Saturday, March 14, 2015

An Open Letter to Sally Stern (or why we support Joe Adler)

soapboxI don’t often read the Facebook page SAVE THE COCONUT GROVE PLAYHOUSE because its owner kicked me off for daring to correct his many factual errors.  But I know he’s been agitating against the current plans for the playhouse, so I thought I’d see the followup to yesterday’s committee meeting.

And sure enough, he was libelously mischaracterizing many of those who came to speak on behalf GableStage and the current redevelopment plan, such as it is.

But his post is just his usual drivel showing that his ignorance of the history of the Coconut Grove Playhouse is exceeded only by his lack of understanding of the fiscal realities of producing professional theater in South Florida, or anywhere else.  He doesn’t care about The Playhouse, per se, he wants to be the one to save an old building.

But one of the comments on that post needed to be addressed.  Since I can’t do it as a comment on that post, and since I’m not sure that she’ll get the message in the “special folder” Facebook used since I’m not one of her FB friends, I’ve decided to share it here.

Here is a capture of the comment she left on the page:

Sally Stern comment
Here is my response:
Sally, I noted your comments on the SAVE THE COCONUT GROVE PLAYHOUSE website, and I wanted to correct some grievous errors on your part.
Just so you understand where this is coming from, I have been working in South Florida professional theater since 1986.  I run the South Florida Theatre Scene blog, and I am current president of the South Florida Theatre League.  I have not worked for Joe Adler, and I have never worked at the Grove, but I did know all of its technical staff during its last six years - I was Production Manager at Actors' Playhouse at the time, and they often jobbed in with us, and we socialized often.  They told me a lot about conditions at The Grove, because I was in a position to advise them, as I was overseeing the final stages of renovation of The Miracle Theater.
Joe Adler had nothing to do with the failure of the Coconut Grove Playhouse.  Arnold Mittelman was the Artistic Director who ran it into the ground.  Joe did direct a couple of shows there, but that was a long time ago.
There are a couple of reasons the local community support Joe Adler.  First, he is one of the most generous artistic directors I have ever met.  Not that he's rich, but whenever an actor mentioned that they had written a play, or were thinking of starting a theater company, he'd say "So Monday, why don't we read the play on stage?"  or "We're dark next week, I'll host a fundraiser for your company."
As a result, Paul Tei launched his Mad Cat Theatre Company, and Deborah Sherman launched The Promethean, Tanya Bravo got Juggerknot up and running, and The Naked Stage STILL produces The 24 Hour Theater Festival every year.
And second, Joe Adler has already saved a failing theater, bringing it back from the abyss: GableStage was originally The Florida Shakespeare Festival.  Years of mismanagement left the company in debt, and Hurricane Andrew destroyed their space.  But Joe Adler came aboard anyway, and GableStage is not only a successful theatre, theatre critics make the trip down just to see what Joe is doing now.
Kevin's a great guy.  And he loves theater.  He'd be a tremendous asset to our theatre community, when and if he ever actually comes here.  But Joe has been here all along, and he has already put us on the international map with his hard work.
Anyway, thank you for your interest in South Florida theater.  Hope to bump into you at a show sometime.  And if you haven't done so, visit the South Florida Theatre Scene and read about our vibrant theatre community.  You can even look up all of Joe's reviews over the last few years.
Not sure if she’ll see it, or if she will even care.
Sally Stern comment #2

Sally Stern doesn’t give a rat’s ass about regional theatre.  She’s more interested in world class theater.
What does that even mean?

“…a professional or semi-professional theater company that produces its own seasons. The term regional theatre most often refers to a professional theatre outside of New York City. A regional theater may be a non-profit, commercial, union, or non-union house. “ --Wikipedia
If Sally Stern doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Regional Theatre, she must not give a rat’s ass about the Coconut Grove Playhouse.   After all, Coconut Grove Playhouse WAS a regional theatre. 

Not only was the Coconut Grove a regional theater (which Sally Stern doesn’t give a rat’s ass about), over the years they partnered with many other regional theatres to bring us MORE regional theater productions.  Regional theatres like The Walnut Street Playhouse, the Papermill Playhouse, The Pasadena Playhouse, and The Arizona Theater, just to name a few.

There is no definition of “world class theatre” like there is for “regional theatre.”  What, exactly, might constitute “world class theatre?”  I  say it’s collaboration with theater companies around the world.  Theatre companies like, I don’t know, London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, maybe?

New Times headline: GableStage partners with RSC
For those of you who are keeping track:
- Number of GableStage co-productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company: 1
- Number of Coconut Grove co-productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company: 0

I can’t help but notice that a lot of people refer to “back in its prime” and “its historic glory.”  But they never provide any details when they say those words.
Most people will bring up Waiting for Godot, if pressed.

The Coconut Grove debuted as a playhouse (it was built as a moviehouse) in January 1956 with the US premier of Waiting for Godot, starring two big Broadway stars, Tom Ewell and Bert Lahr.  To say it was a flop would be an understatement
“…the reception amid the swizzle sticks and shuffleboards was general nonplusment. During the two-week run of this darkly funny meditation on life’s meaningless routine, audiences left in droves and lines routinely formed at the box office to return tickets.”
“Reflecting on “Godot” in Miami for The Times in 1971, (Director Alan) Schneider wrote that “the debacle on opening night in Florida made the charge of the Light Brigade seem like a triumphal march up Fifth Avenue.”  –The New York Times, April 26, 2009
Ah, yes, those halcyon days of yore.
Meanwhile, in Coral Gables…
In April of 1956, another now-classic play premiered in South Florida.  Tennessee William’s Sweet Bird Of Youth opened at Studio M Playhouse, a small theater over on Bird Road in Coral Gables.
The Broadway production of Sweet Bird of Youth actually began at the end of April, 1956 wen Elia Kazan, Audrey Wood, and producer Cheryl Crawford came to see the production directed by George Keathley at the Studio M Playhouse.
Cheryl Crawford has written in her biography that she put in a bid to produce Sweet Bird as soon as she had seen the Coral Gables Production… “I want desperately to involved with Sweet Bird…”  -- Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan: A Collaboration in the Theatre, by Brenda Murphy, page 156
And more:
Williams explained that his friend, director George Keathley, ran a small theater in a garage, called Studio M Playhouse in Coral Gables.  “What are you doing there in a garage?” she demanded to know.
Audrey then traveled to Florida to see the not-so-top-secret tryout of Sweet Bird of Youth attended by numerous friends, fans, and show business types.  --Audrey Wood and the Playwrights, Milly Baranger, page 45
What’s my point?  That little theatre companies in South Florida have been outperforming the Coconut Grove Playhouse since the beginning.  Bigger is not better, and even its prime, it wasn’t always putting on the best show in town.
And if you’re going to speak for or against theater in South Florida, you should know what you’re talking about before you do so.
Because some of us do give a rat’s ass about it.


  1. All I can say tersely is that Chris speaks for many us in supporting Joe Adler's selfless contributions to the fabric of South Florida's cultural environment.

  2. Beautifully put, Chris! Thank you for your passion and South Florida Theatre knowledge. For those of us who make a living in the regional theater....we thank you!

  3. I have also been writing about the travails of the Playhouse.

    My latest stories can be found here:

  4. I am Sally Stern and I would like to apologize if I have offended proponents of GablesStage. Just like GablesStage aficionados, I feel passionately about my cause, which is architectural preservation in Miami-Dade County. I don't know Mr. Adler, and have nothing against him or his theater company. To raze a city landmark for the benefit of an entity whose time is finite, is unfair to future generations who want to know and behold the rich architectural history of Miami. I cannot understand why GablesStage cannot find another venue to perform and leave the heritage and preservation of Coconut Grove Playhouse for future generations to see and admire. Architecture is a visual art and hopefully will be respected by other artists without being treated like a secondary art form that is dispensable.

  5. Sally, I'm all for architectural preservation - I was production manager during the third phase of the renovation of the Miracle Theater for Actors' Playhouse, and I worked at Lucy the Elephant many years ago (Google it).
    But to those of us in the industry, a building is not a theatre. Theatre is people making art. That building you want to save? It's not the Coconut Grove Playhouse, and never was. It was just the shell the company inhabited. And it wasn't a very good shell. You will not find one designer or director who will tell how great that space was - because it wasn't. It was a hot mess, and a miserable place to stage anything.

    Whatever glory that space may have had when it was a movie palace was long gone by World War 2. Its conversion to a live venue was a rush job, poorly executed even for the time. Any shred of architectural wonder the building may have had in the inside was completely removed a long time ago.

    And the only notable architectural feature outside is the facade, which is going to be preserved.

    The Olympia Theatre actually IS the treasure you mistakenly believe the Playhouse to be: a grand piece of architecture that preserves our South Florid History. But it only puts on about 70 performances a year. It languishes, forgotten. And that is exactly what will happen to the Coconut Grove Playhouse if we do what you want to do.

    If you want to preserve something worthwhile, look right across the street: the E. W. F. Stirrup House is a legitimate architectural treasure that is in desperate need of saving. And I'll bet Joe Adler would host a fundraiser for you.