By Bill Hirschman
Rising Action Theatre, one of South Florida’s few theaters devoted primarily to gay-themed plays, is closing mid-season; but some staffers plan to replace it next fall with a new company, Island City Stage, said Andy Rogow, artistic director for both ventures.
Island City Stage will continue to present shows focusing on LGBT issues, but expand the appeal to a wider audience through the plays selected, Rogow said Thursday.
“While we will maintain our gay mission, we want to be much broader – be the regional theater for people in Wilton Manors, Oakland Park and the beaches who don’t want to travel” as far west as Mosaic Theatre in Plantation, he said. One of several scenarios being considered is to offer gay-centric works as a second subscription.
The immediate closing of Rising Action short circuits the last three entries of a five-play season: Torch Song Trilogy, Jerker – or The Helping Hand, and either I Am My Own Wife or Zanna Don’t – the Musical. Rogow said, “We hope to make it up to subscribers one way or the other,” most likely by applying the subscriptions to the new company’s season.
Producer/director David Goldyn created the company in 2006 to nurture theater that promotes “diversity and tolerance.” Its seasons have steadily focused on comedies and dramas about homosexuality, were penned by a gay playwright or were of special interest to gay men and lesbians. Many productions have been locally produced and directed by Goldyn. Others were traveling shows booked into the theater.
Since its inception, the company has been housed in Wilton Manors, an Oakland Park storefront and spent the last season in the 75-seat auditorium at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale. The critical reception to its work has varied. It won praise for aspects of Take Me Out and Bent, but reviled for the quality of other productions such as Fit to be Tied.
The decision to close the company and create Island City Stage was based on several factors.
One is the lack of a place to perform. Rising Action staged its previous season and the first two shows this season at the activities hall of Sunshine Cathedral, 1480 SW 9th Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Rehearsals and performances created scheduling conflicts between the entities. For instance, the difficulty in regularly dismantling the theater’s audience risers reduced the church’s ability to use its hall for other events. The church asked for its space back last summer but later agreed to allow Rising Action to finish out the calendar year.
The second major issue is what Rogow termed Rising Action’s baggage and “a need to move forward in a positive way.”
The theater has had a rocky history notable for disputes with various parties. For instance, Goldyn struggled with Oakland Park city officials who delayed the opening of a new theater space in 2007 because of alleged code problems with the renovation. In 2009, Goldyn battled with reporters over whether anyone connected with the theater had alerted homophobe Fred Phelps to the 2009 production of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. That furor led to publicity about Phelps threatening to picket the show. As is often the case, Phelps did not follow through on his threat. Last season, Goldyn challenged the objectivity of a critic for the South Florida Theater Review who now works for Florida Theater On Stage.
Goldyn handed over the operational reins last summer to Rogow, a well-respected director and producer, and this fall announced he was moving to New York.
But there has always been a reputation to cope with. Rogow said this fall, “I think what we have to do is let the past go and let the community know that we’re operating differently. We’re going to be better organized; there will be more planning ahead rather than by the seat of our pants.”
Rogow wants to keep the theater in gay-friendly Wilton Manors, in the best case near the Wilton Drive business district, although other locations are also being considered. The staff is meeting next month with city officials about potential spaces that could be renovated with grant money.
Initially, Rogow expects the new company to start small in the fall in a temporary space, featuring readings of new plays by local playwrights, fund raisers, one-man shows and perhaps a modest full production.
The new entity will have some of the Rising Action board members who have encouraged Rogow to close one operation and begin anew. Board members will include Vincent Colonna Jr., the producer of several gay-centric plays, and Douglas Evans, general manager of the WPBI Classical South Florida radio station. Noted local director Michael Leeds, responsible for the superb productions of Light in the Piazza and A Little Night Music, has agreed to come on board as a resident director.