Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Coconut Grove Playhouse back in the News

There is an article in today's Miami Herald; the Grove isn't fully dead yet, but folks are picking at its carcass. (click on title to view article)

Creditors are foreclosing on a parcel known as "the bike shop" that served as collateral on a 2004 loan.

The board still maintains that they will re-open the theatre, although they haven't done anything to secure its current assets; all its inventory - costumes, props, lighting and sound gear - have been left in a structure that has largely been condemned. Prior to its closing, staff often had to deal with dozens of roof leaks; covering equipment with plastic, shifting costume racks around, and placement of buckets to minimize water damage.

The building has been sitting empty for over a year; nobody has been mitigating the water, and the air conditioning hasn't been running. This has likely destroyed most or all of their costume inventory. Much of the equipment is probably in dire condition at this point.

Even if the board manages to overcome the standing debt, even if they manage to get the unions to work with them again, even if they come up with a way to produced a new season of theater, it's now highly likely that they will have to spend millions to clean up their physical plant before they can perform a single night in the space.

All of us in the theater community want to see the Grove open again, but they have a tremendous mountain to climb before they can do it, and it's only getting steeper.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Half of all Professional Theater Productions are not Reviewed.

Those of us involved with children's theater are already aware of something that most people probably haven't noticed; we don't get reviewed.

In some cases this is understandable: for example, shows that tour. They go directly to schools, and few reporters have access to these portable productions. Others don't meet the minimum criteria for coverage: they run a single weekend, or they're produced by an amateur group for a limited run.

But professional theaters in South Florida do produce high-quality children's theater, and put them on stages where parents can bring their kids into the theater for an hour of culture. There are at least THREE companies dedicated exclusively to shows for children. THESE performances are as easy to schedule coverage for as any other theater production. And yet not one of the area's newspapers ever sends anyone to check them out.

Yes, there are calendar listings, and editors do a pretty good job of making sure that pictures of various productions are featured, giving parents - and children - a glimpse of what's available on stage. Those pictures rotate every week to give all the theaters some coverage. BUT; a picture doesn't tell you about the show. Is it well-lit? Can you hear all the actors over the music? Can you hear the music? Is there music?

And how do the kids react? Will a skittish four-year old who's afraid of owls run screaming to the lobby? Does the show connect with kids, or does it have a relevant message? The theaters may included a suggested age, but is that suggested age range really accurate?

Frankly, reviews do more than tell audiences if the play is worth seeing; they engage a potential patron's attention for just a moment. Reviews have ALWAYS been a key method of informing audiences about a show. Ads help, word of mouth is always your best advertising, but newspapers get into a huge number of homes and businesses. The major newspapers are thus failing the arts community.

The Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, and the Sun-Sentinel are failing their readership. One story a year can't be construed as coverage of children's theater, or children's programming in general. Parents are looking for things to do with their children EVERY WEEK. Can it be a coincidence that as newspapers reduce the amount of news in their papers, readership falls? If your product doesn't contain enough information to make it a worthwhile purchase, people won't purchase it.

And they are missing a lot of coverage: every professional theater has a children's theater program. More children than adults see live theater in South Florida. The major newspapers are failing their readership in a big way.

School is getting underway; theater companies are gearing up for a new season of shows for kids. It's time for the Herald, the Sun-Sentinel, and the Palm Beach Post to start studying the schedules, and planning how they will cover this frontier. Kids count. Give them something to count on.

TOMFOOLERY to close August 27.

The closing notice just went up for TOMFOOLERY. Just two weeks left to see the only revue of Tom Lehrer songs out there.

While the show wasn't as well-received by reviewers as it has been in the past (a couple of them found some of the material to be dated), they all agree that this is a strong production. Audiences are thoroughly enjoying it, but even with some dedicated Lehrer fans who come back week after week, the bookings simply aren't brisk enough to keep the show going.

Tom Lehrer was extremely popular from the mid-fifties through the late sixties. In a time known for folk music, and then for rock and roll, Lehrer was something else entirely. Specializing in parody and satire, Lehrer's song were as familiar as they were warped. From poisoning pigeons in the park, to an Irish maid killing off her entire family in a manner that would make Sweeny Todd queasy, Lehrer gleefully churned out his twisted tunes. In a time of conformity, he was a tetragonal peg.

So if you're a Tom Lehrer fan, or like your comedy slightly twisted ( or not so slightly), catch TOMFOOLERY while you can. Thursday - Saturday at 8pm, 2pm Sunday. The Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL 33134 305-444-9293


Friday, August 3, 2007

S###. it's AUGUST in MIAMI

Not to worry, still plenty of theater around - and even new shows opening!

Mad Cat is opening its latest offering, EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT: A Brief History of Helen of Troy. It's by playwright Mark Schultz.

Miami Light Project 3000 Biscayne Blvd Miami, Florida 33137

CALL: 954-980-1871 for ticket reservations.

Actors' Playhouse is still indulging in TOMFOOLERY, a revue of satirical songs by Tom Lehrer. Through September 2 at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Theatre, Coral Gables.

This is the last weekend to see JULIUS CAESAR at New Theater ; it closes Sunday. Not a lot of chances to see Shakespeare in Miami, so don't miss it. Their next show is George Bernard Shaw's ST JOAN. Great show, not Shakespeare. 4120 Laguna Street, Coral Gables, FL 33146
(305) 443-5909

Lots more happening in the tri-county area, so check out http://southfloridatheatre.com for complete listing of live theater.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Longtime Actor has Left the Stage

Harvey Phillips, who has performed on South Florida stages for over twenty years, as taken his final bow. He died of emphysema on July 25th, 2007. (title links to obituary)

I first met Harvey when I began working at the old Florida Repertory Theater in West Palm Beach. He had come down from Philadelphia to do some show at the Rep, and didn't go back. Lacking housing, he convinced artistic director Keith Baker to let him set up house in the backstage of the theater. Many of us envied Harvey a little; not that his accommodations were all that great ( a cot, a bar fridge, a hot plate, and a TV tucked in the storage loft) but he was living the life; he LIVED in the THEATER. The rest of us were stuck coming up with RENT every week. In lieu of rent, Harvey acted as a watchman, and did in fact keep the Playhouse from being burgled a time or two: downtown wasn't safe back then, and having someone in the building to call the cops was not a bad thing.

Of course, that meant that we woke the poor man up when we came in to do a set changeover at 6am the day after the show closed. We'd forget, and start hollering directions to the crew, and poor, bedraggled Harvey would get rousted. "Huh..wha'? Hah? Oh...." "Sorry, Harvey!" we'd call, "Forgot you'd be up there!" "S'allright" he'd mutter, "I'll make coffee." This happened more or less every changeover. He wasn't a morning person, but he never, ever complained about the rude awakenings during tech week.

In those days, if you needed an old character actor, it was invariably Harvey. Back then, he was only in his fifties, but his air was already silver-gray, and he had his share of lines. He used to say "Getting old is the best career move I ever made!" Then he'd laugh and clap you on the back. He was the most workingest actor I knew back in the '80s and early '90s. A lot of us envied him.

Eventually, he met a wonderful woman. She saw all that was wonderful about Harvey, and saw past the fact that he was basically homeless at the time. I think his new family benefited as much as he did; and certainly Harvey did well with his new home. And quite a few of us envied him that, too.

I last saw Harvey three years ago, when he participated in a play reading at The Miracle Theatre. He had that same smile he always did, and his wife and step daughter made the drive down from West Palm Beach to see him perform. In the lobby before the show, he confessed it was getting harder to "keep up." But then he went on stage, the lights came up and so did Harvey.

He had the theater career - and the life - that most of us only aspire to.

Bravo, Harvey. Bravo.