By Bill Hirschman
South Florida theater was rarely dormant during the pandemic; numerous projects were nursed along, some flourished online. But now a torrent of honors, projects and prizes – not to mention season announcements — are surfacing so quickly that few can barely keep up with it. This roundup – one of several coming — spotlights Juggerknot Theatre Company, Zoetic Stage, Palm Beach Dramaworks, Theatre Lab, Thinking Cap Theatre, Renegade Theatre Company & Conservatory, and the Silver Knight Awards in drama. Much more in the next few days. Curtain up.
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Get On The Bus
Juggerknot Theatre Company, the Miami group that received acclaim for its immersive Miami Motel Stories, is deep into the development of a similar video-based project for student audiences, Miami Bus Stop Stories.
The group received a $10,000 grant last year from the Knight Foundation’s New Work initiative and has just received a much larger follow-up grant from the foundation to finish the development and implement it for middle and high school students.
The goal is to write and produce short plays to be accessed online but performed live when the audience gathers.
A small group of students – say those in a classroom – would take a “virtual” ride on a city bus to one of six neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County. Upon “arriving,” they would be greeted by live actors telling stories about the neighborhood’s history, perhaps retelling events, perhaps acting them out as if the students are being taken back in time.
Then, as Juggerknot did last year with its globe-trotting online theater project, Long Distance Affair, the students would move on to another of the locations and another play.
“Each particular scene highlighted, lands students in the day-to-day life experience of someone from the neighborhood, during a particular time in history,” wrote Tanya Bravo, founder and Executive Artistic Director. “Through this experience, told through the eyes of a resident, students learn about pivotal events, their impact, and the perspectives of parties involved during that place and time. Students are able to engage with these characters from different decades and understand the events that contributed to racial and social inequities we still experience today from a deeply personal perspective.
“We are excited about the innovative method in bringing this information to students which will maximize students’ cognitive, social, and emotional engagement, driving empathy and introspection. Now more than ever, it is crucial for our youth to understand their community’s history and evolution, in order for us to understand each other better as a community.”
Neighborhoods that will be highlighted include Liberty City, Little Haiti, and Coconut Grove to be depicted by playwright France-Luce Benson, a first-generation Haitian-American. Juggerknot’s frequent collaborator Juan C. Sánchez will write about Latin X neighborhoods Little Havana, Homestead and Hialeah.
The hope is to offer the project to students in public, private and charter schools in October, November and December, with teachers receiving a study guide.
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Finstrom Festival Taps Five Plays
Five works have been selected as winners of the first Finstrom Festival of New Work organized by Zoetic Stage as part of the Miami company’s commitment to developing plays.
The plays are Finding Neil Patrick Harris by Donna Hoke, The Guilt Mongers or Los Traficantes de Culpa (for those not willing to submit to the Anglicization of our people) by C. Julian Jiménez, The Equivalent of Sensation by Arianna Rose, One-Shot by Andrew Rosendorf and Baby Camp by Nandita Shenoy.
The winning plays will each be given a week-long virtual workshop with directors, dramaturgs and actors, where the playwrights will be able to further develop and ready their plays for full productions. The workshops will culminate in a five-day festival of readings from June 23 through June 27 presented on Zoetic Stage’s Facebook page. More details about the festival including casting and showtimes will be forthcoming.
Additionally, five other plays were chosen as runners-up: They are Does That Feel Good to You, My Lark? by Raquel Almazon, Rents by Katherine Burns, Kettlehouse by Robert Caisley, Broken by Aaron Braxton and Marianas Trench (Part One of The Second World Trilogy) by Scott C. Sickles.
The adjudication panel was comprised of playwright Hannah Benitez, director Tatyana-Marie Carlo, Finstrom Festival Coordinator Kent Chambers-Wilson, playwright Brian Cohen, director/playwright Rachel Finley, playwright/journalist Vanessa Garcia, Zoetic Stage Artistic Director Stuart Meltzer and playwright/director Eric Sharp.
“An amazing outcome of this festival is the seemingly untapped amount of talent that came to us,” Meltzer wrote.
“Play after play delivered plots and characters involved in a diversity of stories that should continue to be told,” said Chambers-Wilson. While this first festival is being presented virtually, the intent is to eventually produce the program live and in person.”
“Our goal is for the Finstrom Festival to grow and evolve until we are producing fully-staged new work in a repertory format,” said Meltzer.
The festival is named after beloved South Florida playwright and arts patron Tony Finstrom, who was a long-time Carbonell Award judge and founder of the Silver Palm Awards. The author of numerous plays, Finstrom was the recipient of various honors including the Charlie Cinnamon Award and the South Florida Theatre League’s Remy Pioneer Award. Finstrom passed away in December 2018.
Visit www.zoeticstage.org for more information.
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Helping LGBTQ Youth Write Plays
Thinking Cap Theatre in Fort Lauderdale is hosting “OutStand,” a performance project that will unite LGBTQ youth (13-23 year olds) with professional theater artists “to provide a safe, creative space to share and transform coming out stories into original, short plays.” The plays will be generated, written, rehearsed and filmed via Zoom during eight workshop sessions in July.
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Dramaworks Celebrates Pride Month With McKeever & Busch
Palm Beach Dramaworks’ Contemporary Voices series shines the spotlight on Florida playwright Michael McKeever in June. This free, online series that has been underway since the fall features live readings and discussions of plays by leading American playwrights.
Producing Artistic Director William Hayes kicked off the programs on June 2, when he hosted a pre-recorded conversation with McKeever.
Through the rest of the month, Dramaworks will present three of McKeever’s plays on three consecutive Monday evenings, followed each Wednesday with a discussion of the work by theater professionals and community leaders.
The series opens June 7 with a reading of The Garden of Hannah List, which premiered at Florida Stage during the 1997-98 season and was described by McKeever in an interview as “the play that officially made me a playwright.” On June 14, the reading will be of his newest play, The Code. The series concludes June 21 with Daniel’s Husband which premiered at Island City Stage in 2015 and went on to play Off-Broadway. The Wednesday evening discussions are set for June 9, 16, and 23. All readings and discussions begin at 7:30 p.m.
McKeever, a South Florida native and one of the region’s most prolific and popular playwrights, is the third playwright to be featured in the Contemporary Voices series, following Lynn Nottage in October and Nilo Cruz in April.
McKeever’s work will also be seen during Dramaworks’ 2021-2022 season, when the company presents the world premiere of The People Downstairs, a play commissioned by Dramaworks about the people who hid Anne Frank and seven others during the Holocaust. The play had a staged reading before the pandemic and another on Zoom months later.
On June 30, the company hosts a pre-recorded interview by Hayes with Charles Busch, part of the company’s Luminaries of Stage & Screen initiative. Busch will discuss his career as playwright, actor, cabaret artist, and drag icon.
Tickets for all programs are free but must be reserved at www.palmbeachdramaworks.org or by calling the box office at 561.514.4042, x2.
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Fair Play Initiative Produces Two Readings
Audio plays in development from local playwrights Andie Arthur and Juan C. Sanchez are the first beneficiaries announced from the 2021 Fair Play Initiative, Theatre Lab’s program commissioning and developing new plays about LGBTQ stories.
The works will have readings in-person on Sunday, June 27 as part of the Storytelling 2021– a summer play reading series in the University Theatre on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. The first of the two plays will be presented at 2 p.m., the second at 4:30 p.m. on the day before the anniversary of Stonewall riot. Both readings will be followed by a talkback with the playwright and artistic teams.
Each playwright, whose works were chosen after a nationwide call for submissions, will receive a monetary award and participate this month in a weeklong development process.
Theatre Lab will retain rights to a world premiere digital production of each play for up to two years following its first public reading. The company plans to release a fully produced version of at least one of the two plays in October (LGBTQ History Month) on digital platforms.
Later this year, Theatre Lab will issue another call to commission a full-length stage play to be developed and read at its annual New Play Festival in January.
The audio works are described as:
Blood Sisters by Andie Arthur – “Cindy is barely out of the closet ‐‐ even to herself. She tells herself that maybe, just maybe, if she tries hard enough, she will be able to find a man she can love. Jaq is a “self‐proclaimed man‐hating dyke.” She swore off dealing with men years ago. Even gay men are beneficiaries of the patriarchy and act like it. 1981. An unexpected epidemic is hitting the gay community and while fear abounds, the government is doing nothing to help. Fear abounds, doctors are refusing to see patients, and there are major blood shortages. Can Cindy and Jaq overcome their antipathy to work together to help those in need and through helping those in need help themselves?”
Arthur is a playwright, executive director of the South Florida Theatre League, a co‐artistic director of Lost Girls Theatre, and adjunct faculty member of the New World School of the Arts.
Versace Era by Juan C. Sanchez – “Gay life in the 1990s in South Beach was a golden time: extravagant parties, glamour, and celebrities. It became known as the Versace Era, from when the famous and beloved designer took residence at Casa Casuarina in 1992. His death symbolized the end of those golden days — and the end of refuge — for many South Beach residents. Set in 1997 in a fictional cafe on Ocean Drive, the play follows the lives of several restaurant employees and guests as they come together to mourn the designer’s tragic end and confront what it means to them and their community. As they work, eat, drink and mourn, their personal stories, interactions and conversations reveal a picture of resilience, celebration, pride, communion and unity.”
Sanchez is a Cuban-born playwright who has been living in Miami since he was 7 years old. Notably prolific with work produced across the region, he attracted special attention in recent years for his penning of the immersive Miami Motel Stories productions for Juggerknot Theatre Company
The initiative was started at FAU in 2019, and is underwritten by the Our Fund Foundation.
Renegade Theatre Gets County Honor
Renegade Theatre Company & Conservatory, a Lauderhill-based company oriented to African-American issues, was honored this week by the Broward County Commission when it proclaimed Juneteenth, June 19th, as Renegade Appreciation Day.
The theater founded last year during the pandemic was cited, the company’s news release stated, “because of our work in advancing the community toward racial equity, the liberation of black & brown humans and fighting for freedom and justice for all.”
Its website states, “We are a young, diverse, impassioned, tightly knit ensemble of multicultural artists that empowers individuals and builds community by creating bold socially and politically motivated theatrical work which helps promote the marriage of diverse artists with diverse audiences, while empowering the imaginations of children, teens and their families.”
Darius J. Manuel is the executive and artistic director. To learn more, the website is http://www.renegadetheatrecompany.org/home.html.
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Silver Knight Winners in Drama
Winners have been announced for the annual Silver Knight Award, a highly-competitive program honoring Miami-Dade and Broward County seniors in 15 categories, although a key element in the choice is public service and character.
This year’s winners in the drama category:
—-Nicholas Quintana, a student at Miami Arts Studio 6-12@Zelda Glazer, collected stories of military veterans and transformed them into performance pieces for his Bronze Star Purple Heart Project. He got the idea after watching World War II documentaries with his father. With help from classmates, he conducted weekly interviews with local veterans and turned the stories into scripts for plays. Once the vets approved the scripts, Quintana and his team cast actors for the pieces, which were recorded via Zoom and shared online. He then partnered with the Veterans History Project of the Miami Military Museum which showcased the stories and placed some of the interviews with the Library of Congress in Washington. He is a member of the International Thespian Society.
—- Mika Petruska, of Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Broward, is a Thespian Honor Society member. She founded the nonprofit Soap for Souls, which collects and donates eco-friendly toiletries and feminine hygiene products to hurricane victims. In 2018, she expanded the mission to spread awareness about hygiene equity, pollution and public health issues in developing countries.