By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
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Greater flexibility allows him, as he puts it, "to give as much as I can to the community, rather than being a snowbird. I'm tired of reading about the [Miami] hype, and I would really like to see people make things happen here." With relentless energy, he has thrown himself into fundraising for local charity events, including AIDS Walk Miami. This season he will once again produce a Make-A-Wish Foundation benefit at the Hotel Inter-Continental, which raised $103,000 last year for children with life-threatening illnesses. The upcoming event, on October 25, will feature Jay-Alexander's friend actress Bernadette Peters.
Last winter he coproduced and directed a PBS special starring Andrea McArdle, the original star of Broadway's 1977 Annie, at Miami's WPBT-TV (Channel 2) studios. The project, scheduled to air nationally this December, employed area artists, from camera crew to hair and make-up stylists. It also gave Jay-Alexander a taste for working in video and film. Noting the difference between those media and the theater, which demands on-going fine-tuning, he says he appreciates "getting something right and never having to replace it." But he also concedes, "I'm a stage animal. I love the line through of [live performance]. I love not breaking things up. I love working in sequence and being on a roll. There's nothing more fiery than a stage performance.
"You're talking to somebody who was very influenced by local theater," Jay-Alexander explains, when giving his opinion of homegrown South Florida productions. "If local theater isn't good and strong and present, there's not going to be any encouragement for the future of the theater." He goes out four nights a week, seeing traditional drama and musicals from Palm Beach to Coral Gables, as well as dinner theater, nightclub acts, piano bars, and drag shows.
Although he heartily supports the local scene, Jay-Alexander has a rigorous producer's view of what works and doesn't work in this town. Sympathizing with the plight of struggling, underpaid performers, he contends that Miami and Miami Beach fail to provide adequate financial support to grassroots companies. "How about a little less money spent on [policing] parking meters and a little more on small theater groups and arts development?" he asks. Equally astringent about companies who forever plead poverty, however, he also insists that vast budgets do not guarantee a production's quality.
"When local groups get upset and say the mega-musical's coming to town to steal their dollars, it's horseshit," he claims. "Whether you see a Phantom or a drama in a little 99-seater, the challenge is excellence. Money plays very little part in it, because if something's good people will go see it. If you give an audience a good experience, they'll come back."
The afternoon has lengthened into evening. Tonight he will travel to Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale to catch a local production of Applause, but he has one more observation to make about the nerve-jangling audition process. "The biggest tool actors can have besides maintaining their physical being is to be truthful," he notes. "The minute they try to be something they think a director wants, to second-guess, they're playing a dangerous game. I'll say to an actor, 'What are you doing right now?' and they'll say, 'Well, I'm up for this and I had a second call back for that.' I respond much more to, 'The truth of the matter is I'm bored out of my mind. I file papers in a job that I hate, and I want to work in the theater more than anything in my life.' That moves me to tears, and usually that person gets hired.