My City Was Gone

Ultimately, Dunham would love to produce Jonestown in the lobby of the Freedom Tower, the historic landmark located downtown on Biscayne Boulevard. She envisions "the opposite of a theater in the round," in which she'll "put the audience in the center and have them actually move around on a rotating platform following the action."

Dunham comes to writing, producing, and directing by way of acting. Introduced to the arts at an early age by her writer-storyteller father, John Minot Grose, and her mother, Barbara D. Alkins, who took her to see her first shows at Coconut Grove Playhouse, she attended New World School of the Arts (NWSA) High School. She praises NWSA's acting program for being "familylike and nurturing," providing an atmosphere in which students and faculty can exercise tremendous "freedom of thought and action." Yet she cut her tenure in the college acting program short. During her first year, her father and her grandmother died within a month of each other. In 1992, after taking a break from her studies, Dunham decided to pursue acting professionally instead of returning to school. Although appreciative of NWSA's lavish support of its students, she says she knew she would grow more as an actress under "the pressure and the reality of the press and audience members who force you to work harder" than do teachers and classmates.

Dunham's talents garnered her work in local productions, including Christopher Hampton's Dangerous Liaisons, Howard Brenton's Bloody Poetry, and the Florida Shakespeare Festival's Romeo and Juliet, as well as Arthur Kopit's Road to Nirvana and Theresa Rebeck's Spike Heels, for which she won a Carbonell Award nomination for Best Actress. Still, Dunham laments the paucity of interesting roles available to her and other young actors. To remedy this, in 1993 she and singer-actor Shawn O'Brien started the Lunatic Theatre Company and have since staged such productions as John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Washington Square, a defunct bar on South Beach, and Sam Shepard's Fool for Love at Tobacco Road, for which Dunham won her second Carbonell nomination.

Secure in achievements and acclaim, Dunham seems to have a solid career as an actress ahead of her. She looks at her future through a wider lens, however. "I love acting," she says. "But I'm always frustrated as an actor in some way. An actor is an instrument, and as talented as an actor can be they are still the instrument of the director and the writer. But I have this need to oversee everything. [And] what I love most is taking something from the vapors of your mind, just an idea, putting it on paper, taking it from the page, and putting it on live."

To raise funds for costumes, salaries, production, and promotion for Jonestown, Lunatic Theatre plans to stage David Mamet's American Buffalo at Chili Pepper, 621 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, in December. For information, call 738-6404.

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