Eight Is Enough

Acting in films, coordinating photography shoots, swimming in the ocean, and improving his cooking A Cejas spent his time "doing all the things I was depriving myself of for the last ten years, and I managed to have a real good time." But now Cejas is back, and Florida Shakespeare Theatre (FST) has him.

After a nationwide search for a head creative honcho for its new, state-of-the art facility in Coral Gables's Biltmore Hotel, FST has named Cejas its artistic director. "We're all thrilled that he's going to be directing again," notes FST executive director Ellen Beck. "I can't think of anyone else in town with the same directorial hand. He breathes life and sensitivity and real emotion into a work."

Regenerated by his time off, Cejas seems more than ready to tackle this new challenge, and he cites key factors that he believes will make artistic directing for the Shakespeare Theatre less enervating than his work for ACME. "Don't get me wrong," he insists about his experience with ACME. "The folks I worked with are all my friends and we get along fabulously." But without adequate funding, with a minuscule staff, and with rents on Miami Beach (where ACME originated) growing more prohibitive each month, Cejas and his crew could never get ahead financially. Over the years, working for free lost its charms. By contrast, at FST, Cejas points out, "there's a support staff in this company. There's an executive director, there's a development director, there's an administrative assistant. There's a permanent space that's probably the most plush and elegant and best-equipped little theater you've ever set foot in. And my job is to produce and direct."

The opening of FST's Biltmore space has been a long time coming. The company's old home A the Minorca Playhouse in the Gables A was trashed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992; the last full season FST managed to produce was in 1993-94, at Teatro Avante's El Carrusel Theatre. Last year saw a two-week run of Romeo and Juliet at the Colony Theater, and this spring the company produced Hamlet for the Dade County Public Schools. All the while Beck and her fifteen-member board (which includes former FST director Rose McVeigh) struggled to raise funds, secure construction services, and comply with building permits in order to set up shop at the Biltmore. Using seed money from a hurricane recovery grant, funds from a Metro-Dade capital development grant, and services donated by electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, architects, and plumbers, FST is finally scheduled to open its 164-seat theater on September 20 with John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, directed by Cejas. (The space also features a courtyard area that will double as a lobby, as well as a 450- to 500-seat arena for mounting outdoor productions of Shakespeare.)

"We would like to originate new work," asserts Cejas, "and we would like to mount major revivals and move shows north, and I don't mean Broward. I don't want much. All I want is a Tony Award and a three-picture deal." FST's new relationship with veteran Broadway and Hollywood producer Arthur Whitelaw just might help Cejas realize his ambitions.

Whitelaw, producer of shows such as Butterflies Are Free and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, as well as works for HBO, PBS and NBC, moved to South Florida three years ago to work for public TV station WPBT. Like Cejas, he had taken a hiatus from the theater and was itching to get back to the stage. A mutual friend hooked him up with FST, with Whitelaw signing on as a coproducer in the Biltmore space; his company, Americas Theatre Group, will present shows in repertory with FST. "They'll do a play, we'll do a play, they'll do a play," Whitelaw explains. "We're all going to work on each other's shows. And there's a third unit that's part of this, too, in Dorset, Vermont. I'm on the board of American Theatre Works, a wonderful regional theater up there that's been going for twenty years. We'll start things here and then take them up there and then possibly to New York or to London, or we may develop something into a movie or for television down here. And we'll share where we each have strengths because we all add something to the mix that the others don't have."

Both Beck and Cejas agree that Whitelaw's expertise will be invaluable. "He's so experienced and we'll learn so much from him," Cejas says. "It's such a wonderful advantage." Adds Beck, "It's going to be an incredible asset to work with him."

Under Whitelaw's auspices, the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and its sequel Snoopy are slated to open around Thanksgiving and play in repertory through February. Other planned FST productions during the year include Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in rep, plus Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. For further information, call 446-1116.

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