As for playing Scrooge in evicting ART-ACT two weeks before Christmas, Robins points out that for the entire year he rented to Carroll he received exactly $339. "We were paying her water bills and electric bills and sewage bills," he complains. "I'm happy that we supported her, and I'm not upset that we didn't get our money, but I just felt that enough was enough."
Robins says that his other tenants complained that ART-ACT made too much noise and that were people living illegally at the theater. He questions why Carroll went ahead and planned the homeless benefit for December when she knew that her lease had expired in November and that she had not been paying rent.
"He gave me his word that he wouldn't evict me," Carroll counters, explaining that she had been in the process of securing a city grant for facade improvements that Robins had agreed to apply to her rent. "I would have loved to pay him rent every month, but I couldn't. That's why I tried to find other ways to do it." She says Robins gave her no notice whatsoever, despite their personal relationship, which dates back to the late Eighties.
On that point Robins disagrees. He maintains she was informed about the impending eviction many times. He admits that he encouraged her to apply for the grant, but says that conversation took place last spring. "I think J.C. has good intentions, but she never does what she says she is going to do. At what point do you draw the line?"
ART-ACT's eviction reminds Ralph de la Portilla of the uncertainty facing his own theater company, 3rd Street Black Box. De la Portilla was given free space by the owners of San Villa Oriental Restaurant, who saw the group's performances as a way to boost a flagging business and attract diners to Miami's deserted downtown. "They need not give us any notice [of eviction]," de la Portilla acknowledges. "We always have to walk on eggshells. But that's just the state of theater, the most neglected art form in this city."
For Nancy Gomez, vice president of Next Stage, another experimental theater group with a benevolent landlord, ART-ACT's misfortunes might present an opportunity for both companies. Like ART-ACT, Next Stage was given virtually free space in a vacant storefront on Biscayne Boulevard and 71st Street with the understanding that the group will soon start paying a regular $500 monthly rent. In the meantime Next Stage is searching for like-minded artists who want to share the space. So far they have found no takers. Maybe ART-ACT would be interested?