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For 2017, I’m betting on theater, because when the City of Miami Beach bets on culture, it bets big.
For more than 30 years, Miami Beach has been the region’s cultural breeding ground. It’s home to world-renowned institutions for dance, music, art, architecture, and design – and now it is taking a chance on what is arguably the only art form for which Miami is not part of the international conversation: live theater.
Last year the city quietly granted newcomer Miami New Drama a three-year lease to the underutilized but beautifully restored Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road. Miami New Drama’s promise? To put us on the map around the world.
With predecessors like Art Basel, Miami City Ballet, and the New World Symphony, that is no small feat, but the company’s young, ambitious director, Venezuelan-born Michel Hausmann, isn’t taking his commitment lightly.
Its first play as Colony Theatre’s resident company, which opened last weekend, is directed by Gregory Mosher, a Tony award-winning director whose productions have been adapted into feature films and television productions.
Besides producing names such as Dustin Hoffman in the film version of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” or Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange in the 1992 Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Mosher is known for transforming underutilized but spectacular venues like the Lincoln Center Theater into powerhouse institutions.
As a professor at Columbia University, Mosher taught a class in which one particular graduate student stood out: Hausmann.
Hausmann embodies Miami: he’s a political refugee who straddled several cultures growing up. He’s at home in a new city known for creative entrepreneurs, always ready for the next hussle.
Hausmann believes the art created in any city should reflect the city itself. Last year, he presented an original musical he wrote, “The Golem of Havana,” which spoke to the Miami community’s experience of exile, persecution, and search for one’s identity in a volatile world.
This year, “Terror,” adapted from a play by German author Ferdinand von Schirach, will push the audience to ponder an ethical dilemma during the trial of a pilot accused of shooting down a hijacked plane without authorization.
The lead role will be played by Argentine actress, Mia Maestro, who has starred in the Twilight saga and feature films such as Frida and The Motorcycle Diaries.
It takes long-term vision and commitment to grow a community from the ground up. It’s the difference between creating an economic climate focused on mom-and-pop businesses versus high-impact ventures that become known world-wide. Miami’s got award-winning theater companies, resident playwrights, and talent, yet they aren’t scaling and gaining international repute.
For that level of theater, Miami’s most talented sons and daughters have left for other cities – well-known names like Alex Lacamoire, the musical director for Hamilton and Tarrell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play behind Moonlight.
For the Broadway musical based on the lives of local celebrities Gloria and Emilio Estefan, On Your Feet, Miami’s Ana Villafañe and Andy Señor, Jr. were taken to Chicago to workshop the play until it was ready for the Big Apple. The necessary infrastructure and facilities were not available in Miami.
To achieve global standing, a company has to be creating or presenting work that voices an original point of view. But much of Miami’s theater scene is based on re-creating works that have been hits in other cities.
What Miami Beach’s successful institutions, such as Miami City Ballet or Art Basel, have done right time and time again is nurture local artists by connecting them to the best the international community has to offer. The government has supported each institution with state-of-the-art facilities, public land, and grants. Now those resources are being directed towards live theater.
The New World Symphony has built a musical empire based on that model: the best young musicians are brought to Miami Beach to be trained by masters in an awe-inspiring building designed by Frank Gehry on public land. After 29 years, its graduates have a place in nearly every important orchestra in the world. Locally, NWS grad Sam Hyken has co-founded NuDeco Ensemble, a reimagined style of presenting classical music that was a hit in its first year.
Art Basel catalyzed a creative revolution now in it’s second decade. I’m betting that Miami Beach’s initiatives are going to have the same effect on the local theater scene.
It will take time, but this effect will be felt not just in Miami Beach, but in every corner of Miami-Dade County. Underutilized theaters such as the Lyric in Overtown, the Olympia in Downtown, and the Seminole in Homestead will reap the benefits.
And hopefully, in that artistically bubbling climate, the Coconut Grove Playhouse will finally reopen, ready to reclaim its status as the most important theatrical stage in the region – a region on par with any theatrical capital in the world.