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A dramatic shocker from Florida Stage

Play04 NEWPLAYS TROP RDE If you had told me last week that I would begin this one by writing about the end of Florida Stage, I would have thought you'd been overindulging in the real version of what the Hair cast pretends to smoke in Act Two. 

But no, this particular nightmare is real.  It is, of course, most painful for artistic director LouisTyrrell, managing director Nancy Barnett and the nearly 30 others on the company's staff.  Twenty-four years after Tyrrell got Florida Stage going, all those theater pros are suddenly out of work in a time when joblessness is way too common  -- though few would argue that a career in theater guarantees security and stability.

But the abrupt closing of one of South Florida's finest companies, a theater with a well-deserved national reputation for developing new plays, is a loss for so many others too.

Theater lovers, those people for whom plays and musicals are created, have lost one of the region's most adventurous companies.  Subscribers who had no reason not to sign up for a 2011-2012 season that will never be have now lost their good-faith money, and that certainly does nothing to foster trust among folks thinking about buying a season's worth of tickets to another theater.

The long list of playwrights whose work came to life at Florida Stage -- a list that includes Michele Lowe, Israel Horovitz, Deborah Zoe Laufer, William Mastrosimone, Michael McKeever, Thomas Gibbons, Christopher McGovern, Michael Hollinger, Christopher Demos-Brown, Carter W. Lewis, Steven Dietz, Nilo Cruz, David Wiltse (and so, so many more) -- now has one less place devoted to exploring, developing and impressively staging the products of their imaginations.

Plenty of out-of-town actors, directors and designers worked at Florida Stage (and by "out-of-town," I mean people who don't live in South Florida), but so did numerous artists who choose to make their careers here.  Working at Florida Stage was a sought-after gig and, more often than not, a professionally fulfilling one.  Creating a role in a brand-new play is a thrill.  So is working at a company with high artistic standards.  With Florida Stage gone, there's one less "home" for South Florida artists, one less place to help them cobble together a living doing what they love.

And yes, for those of us who spend our nights watching plays then analyzing them for readers, losing a company that has made so many of those nights interesting or wonderful or thought-provoking just plain hurts.  Oh, there were plenty of times that I drove north to Manalapan or, in the past year, West Palm Beach for a Florida Stage show and drove home with the word "why" tumbling around in my brain.  Why that show? Why that staging? Why a particular actor?  But actually, even when I was less than crazy about a Florida Stage play, I could nearly always figure out why Tyrrell chose the script.  Something about the writer's voice.  Or the ideas in the script.  Or the creative passion it stirred in him.

Having followed Florida Stage's story for nearly all of its 24 seasons, I hate the way that such an artistically impressive, risk-taking, important company is now in the process of vanishing, its last act bankruptcy.  I understand that some of the folks who tried to write a different ending believed that going public with the company's financial problems -- the $1.5 million in debt that finally sank Florida Stage -- would hurt attempts to find donors and sell tickets. That "logic" seems counterproductive.  If an award-winning, widely respected theater company is in trouble, ask for help.

Perhaps, in these hard times, nothing would have come from a "save our theater" campaign.  But perhaps Florida Stage could have been saved and bankruptcy avoided. Anyone who treasures the artistic, intellectual and emotional riches that great theater brings is poorer for the loss of one of the region's finest companies. 

(Photo of Lou Tyrrell and Nan Barnett by Bob Eighmie)  





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Bill Hirschman

I could not have said it better, Christine. A tragic end to a brave company that provided us innumerable hours of art that touched our emotions and challenged our intellect.

Patti Gardner

Incomprehensible! I so agree, Christine. Why were there no cries for help? I can't imagine anyone, having had the privilege of working for Florida Stage, not willing to participate in some kind of fundraising effort. This loss is monumental....on so many levels. Thanks for putting those thoughts out there - where people need to hear them!

Deb Laufer

Beautifully put, as always Christine. Thank you.


Well said.

I don't recall what show it was (but we were still at the Little Duncan Theater), but I vividly remember this old lady coming out at intermission and stalking up to the house manager.

"Young lady," she said, "this play is terrible, and I'm leaving."

All the house manager could do was smile apologetically and say "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Well," said the lady, "I just wanted to say that I have walked out of every play you've done this season. But of all the plays I've walked out of, this is the best one so far!"

Surprised, the house manager blurted out some form of thank you.

"See you next month!" the lady said, and stormed off into the night.

Not all new plays are brilliant works, and few achieve "good" even with the highest production values. But like any recipe, you have to mix it all together and try it.

I remember more than a few plays that "read" great, but lost something when staged - or maybe it's just that with actual actors and actual action, the stuff your brain filled in for you was better than what could be achieved in the physical world.

The beauty of Florida Stage is that Louis found so many people willing to take the chance with him for so many years. They knew that if the play didn't work, it wasn't because Louis and company hadn't given it their all. It was a marvelous change from companies doing half-assed productions of classics.

Cheryl Dunn Bychek

Thanks, Christine, for saying it better than I'm able in my brokenhearted blur.

Christine Dolen

Thanks to all who posted comments -- Chris, love your story. That's one thing that always impressed me about Florida Stage and its audience. Lou challenged them and they became open to those challenges. If only more artistic directors would display that faith in the potential of the audience.

Chris Demos-Brown

This is a lovely epitaph, Christine. We're all still heartbroken.

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