First, an anecdote, since as most populations outside America know, a sense of humor can help to ease one's pain. The story concerns nineteenth-century playwright Sir Charles Sedley, author of the comedy Bellamira. During the very first performance of the play, the roof of the theater caved in. Luckily, few people -- other than the author -- sustained serious injuries. The incident prompted Sir Fleetwood Shepherd (a critic, naturally) to write, "There was so much fire in [Sedley's] play that it blew up the poet, house and all." The author's response: "No, the play was so heavy that it broke down the house, and buried the poor poet in his own rubbish."
Among the more ludicrous bits of rubbish circulating this week -- along with the rumor about the AIDS monkeys invading Homestead -- is the concept that "things like theater" have no significance at a time like this. Understandably, even theater owners think twice about whether money ought to be spent on shows and sets and even tickets, when every spare dollar in South Florida and beyond is desperately needed in order to carry out relief and reconstruction efforts.
I almost agreed with this logic myself at first. But then I realized something: During various wars throughout history, films and novels saved a lot of minds. Many old-time Brits still remember how music halls kept the public going during World War II. The Greeks turned disasters into drama for the purpose of mass catharsis. Military leaders functioned best after indulging in live entertainment. And certainly the children who, for the past two weeks, have had to endure the hardships brought about by Andrew deserve a respite from the daily quest for food, water, and shelter, as well. Events for kids continue to be a part of theater even in the wake of the big wind, and, given the resiliency of youth, a couple of hours spent in fantasyland would no doubt be a welcome treat for youngsters.
As for using coveted plywood for the assembling of theater sets, why bother? When the ancient balladeers spun their tales, they did so in the town square. When Christian-era drama began to thrive in the Ninth Century, miracle plays found venues in churches and churchyards, on mobile stages and marketplaces. If performers do their jobs right, there's no need for the fancy illusion and special effects in which we've come to put so much stock. As it turned out, high tech proved far more vulnerable to nature's caprice than Shakespeare's sonnets or Van Gogh's strokes.
Then there's staff to consider. From box office managers to telemarketers and yes, to actors, a good number of people make a serious living in the arts. At the Coconut Grove Playhouse, many daily staffers mourn lost homes. The same devastation exists for members of the Actors' Playhouse. Most of the theaters made it through, but many employees lost as much as the rest of the county, and they need their jobs.
The vast majority of theaters north of Hollywood remained intact, and most shows there ran as scheduled. Of course, the case in Dade differed dramatically, with season openings delayed for a week or two at least. A few venues previously bulging with hit shows, such as AREA Stage, suffered more from the 7:00 p.m. curfew than from the storm. The Minorca and Actors' playhouses sustained extensive damage, with the latter being hardest hit.
In the theater community, tightening lately through organizations such as TLSF (Theater League of South Florida), offers of help came to Kendall from Broward and Palm Beach. Lisa Lamont of the new and interesting Ensemble Stage in Davie lost only power in the theater, but her family in Kendall were among the uprooted. In spite of that, she immediately contacted David Arisco, artistic director of the devastated Actors' Playhouse, and brought actors and staff down south to assist his crew in whatever way possible. Nancy Barrett from the Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches, which sustained only water damage, offered the use of the shop and/or necessary supplies to any Dade County venues interested. She can be contacted at 407-585-3433.
Of course, there's no escaping the question of priorities. Donors and other support sources usually targeted for theaters will be directed to more pressing needs. However, to deny the value to our bruised psyches of the joint artistic experience would be a grave mistake for this city. A town rebuilds and survives by mutual effort, with everyone working together at the same time. Similarly, all facets of the Emerald City must re-arise together.
As for the future, one can only speculate. Along with the theaters themselves, actors and directors must rebuild lives, so time for aesthetic pursuits may become limited. But to the potential audience, remember not to look away. As Bernard Shaw advised, when you want to see your face, look in a mirror; when you need to see your soul, look at art.
To get in touch with a particular theateror to find out how you can help, contact Roberta Morgan at 372-0004. Your message will be directed to the proper party.