By Bill Hirschman
UPDATED 7 P.M.
New Theatre is being evicted in mid-December from its Coral Gables home and is hunting for a new home in Miami-Dade County to continue operating indefinitely, Managing Director Eileen Suarez said Sunday afternoon.
The theater has operated out of a heavily-renovated movie theater at 4120 Laguna Street for 10 years. But New Theatre was notified “about a week ago” that all but one building on the west side of the block has been sold to a developer who plans to raze the entire property in early January, Suarez said.
While the news was unexpected, the theater has been on a month-to-month lease for several years and warned they might be forced out by a procession of landlords since 2006, said Chairman of the Board Steven Eisenberg.
Eisenberg remained optimistic: “We’ve had a lot of inquiries from people who offered to help. We’re confident that we will find something (permanent). It might take six months or a little longer. But we have enough of a history that people know we are not going away. Heck, I’ll put on the show in my garage if I have to.”
In fact, the revitalization of the Merrick Park mall directly to the south prompted New Theatre’s board of directors to compile a lengthy list of potential short-term and long-term homes over the past several years. Ironically, the board of directors had begun to feel comfortable that they might be able to stay, Eisenberg said. “We thought the roller coaster ride had ended.”
“Most of us love the intimate nature of the place,” he said.
New Theatre is committed to completing its planned season of six shows, Suarez said. The theater will mount its next production, Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, on schedule at the current home Oct. 14-30. A third production could have been done at the space, but the staff needs time to pack up before the Dec. 15 deadline.
Suarez hopes to keep the rest of the season on schedule, but that depends on the availability of space elsewhere. The board hopes to stay in one place through the rest of the season, but New Theatre might become a travelling troupe through the end of the season, she said.
The multi-ethnic troupe initially dedicated to classic theater was created in 1986 with a $12,000 budget by Rafael and Kimberly de Acha. It opened with George Buchner’s little seen Woyzeck mounted inside a dance studio.
The company operated about 15 years from a tiny storefront with a postage stamp of a stage at 4275 Aurora Street just south of the Miracle Mile.
Rafael de Acha made the most of meager resources and widened his focus to contemporary works. He mounted both parts of the epic Angels in America in 1997, an acclaimed Hamlet in 2002 and a harrowing The Turn of the Screw in 1998 with only two actors and a few lights. The theater gained renown when de Acha underwrote the creation and staged the premiere of Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, the first play by a Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2003. The work was subsequently produced at several regional theaters and produced on Broadway.
The troupe moved to the Laguna address in 2001, a 100-seat space that is unusually narrow and compact. An office, costume storage and a meeting room are located in a second floor above the lobby. The dressing rooms are behind the stage. The sets are usually built on the high raised platform that serves as a stage and rehearsals are held on the same space.
In early 2006, de Acha was told that a new owner wanted the theater to vacate by the summer. A search for a new space proved fruitless, but the owner eventually shelved his plans and sold the property to yet another owner who planned to develop the land. The collapse of the real estate market put those plans on hold.
In April 2006, de Acha handed over the reins to Suarez and Associate Artistic Director Ricky J. Martinez.
The new leaders continued producing classics such as the current show, Shakespeare’s Henry V; contemporary plays, and more than 30 new works. This season’s schedule includes four new works, some through the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program. The New Theatre’s current operating budget is between $350,000 and just under $400,000 with nearly another $100,000 of in-kind contributions.
Suarez said the company is hopeful about the future; they’ve weather some serious challenges before.
“We’ve had our quarter century. We’ve survived tough times, we’ve survived (hurricane) Andrew, we’ve survived 9/11, we’ve survived a change in leadership, we’ve survived so many obstacles. We’re confident we’re going to surmount this hurdle in our path,” she said.