Critic's Notebook

What's happening -- and what's not -- at the tip of the peninsula

To compound this problem, there doesn't seem to be much artistic exchange: Many companies use the same director for each play presented. This may make financial sense, but it's artistically stagnant.

Oh, wait, this was supposed to be one of "the good." Well, there are a few shining exceptions to this theatrical bunker mentality. Florida Stage and the Coconut Grove Playhouse regularly bring in excellent directors who offer a variety of creative visions. But few other companies bother to invite guest directors, even local ones. Call this one an area for improvement.

The performing arts mean good business: Our business and government ought to rethink their prejudices about the arts. Local movers and shakers tend to view the arts as a nuisance with little real-world clout. Yet recent urban redevelopment histories have demonstrated the huge impact the arts can have on reviving urban nightlife -- live theater and music inject direct revenue into restaurants, bars, bookstores, galleries, parking lots, and property values and add to the taxes all these generate. On top of this, arts-generated nightlife lowers personal and property crime rates, another hard-dollar savings for communities. How 'bout if local bigwigs wrap their tiny brains around this concept: Direct, hard money subsidies and rent-free space for the performing arts in specific localities. It works in New York, in London, in many cities. Why not here?

The performing arts attract upscale money and could be a significant draw for tourist and local dollars. Walk London's South Bank and the Miami and Fort Lauderdale waterfronts don't hold up well in comparison. Tourists don't flock to London because of the chain stores and the megaplexes. They come for the nightlife, culture, and live entertainment. We should be thinking similarly. (OK, so here's another area for improvement.)

Real life drama is better than fiction: Local theaters have recently experienced an explosion of new works for the stage. Companies regularly stage readings, some commission new works, and many produce world premieres of plays on a regular basis. That's good. But most local writers seem to shy away from taking on local stories. The rest of the world hasn't looked away, however. Drug wars, hurricanes, murders of German tourists, Elián Gonzalez, the Bush/Gore election debacle, the fight over the Everglades, al Qaeda in South Florida. Where are the plays that tackle such subjects?

There are a number of other ideas in my notebook, but there is no more space in this column. What are your thoughts? Reader reactions are most welcome. If response is strong, we will run your comments in a future column.

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