GableStage Plans Annual Outdoor Winter Shakespeare Festival With McCraney and Royal Shakespeare Company

By Bill Hirschman

GableStage has been given seed money to start an annual Winter Shakespeare Festival that would team with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Miami native Tarrell Alvin McCraney, and involve building a temporary outdoor amphitheater in Miami-Dade County.

The three-play season could involve free admission and touring through the region much as the New York Shakespeare Festival used to do.

A $120,000 matching fund grant from the Miami-based Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge last week and a $250,000 in local pledges form the basis for the project, long in the planning process, that Producing Artistic Director Joseph Adler now sees as becoming a reality.

Many details are still to be worked out over many months including a timetable, a budget, locations for the production and the exact involvement of the RSC, England’s prestigious producer of the classics.

But Adler said he and McCraney, who is a playwright in residence at the RSC,  have met in New York with RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd and Producer Jeremy Adams.

“It’s difficult to talk about; we’re sending weekly emails to each other,” said Adler, founder of the company that operates out of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

McCraney would adapt and direct some of the three plays. He has already spoken about wanting to adapt Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra as he did with a Carribbean-themed Hamlet for the RSC’s young theatergoers program.

GableStage hired McCraney last summer to direct his own play, The Brothers Size, the first time his work had been professionally produced in Miami. Now an internationally-produced playwright, McCraney has long spoken of trying to create programs in his home county to revitalize and spread theater to young audiences.

GableStage, which grew out of the old Florida Shakespeare Company in 1999, frequently presents cut-down adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays that tour high schools, such as this year’s Julius Caesar.  But those are hour-long plays with five to six actors.

“This is on a much much bigger scale,”  Adler said. “We will have to raise a lot more money.”

Part of the vision is to create a 300-seat outdoor theater, likely to be a temporary structure to begin with, perhaps in Coconut Grove where GableStage is hoping to take over the old Coconut Grove Playhouse location and/or in Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. 

The Knight Foundation made two other awards to local theater companuies last week.

The second recipient is City Theatre, the company that produces Summer Shorts. It’s $75,000 matching fund grant would fundCityWrights Miami. The project is described by the Knight Foundation as cultivating “South Florida playwrights by hosting an annual conference that brings together local writers with national playwrights, artistic directors and industry leaders.

“CityWrights will go to the heart of a playwright’s craft, offering master classes, workshops and mentorships in artistic and professional development. The process will be open to all through public readings with local actors and directors, giving audiences a role in the process from page to stage and promoting the theater as a center for fresh, new works.”

It also would “create a forum for playwrights exchange ideas about developing their draft, improving business practices and increase understanding of the role new technologies play in how playwrights work.”

The third grant is $25,000 earmarked for to M Ensemble, which claims to be the oldest continuously operating African American theater company in the nation. The matching funds would underwrite a new play series that would provide mentoring for African-American playwrights wanting their work featured in a new plays production series at the theater. The company has been battling significant financial challenges and recently moved into new space at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.

The company proposes holding a bimonthly playwriting workshop geared toward beginners. A separate quarterly seminar for new and established playwrights will examine the challenges, rewards and opportunities of writing plays for black theater companies. Early-career playwrights will attend an intensive workshop and work closely with a mentor to develop a specific work. The project will culminate in a two-day public reading of selected plays.

The county-wide grant program competition is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Now in its fourth year, the program is investing $2.9 million in 31 local arts projects.

Tarrell Alvin McCraney

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