We Don't Aim to Please

Live theater has never been a big draw in South Florida, an area not usually recognized as a center for first-class theatrical performances. Independent arts organizations in general have a hard time just staying afloat -- witness the shuttering of the Alliance Cinema's doors last week. Yet several nonprofit local theaters not only survive on shoestring budgets, they are doing quite well. (Of course "doing well" in nonprofit arts terms means not having a deficit at the end of the fiscal year.) Still, a number of smaller theaters report increased audience attendance and younger members in these audiences. Who are these people who continue to make intriguing theater, and how do they do it? In a two-part series of interviews, New Times asked four local artistic directors about their dreams for South Florida theater and what keeps each from realizing them.

New Times: If you could produce your ideal season, without financial or logistical constraints, what would it consist of?

Joe Adler of GableStage:Actually, to date, we've done the kind of theater we want to do. I don't sit down and say, "Will people like this?" I say, "Do I like this?" You don't do theater for the financial remuneration. You do what you love, and the people will find you. Theater creates its audience. The audience doesn't create theater.

Rafael de Acha of New Theatre: I love big, muscular plays [classics from the Greeks, Shakespeare, et cetera]. They provide a challenge for the director and the actors that small works don't. University drama departments put on classics, but something we rarely see in South Florida is a professional production of a classic. This season New Theatre will put on Electra. The version we're using is by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, author of Someone Who'll Watch Over Me. This is a faithful version of Sophocles, but it's a version nonetheless. For example we take the chorus, which should be 12 women, and turn it into a part for one actress. The language retains its stately tone, but it's accessible. We've cut out all of the "forsooths."

[My ideal season would consist of] one major American classic: Eugene O'Neill would be my first choice. We've already done A Moon For the Misbegotten and Long Day's Journey. The others require 10 to 12 cast members. It's a matter of economics. Large casts require large budgets. No can do.

Very close to my heart are the Sondheim musicals, and I would love to do Assassins. I would also like to do some of the new musical theater that's out there, like Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins. I just saw this in Chicago, and it was incredible. There's a whole new wave of people doing amazing new things with musical theater that we don't get here.

Local works: Each season New Theatre does at least two original works by South Florida playwrights.... Our next production will be Michael McKeever's Sexy and Miggs.

Michael Hall of Caldwell Theatre Company: Part of my ideal season is real. In any new season I would include Moises Kaufman's new play, The Laramie Project, a wildly theatrical and totally absorbing docudrama about what happened to more than 60 ordinary citizens of Laramie, Wyoming, when two Laramie boys killed gay college student Matthew Shephard. This is a life-affirming play about all kinds of people, sort of a latter-day Our Town. It closed off-Broadway on September 2, but the all-new Caldwell production opens December 31.... Caldwell's success [and five Carbonell Awards] for Kaufman's Gross Indecency began our love affair with Kaufman's work. This is a play that needs to be seen.

Next I'd do The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. No one does Chekhov anymore, but Caldwell needs to. It's timeless. Chekhov makes us realize we are not alone on the planet.

Then a Stephen Sondheim musical, probably Follies with a brilliant (and enormous) cast. With money for salaries, sets, lights, costumes, and sound enhancement, we'd make Broadway's greatest composer proud.

Of course Noel Coward gets a slot in my ideal season. I'd hire Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert Sean Leonard for Design For Living. This is one of the great plays; it's about men who can't live without women, and can't live without men, either. It needs star power and sex appeal. I'd hire a fabulous costume designer to cut all of Gwyneth's dresses on the bias and form-fit Mr. Law and Mr. Leonard in satin pajamas. We'd shock audiences even though Coward wrote the play in the '30s.

Finally I'd close with a new play now in the mind or computer of Donald Margulies [Dinner With Friends] or A.R. Gurney [The Cocktail Hour]. Margulies and Gurney are our best playwrights writing today. I know their new work[s] will be about important, relevant things; they'll create characters worth knowing and write literate dialogue that actors can speak.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mia Leonin