Miami has a multilingual and multicultural voice, and the Colony Theatre, along with Miami New Drama, is making sure to magnify it on stage for a local and international community.
Today, the Colony Theatre stands on Lincoln Road opening its doors to everyone in Miami and shares the responsibility of telling the diverse stories that have created the city.
With that duty, the Colony can pave a way for what “the future of art in America can be,” says the theatre’s Artistic Director Michel Hausmann.
“In a way, we have an advantage point of what a future society will look like,” he adds. “Miami is an exile town. This is a community I want to have a conversation with.”
Over the past two years, the 417-seat theatre has managed to look for stories from those conversations, and hire actors, directors and staff from South Florida.
“We look like Miami,” said Hausmann.
He describes it as a majority-minority theatre with pride as a reflection of the region.
“I see culture as the personality of a community,” said Olga Granda, Miami New Drama’s Executive Director. “Our job is to make sure the community’s stories are told at a level that people are listening and responding to them.”
But the Colony Theatre didn’t always look like what Hausmann and Granda are working on. In 1935, the Art Deco style theatre opened its doors as a Paramount Pictures movie house. Many big movie premieres were hosted there like “The Last Gangster” in 1937 or “The Best Years of Our Lives” in 1946.
Back then, the theatre seated 840 seats.
“I don’t know how they did that. Either people were very tiny or the South Beach diet started because of it,” jokes Hausmann.
During World War II, Miami Beach became one of the largest centers and officer schools for soldiers. Naturally, the Colony Theatre was used to show informative movies about health, training and news to the young GI’s.
It was probably some years after the war that people at the theatre started hearing mysterious footsteps and apparitions of a woman and even a tiny poodle running around. It’s definitely one of the few places in Miami that people believe is haunted.
“They don’t bother me,” said Yolanda Pittman, the custodial manager at the Colony. “I think they are good ghosts.”
Pittman believes the ghost rumors even though she has never seen anything “too strange” besides a chair being turned over. She says the ghosts are usually around the stage, the first floor, the elevator and the upstairs auditorium.
In 1976, the Colony was renovated for the performing arts, yet people still heard or saw weird things through the early 2000s, when it was given to the City of Miami Beach and managed by a for-profit organization that would rent the historic theatre occasionally.
“It kind of lost its importance in the city,” said Hausmann. “It was the most underused venue I had ever seen in such a great location.”
That’s when Miami New Drama saw an opportunity in growing and turning the theatre into the cultural institution the city needed. In October 2016, Hausmann and his team received the keys to the renovated Colony building and established four pillars that represent their mission and future of the theatre that hosts plays, concerts, dance performances and movie premieres. One of its first premieres with the community was for the Oscar-winner film Moonlight.
That voice Hausmann and his team are constantly working on stage are sometimes seen on the theatre’s marquee too. Sometimes they will put short poems by Miami third graders, thanks to a collaboration with O, Miami, or an opinion to current events like school shootings or President Trump’s comments on immigrants.
About eight million people walk on Lincoln Road every year, so Hausman sees the marquee as a powerful tool to send messages and show the responsibility that artists can have with their city.
On and off stage, the Colony and Miami New Drama will keep producing work that represents the “unique community.”
“We want this to feel like home,” adds Hausmann. “We want people to come here and feel like we do this work for them.”
The 2018-2019 season includes stories about a Cassius Clay fight in Miami to an Afro-Venezuelan musical. See the full list here.