rooms to hallways into the GableStage theater, the seven casts rehearsed, blocked, rehearsed, memorized and rehearsed some more -- all by noon.  Tech rehearsal for the bare-bones productions is at 4:30 this afternoon; in between, there's lunch, memorization, maybe more runthroughs.  Oh, and director Paul Tei and actor Ken Clement dashed over to Miami Beach for a callback on a Gatorade commercial, because while donating their services to the 24-Hour Theatre Project is a good thing and a blast, a commercial is a paying gig.

Most of the playwrights went with funny.  So maybe that's why, despite the time crunch inherent in this razzle-dazzle way of making theater, everyone seems to be having a good time.  Rehearsing Ricky J. Martinez's deliberately pulpy Dime-Store Novel, Clement boldly bellows, "Yeah, we're ready for tech!"  Lisa Morgan adds, "I'm ready for opening night. Oh. It is opening night."

Director Stuart Meltzer, who actually could have slept through the night, mentions that his partner, playwright Michael McKeever, woke him up several times to read new parts of How My Sister Sally Collected Her Winnings Despite the Dead Mime in Her Car, or Broward County.  And Meltzer isn't even directing that play.

Who knows how these plays will look tonight at 8 at GableStage?  That there will be glitches, forgotten lines, dropped cues is inevitable.  But so far, the 24-Hour Theatre Project is fostering an exhilarating sense of creative engagement, the likes of which South Florida's theater community hasn't seen.  And in that way, a big benefit for four little companies has already paid off.

November 18, 2007

Random Acts of Creativity

So the clock is officially running on South Florida's first 24-Hour Theatre Project, a plays-on-the-fly experience that will benefit The Naked Stage, Ground Up & Rising, The Promethean Theatre and Mad Cat, four small companies that happen to involve some of the region's best theater talent.

And though even the six playwrights who are now home and writing furiously can't predict exactly how this is all going to turn out, I'm guessing that Monday's one and only audience at GableStage is in for some crazy/moving/funny entertainment.

Marco20and20juan2024 As planned, the six playwrights -- Michael McKeever, Ricky J. Martinez, Andie Arthur, Will Cabrera, Marco Ramirez and Juan C. Sanchez (that's Sanchez at left on the stage looking happy [he's actually a sitting bundle of nerves], Ramirez to his right, already writing his play in his head) -- hit the stage at Barry University's Pelican Theatre a wee bit after 7 p.m. Sunday to find out who would be directing the play they're writing at this very moment, which four actors would be in it, and what the title would be.  In random order, the writers first picked a director's name out of a black cowboy hat, then took turns drawing actors' names(one each time) until all had a cast of four.  Then the writers, directors and the actors who decided to show up despite the fact that they have to arrive at GableStage for a frenetic day of rehearsal at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. huddled to kick around ideas, potential plots, characters -- all the stuff that even a short play needs.

Here's how fate took a hand.

McKeever is writing a play titled How My Sister, Sally Collected Her Winnings Despite the Dead Mime in Her Car in Broward County. Technically speaking, McKeever has already cheated: He actually picked two titles from the list of 28 that Naked Stage artistic director Antonio Amadeo (his company is producing the 24-Hour Theatre Project) came up with.  Broward County was supposed to be a stand-alone title, but McKeever, Mad Cat's Paul Tei (his director) and cast members Todd Allen Durkin, Tracey Barrow, Mathew Chapman and Reiss Gaspard just decided to conjoin the two.  Amadeo and pretty much everyone else at the Pelican displayed a what-the-hell attitude about the project's loose rules, though, so no one seemed to care.

Ramirez and his director, Andy Quiroga, are working on a play titled Twenty Six.  It's to feature David Perez-Ribada, Scott Genn, Deborah L. Sherman and -- tada! -- GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler in a rare acting appearance.  Now, at least half the talent at the Pelican has worked with Adler, who donated GableStage's space for Monday's benefit.  Most love him, though nobody says being directed by Adler is easy.  In fact, Sherman said in advance she hoped she wouldn't get cast in the same play because she might have to kill him.  So karma, naturally, arranged for exactly that thing (the casting, not the killing) to happen.  Should be interesting.  Many Adler stories, most unprintable even in the blogosphere, were floating around the Pelican Sunday night; at one point, Tei, Durkin and Ken Clement were doing dueling Joe impressions, all pretty good.

Stuart20and20michael2024 When Sanchez pulled the names Lela Elam and Kameshia Duncan out of the hat, he joked that he'd just write In the Continuum, Part Two.  While the Barry kickoff was taking place, Elam and Duncan were in fact giving their final performance in In the Continuum at GableStage.  Sanchez will actually write a play called Less Than Beautiful, which will also feature Katherine Amadeo and Michael John Carroll, under Stuart Meltzer's direction.  (That's Meltzer on the left in the photo, sitting with McKeever, before the drawing and McKeever's wanton cheating.  A certain Drama Queen is sitting behind them.)

Cabrera, working with director Deborah Mello and actors Ceci Fernandez, Adam Simpson, George Schiavone and John Manzelli, chose one of the nuttier titles:  I Was the Only Lemming on Noah's Ark (spelled Arc on the title list, but we're guessing it's the ship and not Noah's curved line).

Arthur, whose play will be directed by Meredith Lasher (another example of fate taking a hand, since the two women work together as executive director and president, respectively, of the Theatre League of South Florida), got Arnaldo Carmouze, Carlos Alayeto, Michaela Cronan and Erik Fabregat for her cast.  Her title:  Dinner at the End of the World.

And finally, Martinez got director Kim St. Leon and a very interesting cast:  Lisa Morgan and Ken Clement, both Carbonell Award winners who have been directed by St. Leon in productions at Fort Lauderdale's Inside Out Theatre; Stacy Schwartz, a musical theater powerhouse; and Bechir Sylvain, a versatile young actor who will be back at GableStage next weekend in Ground Up & Rising's production of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train.  After much debate, Martinez and company settled on Dime-Store Novel as their title, and began spinning a noirish plot.  When Martinez went up to the communal props table to pick items that might be used in Dime-Store Novel, he came away with a hookah and joked, "This and Red Bull will get me through the night."

After beer, pizza and bawdiness at Barry on Sunday, the real fun begins not long after dawn breaks in Coral Gables.  That's when the directors and actors will go from first rehearsal to opening night in just about 12 hours.  I'll be blogging throughout, so check back for a blow-by-blow on the controlled chaos.

(Photos by Deborah L. Sherman. Watch out, Joe Adler.)

Let's Play

Tonight at 7 at Barry University's Pelican Theatre, six playwrights will gather to make random picks that will wind up ruling the next 24 (well, 27 or 28, to be honest) hours of their lives.

PlaywrightsMckeever Michael McKeever, Juan C. Sanchez, Ricky J. Martinez, Marco Ramirez, Andie Arthur and Will Cabrera will be the first to feel the creative rush -- and stress -- of the 24-Hour Theatre Project, a fundraiser that will benefit Miami's Mad Cat Theatre Company, Miami's Ground Up & Rising, Davie's Promethean Theatre and Miami's Naked Stage, which is producing the whole shebang. (That's McKeever at right with actor David Perez-Ribada, who might or might not wind up in McKeever's play on Monday.)

First  the six pick a title out of a hat.  Only Antonio Amadeo, Naked Stage's artistic director, knows what's on each little slip of paper, because he made the titles up.  He hasn't even told his wife and fellow Naked Stager, Katherine Amadeo.  He swears.

Then the playwright's pick a director's name out of another hat.  Then, cycling through turns, they pick the names of 24 actors until everyone is assigned to a still-to-be written play.  The writers go away, create through the night, then show up Monday morning at 7 a.m. (!) at GableStage, where everyone will rehearse, memorize, block and drink many caffeine-infused beverages throughout the day.  The audience arrives a little before 8 that night to see what everyone has come up with.

But because process, in this case, is at least half the fun, I'm going to go watch. I'll be at the Pelican tonight, then in various rehearsal rooms throughtout the day Monday. I'll watch the creative sparks, the meltdowns, how each short play comes together. And I'll be blogging throughout the adventure, starting late tonight.  Watch this space, and I'll fill you in.

November 16, 2007

Talented, No Doubt

Bowieheadshot_2 Pat Bowie, a Boca Raton actress who has acted on Broadway, in Great Britain and in countless American regional theaters, is coming home next week to begin rehearsals for the Caldwell Theatre Company's season-opening production of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Doubt.  Hers is a fine role in a great play, a production made all the more special because it will be the first one in the 33-year-old theater company's new $10 million home, the Count de Hoernle Theatre.

First, though, Bowie is living a special event of her own.  On Saturday at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, she will be introduced as one of 53 recipients of the 2007 United States Artists Fellowships, which award a $50,000 grant to artists at all stages of their careers.  The youngest fellow, violinist Leila Josefowicz, is 30; the oldest, dancer-choreographer Anna Halprin, is 87.  Bowie is in very good company.  Her fellow honorees include choreographer Bill T. Jones, director Tina Landau and one of the avant-garde Wooster Group's founders, Elizabeth LeCompte.

Bowiework On the versatile Bowie's resume are such diverse roles as Amanda in Noel Coward's Private Lives and multiple parts in the Broadway production of The Song of Jacob Zulu.  Just over a year ago, she played the ancient Aunt Ester in August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean at Actors' Theatre of Louisville.  (Production photo by Harlan Taylor.)

Here's what Judith Egerton, theater critic of the Louisville Courier-Journal, wrote of Bowie's performance: "The enrapturing Pat Bowie brings Aunt Ester fully to life, sweeping the audience into her embrace and Wilson's saga with an earthy grace, vocal dexterity and the fascinating mannerisms of an ancient woman whose body holds a reservoir of strength and love."

And now, from Dec. 2 until Jan. 6, you can catch the award-winning Bowie in Doubt at the Caldwell.

November 14, 2007

Generous Joe

Thanksgiving is coming Nov. 22, but more than three dozen of South Florida's most talented theater folks have reason to give thanks early: Joseph Adler has their backs.

Joe_adler_2  Adler, just "Joe" to everyone in the theater community, runs GableStage in Coral Gables.  His theater isn't big -- just 150 seats nestled into its space at one end of the historic Biltmore Hotel -- but it's an artistic powerhouse that pretty much cleans up each year at the regional Carbonell Awards.  At GableStage, Adler picks his season, directs all the shows and shows up to greet nearly every audience.  He's also a presence in the larger cultural community, going to meetings, working the phone, applying for grants, all the things that any busy arts executive does.  And yet, perhaps more than any other artistic director, Adler really does give back by mentoring younger artists and their companies.

Naked_stage_founders On Monday, Miami's Naked Stage and three other small companies (Miami's Mad Cat, Davie's Promethean Theatre and Miami's Ground Up & Rising) will be the latest groups to benefit from Adler's generosity.  The four companies have joined together in something called The 24-Hour Theatre Project, in which three dozen South Florida theater people will create six new short plays between Sunday and Monday.  They'll present them at a $50 per person fundraiser at 8 p.m. Monday at GableStage, and every penny from ticket sales will go to the four companies.  No wonder the Naked Stage founders (Antonio Amadeo, his wife Katherine and John Manzelli) are smiling.

Bechir_sylvain Then, on the day after Thanksgiving, Ground Up & Rising takes over GableStage's space for a benefit run of Stephen Adly Guirgis' powerful Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, featuring Bechir Sylvain (in photo) along with Arturo Fernandez, Kameshia Duncan, Sheaun McKinney and Calos Alayeto (Sylvain, Duncan and Fernandez are also doing the 24-Hour Theatre thing).  Tickets to the four peformances (8 p.m. Nov. 23-24, 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 25) are $25 each.  And again, Adler is making sure that every penny goes to Ground Up.

No one is making Adler do what he does. No one could.  Adler, as anyone who has ever worked with him would tell you, is feisty, creative, insightful, mercurial, argumentative, maddening, inspiring.  He's also passionate about art and life, and he spends countless hours traveling to other theaters to watch the work of artists he knows.  He is, by his actions and not his title, a genuine theater leader.  And truly generous.

November 07, 2007

"Brothers Size" Gets Bravos

Tarell_mccraney_2_2 It has been a good couple of weeks for Tarell Alvin McCraney, a Miami playwright with blazing talent and a very bright future.  On Oct. 24, he received the $50,000 Whiting Writers' Award, a major honor for emerging writers, in Manhattan.

And this morning, he woke up to a collection of good-to-glorious reviews for his play The Brothers Size, which opened Tuesday at the Public Theater in New York. The play, which will also open Thursday at London's Young Vic, is a mythic and gritty drama about the complicated bonds and unfinished business of two brothers in Louisiana.  It is part of a trilogy McCraney has dubbed the "Brother/Sister Plays" -- this one inspired by his own brothers, In the Red and Brown Water inspired by his sister and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet, an artistic riff on his own story.

The Public's artistic director, Oskar Eustis, is rumored to be planning to present all three plays next fall. The New York-area critics definitely like this one: check out the reviews from Variety, The Newark Star-Ledger and Back Stage for a sampling.  (The New York Times hailed the play too, but reprinted its review from the play's short run last January at the Public's Under the Radar Festival.)

McCraney, who grew up in Liberty City and graduated last spring from the Yale School of Drama, is living out of a suitcase these days. But Miami still matters to him -- deeply.  Patrice Bailey, theater dean at the New World School of the Arts (McCraney's high school alma mater), says he'll be back there in the spring to teach aspiring high school playwrights.  And he's not just dropping by to do a day-long guest artist gig (he has already done that). He has reworked his hectic schedule (which includes openings in Seattle, Atlanta and Dublin) so that he can teach the play-writing class throughout the spring.