Knight Foundation Announces Theater Grant Finalists

By Bill Hirschman

Several theater-related projects are among the 57 finalists for the 2012 Knight Arts Challenge grants for special projects in South Florida including start-up funds for a regional scene shop co-op and The Project [theatre], the fledgling company created by New World Theater School grads.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will announce an unspecified number of winners in December for a share of an estimated $4 million in matching grant funds.

This is the last year in a five-year $20 million program in which the foundation aims to bring South Florida together through the arts.

Previous Knight Arts Challenge winners include M Ensemble, for creating a mentorship program for African-American playwrights; Teatro Avante, to strengthen an international Hispanic theater festival, and The Playground Theatre, to develop the cross-cultural children’s  play, The Red Thread, which premiered early this season.

Among the proposals is a cooperative scene shop where artists can collaboratively build sets, store props and share expensive tools. The proposal is the brainchild of Ann Kelly, a Miami-based producer and executive director of Mad Cat Theatre Company. The shop would not be directly affiliated with Mad Cat, but serve smaller companies that don’t have a permanent home. Some companies built sets in a member’s garage and several freelance set designers have no place to work other than space borrowed from their guest theater.

A second applicant is seed money for The Project [theatre], which the foundation describes as “dedicated to innovating and redefining the theatrical experience.” The company was created in 2009 as The State Theatre Project by a group of New World grads including Artistic Director David Hemphill who now works out of Los Angeles,  Managing Director Ashley Olberding, Director of Production Elaine Bryan, and Director of Programming Jackie Rivera who now is based in New York. The company has produced quirky productions – often short plays — in line with its desire to develop “an alternative theater form.” On March 1, the company presented a world premiere comedy Beer Samplers by Miami-based playwright Juan C. Sanchez as part of the Miami Made Festival.

A third proposal is from The PlayGround Theatre in Miami Shores, which is redefining itself and expanding its mission. The Knight application is “to help nurture small performing arts groups by providing them with a small, well-equipped black box theater at discounted rates.”

Other finalists include:
*Actors’ Playhouse – “to culturally enrich Miami-Dade Schools ninth grade students by making 3,000 seats available to the Tony-winning musical In the Heights, coupled with a rap-writing contest.”
* Centro Cultural Español de Cooperación Iberoamericana Miami – “To bring Spanish theater into the community by offering a series of exciting yet short plays to small audiences in a unique venue – a 150-square foot shipping container.”
* Florida Grand Opera – “To engage new audiences in the opera by simulcasting free performances outside at the New World Center in Miami Beach.”
* Miami Light Project – “To support emerging artists by creating an artist-in-residence program as part of the annual Here & Now Festival, which commissions and presents local works.”
* Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs – “To celebrate native talent by presenting a Bring it Home Miami series at the South Dade Cultural Center featuring artists from South Florida who have developed national and international reputations.”
* Milo Fox – “To celebrate the art of puppetry by restoring a 1930s-era marionette theater and presenting performances to underserved children in parks, schools and theaters.”
* Performing Arts Center Trust – “To provide more exposure for emerging artists by expanding the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Miami Made festival to include all artistic genres.”

For the first time, the public will have a say in who receives funding, with a new People’s Choice Award. In the fall, the public will be invited to vote via text message for one of several up-and-coming cultural organizations. The winner will receive $20,000 in support. More details to come.

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