Coconut Grove Playhouse Update #2

Coconut Grove Playhouse Update #2

On December 8, 2016, Miami-Dade County held a meeting to release and discuss the proposed Master Plan for the Coconut Grove Playhouse. You can find all of the information released to the public concerning site testing, historical research, and the initial site plan here as well as continue to follow along with updates directly from Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.

Miami Herald writes Andres Viglucci published an account of the meeting and description of the plan on December 12, 2016.

“The storied, state-owned Coconut Grove Playhouse abruptly dropped the curtain on its last show at mid-season a decade ago, the victim of crippling debts that critics blamed on mismanagement by a nonprofit board, a run of mediocre productions and one stark reality: In a city of 2.5 million, the theater couldn’t fill its 1,130 seats.

It wasn’t the first time that the theater, built in the 1920s as a silent-movie house, failed.

The movie house had closed after a few years, even after adding sound. It had again failed after being converted by private owners into a live, for-profit theater in the 1950s, before two efforts to run it as a nonprofit venture under state ownership also stumbled — all that despite a long run of legendary productions featuring some of the biggest stars of stage and screen of the day.

That tenuous financial history, and a determination not to repeat it, now underpins a slow-moving but escalating effort by the administration of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to revive the playhouse, albeit in a much different form that has split the city’s theatrical community.

Under a $20 million master plan unveiled earlier this month after a year of close-to-the-vest design work and analysis, the county would shrink the size of the playhouse to 300 seats by tearing down the existing auditorium and replacing it with a new, free-standing theater. The new house would be programmed by GableStage, a small but critically lauded — and financially solid — theater company that now operates at the Biltmore Hotel.

The plan would also fully restore the separate Mediterranean-style, wing-shaped three-story building on Main Highway that gives the playhouse its public face and, county consultants say, its unparalleled architectural and historic value.

That approach, Gimenez’s cultural czar says, will ensure both financial stability and artistic excellence with the money already on hand. The county earmarked $20 million from two bond programs for construction of the new playhouse. (A garage to be built separately by the city’s parking authority would rise in the theater’s surface lot and parking revenue would cover renovation costs.)

Given GableStage’s record for artistic prowess and tight management, and with help from the county, the company would then grow at the playhouse into what Miami has long lacked, said Miami-Dade cultural affairs chief Michael Spring: a true regional theater group that puts on new and classic plays while nurturing local actors, directors and writers and, not incidentally, drawing enough of an audience to pay the bills.

Spring and GableStage director Joe Adler say 300 seats, double the capacity of the company’s current space and with adequate backstage space that the Biltmore lacks entirely, will allow the company to expand its reach and the range and frequency of its productions while maintaining the intimate, close-in feel that distinguishes it.

‘This is the theater we think is right,’ Spring said. ‘This is what works for this company, what works for this community.’

The new playhouse would be largely self-sustaining even as GableStage grows, generating income from the garage as well as ticket sales and private fundraising, Spring and Adler say. The 18-year old company, which currently has a $1.3 million annual budget, receives only $100,000 from the county, like most cultural groups, and has no debt.

The county plan — the result of a complex agreement with the state, which retains ownership, and Florida International University, which has a 99-year lease on the playhouse property — has been embraced by a good chunk of Miami’s growing professional theater community. It’s also won support from some preservationists, who had been worried the county would seek to demolish the entire playhouse.”

Read the full article here.