Director Arisco seamlessly weaves these various production elements together, providing a steady tempo for a play challenged by 50 years' worth of changes in dramatic structure. Old works can hope to touch new audiences only through fresh productions such as this one, which keeps the joys of the well-constructed book musical from vanishing -- like the town of Brigadoon -- into the misty haze of a bygone era.
On March 3, when her theater was dark, Actors' Playhouse executive director Barbara Stein was at New Theatre, where she joined that house's producing artistic director, Rafael de Acha, plus Teatro Avante producing artistic director Mario Ernesto Sanchez and former New Times theater writer Pamela Gordon for an uninhibited examination of the current state of local theater. Barry Steinman, Theatre League of South Florida chairman, served as panel moderator. Nearly two dozen playwrights, directors, actors, managers, educators, and patrons were also on hand.
What began as a discussion about a blueprint for survival into the next century gradually morphed into a gripe session, with energetic contributions from panelists and audience members alike. Among the complaints: a graying audience that is not being replaced by younger theatergoers; reduced government, corporate, and individual contributions; theater administrator burnout; lack of a distinct geographical theater district; minuscule institutional budgets that cannot manage to pay an actor $200 for an extra week's rehearsal; and Actors' Equity Association union rules that consider it a contract violation to require actors to show up for the first day of rehearsal knowing their lines without giving additional compensation.
Offering some hope, Stein cited a cooperative program that Actors' Playhouse ran with A.L. Lewis Elementary School in Florida City. Over the course of a year and a half, and with the aid of $70,000 in grant monies from both public and private sources, Actors' Playhouse distributed 80,000 tickets to students and their families for the theater's children's and main stage programming. Additionally, the theater sent drama coaches and guest artists to work with students, faculty, parents, and school psychologists in an effort to create a new work aimed at the school's hardest-to-reach students.
Gordon stressed the importance of getting kids "addicted" to theater, then went on to underscore the need to nurture new works by allowing them time to develop -- before opening them to public and critical scrutiny. Noting theater's structural differences from cinema and television, Gordon pinned her hopes on writers returning to the medium's strengths of character and language.
As for theater that creates loyal audiences, de Acha cautioned against searching for the newest gay/Jewish/Hispanic work, and instead urged producers to "go for the gut and then try to find an audience." Sanchez, who saw his rent increase 300 percent last year, necessitating the conversion of his venue into a part-time movie theater, gave the best advice regarding perseverance in hard times: "It reminds me of a mule that carried garbage in the town where I grew up in Cuba," he said. "We used to do terrible things to that mule, but she just kept her head down and kept carrying the garbage. Sometimes I feel like that mule."
Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe; directed by David Arisco; with Dan Schiff, Kim Cozort, Barry Tarallo, Irene Adjan, Timothy Johnson, and Robbin Maynard. Through March 23. For information, call 444-9293 or see "Calendar Listings.