Sunday, January 13, 2008

Coconut Grove Playhouse has a plan - FINALLY

After letting their charge spiral into the largest debt in South Florida theater history, after watching as it disenfranchised itself from the local theatre scene, the board of the Coconut Grove Playhouse finally decided it's time to have a plan.

They're only about 20 years late.

According to a story in today's Herald, the Coconut Grove Playhouse has discovered what every other regional theater knows: you need partners.

Unfortunately, they are still looking at developers; they've forgotten that a large part of their problem STARTED when they got involved with a commercial developer. Remember? They were going to tear the theater down and put up a complex that included a theater? And there was an uproar? It seems that the citizens of the Grove HATE developers. Passionately. .

Getting UM involved is a no-brainer; everyone wants to partner with them. The problem is that they haven't been interested in any endeavor that requires FINANCIAL contributions. FIU is not quite as conveniently situated, but since they don't have money either, it's moot. Who does that leave? Barry University? Does Barry even HAVE a theater department anymore? It will be interesting to see who they can drag coax into a partnership.

Joseph Adler of GableStage accurately sums it up:
''The synergy that could exist but never fully existed..."
Every theater in South Florida has tried for the business plan that the Grove's board has cooked up; it's not new. It's "Theater Funding 101." The reality is that colleges and universities in South Florida are as under-funded as the arts. And developers are less interested in supporting theater than getting their hands on the land under them.

To be fair, Mr. Adler is actually more positive than my trimmed quote implies. He goes on to say:

"It could [draw] talented people back or keep them here . . . If they hire a truly visionary artistic director and put the right economic controls in place, there's no reason it couldn't become one of the really significant theater companies in the United States.''
He's absolutely right.

It's not that I don't wish the Grove success; even with its reclusive policies, it filled an important niche in the South Florida Theatre scene. While they didn't employ very many South Florida actors, directors, or designers, their staff did side work at local theaters, providing technical support they would not have otherwise been able to afford.

As much as I criticize the Grove, I also acknowledge that South Florida theater is poorer for its absence.

I really do hope that the Coconut Grove Playhouse can be reconstituted, and become the major player in South Florida that it was 20 years ago. But it needs something it does not have: galvanizing leadership.

The Coconut Grove Playhouse needs an inspiring and competent leader; someone with undeniable artistic vision and unparalleled fiscal savvy. Someone who knows how to assemble a slick production machine, and understands effective use of management. I can think of only one person in all of South Florida that could make it work.

But Louis Tyrell already HAS a theater.

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