Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Theatre Closes for the Summer...and this is news? actually heard about this first from a friend who works at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre; "hey, you know about this, right?" Well, either it hit the post website later in the day, or I just didn't notice that the title in the RSS feed had finally changed after two weeks. I'm not omniscient. But sure enough, next time I checked it was in the Palm Beach Post:
“It’s been a rough time for us,” said Zac Phillips, the (Cuillo Center)’s executive director. “We will close for the next few months and continue to plan for next season." Cuillo Center for the Arts isn't the only theatre going dark this summer: the Palm Beach Daily News reported the Maltz Jupiter Theatre announced several weeks ago that it was closing down for the month of August.

Yes, it's sign of the difficult economic times. But it's also a return to "business as normal."

Look at the upper left hand corner of this page: What do you see? Links labeled "2009-10 Opening Nights" and "2009 Summer Season." That's right, TWO groupings for schedules of plays, and not a single "the 2009 Theater Season." The theatre season in South Florida does not now and never has followed the calendar year, despite the strange beliefs of the Carbonell Committee. There is no such animal as a "2009 Theatre Season."

Sure, there a number of theatres that produce through the summer. But they plan on smaller productions, to counter smaller audiences. And you will also note that most theatre companies do NOT produce plays during the summer.

When I moved to Florida in 1985, there was no professional theatre in South Florida during the summer. At all. All the theatres laid off most of their staff for the summer doldrums. 24 years ago, the entire community was seasonal; and while that isn't as true as it used to be, summer is still the time that people take vacations. With the kids out of school, it's the time of year that families travel to the far corners of the country.

In 1990, Gordon McConnel and I were roommates, and we were facing a summer of unemployment. We managed to get stay working until mid-June, which was pretty late into the season for the time. I had a job that started in late September, and Gordon was sure he'd be working on something around that time, but in the meantime, we'd have to coast on whatever came up. We mulled over the difficulties of keeping our bar stocked, and Gordon had a brilliant flash: "Hey! Whaddaya say we FISH for our protien? We got nothing better to do; we'll go out every day."

And that's what we did. We were efficient: if it was edible, we'd eat it. How'd we do? We're both still around, and working in theatre.

By the way, the theatre that I was laid off from? It was Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches, which we now know as Florida Stage. Zac Phillips worked for me there on a number of shows. Zac is no stranger to the South Florida theatre scene. But Florida Stage practically invented the Summer Theatre Season in 1991, starting with The Belle of Amherst, starring Kim Hunter.

Everything has a cyclical nature, and the theatre scene is no different. Summer Stock exists so that theatre folk can find off-season employment. Tent theaters would set up in cities and towns across the northeast. Summer resorts in the Poconos brought in so much talent from the yiddish theatres in New York and Miami Beach that they were declared "The Borsch Belt."

Those resorts closed in the winter; the weather made it difficult to get there, and get around. And that was (and is) true of a lot of the northenmost states. That's why "snowbirds" migrate, after all.

So while it's undoubtedly rough on the dozen or so employees being laid off for the summer, don't count anyone out just because they are closed for the dog days of Summer. Florida Theatres being open during the summer is the exception, not the norm.

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