Two years ago, the board of directors of the Coconut Grove Playhouse were forced to close its doors when their failure to oversee its fiscal management resulted in $4 million dollar deficit. They owed money to everyone; suppliers, the unions, their own employees. There was an attempt to cover their payroll and few critical bills with a grant intended for renovations of the condemned building.
They had to return that grant. They had to borrow more money to do it. They closed down, and not only did they put their employees out of work, they owed many of them back pay and reimbursements made on behalf of the Playhouse.
That same board said they had a plan. It took over year before they'd tell anyone what it was. And when they finally told us the plan, it was underwhelming.
Their plan was to raise money by seeking corporate sponsorships and private donors and a partnership with a University theater program. Which ain't much of plan, considering it's what every theater in South Florida works on.
So on April 1, they presented "three plans"
to "save" the theater. Well, actually, no. April Fools! What they presented plans to re-develop the site of the theater, which happened to include theater spaces.
This incompetent board continues to demonstrate their absolute ignorance of the difference between a "theater" and "theatre." A theater company is not a room with chairs facing a stage, it's not a building. To succeed, a theater needs an artistic direction, it has to have a purpose, and the means and will to give voice to that purpose. Theater requires leadership, a guiding force with a clear sense of artistic mission.
The Grove's board of direction hasn't provided that. And judging from the "scenarios" presented, they haven't done one damned thing that will result in a viable theater. The Coconut Grove Playhouse was an entity that created the shows that played on its stage. It once stood for something; it brought something unique and valuable to the community. It brought vision and insight.
This board of directors has sold their souls to a developer. There's no other word for it. Aries Development Group may have the best of intentions, but you can't have theatre without an artistic purpose. And nothing put out by the board indicates that it's working towards that goal. Instead of theatre, we're getting more redevelopment. Instead of defining an artistic mission, they point to proposed shops, condominiums, and parking spaces. That's not theatre, that's development.
Part II: The Clueless
Mayor Manny Diaz and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff recognize that something's not right and put forth a solution
, but they also miss the mark - badly; they suggest the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts manage the building.
Recognizing a lack of leadership, they suggest we turn from an organization that took twenty years to run up a 4 million dollar debt to one that ran up nearly twice that in its first year of operation.
I'm sure that Manny and Marc are looking north at the example of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Broward Center not only runs its own facility, but handles the nearby Parker Playhouse, the Miniaci Theater, and a facility in Miramar still under construction. But it's foolish to throw more responsibility onto the management of the Arsht Center while that company is still trying to learn how to run its current facilities efficiently and profitably.
One area pundit, the Coconut Grove Grapevine
, sees this latest idea as a step in the right direction:
"...at least people are starting to think in new ways about saving the institution."
But that's not quite true: what is being saved is the idea of a performance space on that location. There has been no move to save the institution at all.
But at least Diaz and Sarnoff recognize that the Playhouse needs new management. They haven't yet realized that while the Playhouse has received hundreds of millions of dollars over the last twenty years to make improvements to the building, that building is structurally unsound, and parts of it are outright condemned as unsafe. Its safety systems are failing - the theater was required to have a Fire Marshall on the site during plays its last few years of operation. The roof leaks badly. What did the board do with all that money?
I've said it before, and I will say it again; saving the Coconut Grove Playhouse requires a galvanizing leader with great artistic vision and real business savvy. Their current board of directors hasn't even started the search, and the current board hasn't displayed any leadership of any merit.
In fact, two years since they closed the theater, the less than inspiring chair, Shelly Spivak has the gall to blithely claim
"...the Playhouse board is early in the process of developing a recovery plan for the theater..."
It's about two years too late for "early plans," Ms. Spivak. And so far, the only plans you've shown us are architectural.
It's time to admit it: the Coconut Grove Playhouse is dead.