Letters from the Issue of August 15, 2002

Miami: Foggy London town it ain't.

Yes, All the World's a Stage

But that doesn't mean Miami is London: Ronald Mangravite's commentary on the dearth of theater in Miami was undoubtedly well-intentioned, but his suggestion that the solution lies in making Miami more like other cities that have lots of theater is simplistic, to say the least ("Critic's Notebook," August 8). While I certainly agree that more theater would be good for Miami, Mr. Mangravite's premise -- that Miami can have more theater if we all just get together and try harder to be like London -- doesn't withstand even cursory examination. To compare Miami to London is unrealistic. London is not only the capital city and economic and cultural center of Britain, it is also a major European city. London, along with the other larger British cities, does enjoy a vibrant theater community, but a look at some of the smaller cities in Britain, to which Miami more realistically compares, would reveal either lively but very small theatrical communities (such as Bath) or cultural wastelands (such as Plymouth).

Mangravite argues that more theater would create more jobs in Miami, citing job growth from peripheral businesses such as bars and restaurants and employment from theater itself. While I hasten to agree that a vibrant cultural life enhances an urban economy in many ways, I'm forced to wonder if Mr. Mangravite has himself ever held a crew or cast position in a theatrical company. Those of us who have know that the theater is notorious for paying badly, when it pays at all. So even if new theaters created new paying jobs, the vast majority of those who obtained them would have to work second jobs to make ends meet.

Bordering on the absurd is the argument that theaters are populated by older people because "young people can't afford" theater tickets. While it is certainly true that the cost of theater tickets is beyond the means of some Miamians, young and old, all but the poorest have some disposable income and most prefer to spend it elsewhere. To use Mangravite's term, "young people" are quite happy to spend upward of $50 on concert tickets and sporting events, and even a brief saunter down Ocean Drive will reveal no shortage of young (and not-so-young) people dressed in expensive clothes, shelling out big bucks for overpriced cocktails.

If English theaters have younger audiences -- and Mangravite provides no evidence that they do -- the reason is not that theater tickets are cheap. Theater tickets may have been cheap this summer as part of a widespread effort to encourage tourism, but the cost of theater tickets, cheap or expensive by American standards, does not account for the popularity of the theater in a nation beleaguered by high taxes, a high cost of living, and uncertain employment. Rather it stems from the ability to understand and be enriched by the experience of attending a theatrical production.

I was a college professor in England for two years and I found that although English students lacked certain strengths typical of their American counterparts, without exception they were more literate and possessed a greater appreciation for their own literary tradition. I suspect, too, another reason theater is more popular in England is that English television is so bad. The English pay about $175 per year for five stations that have limited broadcast days and air programs in prime time such as Championship Snooker.

Which brings us to what may be the main reason Miami struggles as a theatrical community, and which Mangravite has amazingly ignored: the low number of Miamians who speak English as their native language. In a town where that number hovers around 42 percent, the burden to support English-language theater is disproportionately placed on less than half of the population. Similarly, while a vibrant community of Spanish-language theater would be at least as great an asset to our city, the potential audience is correspondingly limited.

The language division, coupled with a significant number of poorly educated residents, makes it difficult for theater to grow in Miami, but it hasn't been impossible. Our unique multiculturalism poses unusual challenges and opportunities for those wishing to cultivate audiences for the stage. The ground may seem almost barren, but trying to imitate a rainy European capital is not going to make it more fertile.

Jenna Ward

Miami Beach

Honest Bureaucrat Cloned!

Astonishing experiment succeeds where nature fails: I want to commend Rebecca Wakefield for her article about Merrett Stierheim ("Midterm Exam," August 1). She captured the essence of the man: intelligent, dedicated, and humane. In these times of crooked and immoral people in public service (more like self-service) we must highlight those who exemplify what a public servant should be.

I moved to Miami when I was fifteen years old in the late Sixties. Even at that young age I remember hearing about Merrett's feats and admiring his intellect and character. I was blessed to meet him and his lovely wife Judy early last year when I was invited to join the Homestead Financial Recovery Team. This is when I really got to know Mr. and Mrs. Stierheim, the Dynamic Duo. (Judy is a little dynamo with a big heart.)

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