Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meanwhile, at the Playhouse at the Other End of South Florida..

1...The Palm Beach Theater Guild succeeded in saving the building that's known as The Royal Poinciana Playhouse. It's now a Town Landmark.

I have no idea what they can do with it. The Town Council has a law in place that requires that half the patrons must be residents of the Town of Palm Beach. If the fact that its house is three times the size desired by producing regional theatre weren't enough to turn off prospective partners, requiring them to cap their audience is certainly a complete deal-breaker.

It was the Town Serve Law that led Florida Stage to decline participation, and I imagine that being stuck with a theatre large enough to seat your entire subscriber base in one week also contributed to the decision.

The Kravis Center expressed interest - if a new theater on the site. There is a precedent: the prestigious Broward Center for the Performing Arts manages the Parker Playhouse, a venue similar in nature, history and size to the Royal Poinciana; but the Parker is marginally better set up for receiving tours than the Royal Poinciana; it has a loading dock that opens onto the stage. But it seems likely that the Kravis Center would pass on managing the current facility.

The Guild has a list of things they must accomplish if they want to see a return of the plays that once graced the Playhouse stage:
  1. They must gain control of the property. Right now, the Playhouse is privately owned by a developer that wanted to raze the current structure (possibly preserving some of the facade) and do precisely what the Board of the Coconut Grove Playhouse wants to do: create a mixed-use site with a much smaller theatre that suits current production trends.
  2. The Town must exclude the Playhouse - or at least its producing partners - from the Town Serving Zone. There just aren't enough theater patrons in the Town of Palm Beach. I lived there for 15 years, I know of what I speak.
  3. The Playhouse lacks most of the amenities sought by professional touring companies; things like a receiving dock for tractor-trailers. It needs more electrical power, more infrastructure for rigging, sound, and lighting systems, more support space backstage, and more wing space. Clear Channel Communications was quite correct when it said that the Playhouse was inadequate for producing Broadway shows. I've been a technical director in South Florida for twenty years, and a production manager who has worked on Broadway shows. I've been in the Playhouse, I've even put a show into the Playhouse. With labor costs as high as they are now, it makes no fiscal sense for a Broadway tour to navigate the obstacles posed by the current limitations of the Royal Poinciana Playhouse.
  4. The Playhouse/Theater Guild needs to find an artistic director who actually knows the community. Palm Beach, Florida, is not Ogunquit, Maine. Artistic Advisor Bradford Kenney is making the same mistake made by Ohio's Carousel company when they tried to take over the Jupiter Theater; what works when you're the only theater for a hundred miles doesn't work when you are one of thirty or so venues in close proximity. People can see quality programming in numerous venues across South Florida. What can the Poinciana Playhouse offer that cannot already be found at the Kravis Center, the Broward Center, and all the regional theatres across the area?
But at least the Palm Beach Theater Guild is taking a sensible approach to the problem: they do understand that they need a strong artistic vision to succeed, and they've demonstrated that they can accomplish difficult tasks successfully. I hope that they find a way to re-shape the Poinciana into a Playhouse that can stand among the best of South Florida Theatre, but I don't envy them the task.

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