By Ciara LaVelle
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As an actor on the South Florida theater scene, Antonio Amadeo has played a wisecracking Afghan-American cabdriver, a revolutionary in late-'60s Czechoslovakia, a captured writer in a totalitarian police state, and a barkeep caught in a web of 9/11 conspiracy theories — to say nothing of his award-nominated performance as the Elephant Man.
Although he's delivered unhinged comedy and flustered innocence to stages from Coral Gables to West Palm Beach, he is his own worst critic. Behind the curtain, Amadeo is an insecure perfectionist pushing himself to theatrical places he hasn't gone before. Thus, after some 15 years of consideration, he has finally written his first dramatic work, A Man Puts on a Play, which opens November 2 at the Naked Stage, the Miami company he formed with his wife Katie in 2006. And he's terrified about it.
"[Playwriting] has always been an incredible fear of mine," he says. "It's the fear of failure, of putting something out there and not having any idea how people will respond to it... It's still new and fresh to me, and scary."
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Amadeo is not only producing but also set-designing, directing, and acting the lead role in the piece. He even designed the playbill graphics. Set in a cluttered storage unit above the main character's garage — and written in just three weeks before the start of rehearsals — A Man Puts on a Play is about a theater professional's attempt to balance work and family.
It's a familiar dilemma. Amadeo recently turned 40, and he and Katie (also an actor) have two children — Lara, who is 8, and Max, who was born in December 2011. This nuclear family of attractive thespians is, on the surface, the very picture of work/life stability. Behind the scenes, it's another story. During the Naked Stage's production of The Turn of the Screw this past summer, Katie would care for Max backstage until five minutes before the curtain of a show in which she was acting the lead. Antonio says they "barely made it through" that production.
"If you're an artist and you're home with the kids, you get to a point where you really want to be back onstage," Katie says. And then when you're doing a show, all you can think about is that you want to be home with the kids. You feel guilty either way."
Antonio was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the second of three children, and his family moved to New Jersey when he was 1. About a year later, they relocated to Miami. Antonio began acting in fifth grade, when a teacher cast him as Yankee Doodle and then as Romeo in a piece called Shakespeare Meets the Computer (a work that sounds intriguing/disastrous and which Google has never heard of).
He continued acting at Miami Killian Senior High and graduated with a BFA in performance from the University of Miami. Actors' Playhouse, then a start-up theater company in Kendall, gave Antonio his first taste of professional theater, mostly in design and chorus roles. That's where he met Katie in 2002, when both were cast in a production of The Sound of Music. Katie played Liesl, the eldest von Trapp daughter, and Antonio was "a random Nazi on the right."
"I remember so clearly the second he walked into the door for rehearsal," Katie recalls. "I knew he was going to have some kind of important role in my life... He had a light around him."
The Amadeos married in 2003 and launched the Naked Stage in 2006 with a production of Romeo and Juliet. The company, which performs at the Pelican Theatre, a 43-seat black box on the Barry University campus, has produced just six shows since '06. The Amadeos pool their limited resources only into shows about which they are both passionate.
If the company has a signature, it is its ability to do a lot with a little — to make virtual realities spring to life onstage with minimal resources. Macon City: A Comic Book Play, from 2009, won a Carbonell Award for Best Sound Design — a well-deserved recognition of the show's success at creating a live-action, three-dimensional comic book.
"I think when you're given a small company with young people and a small space with a limited budget, it's begging you to be creative," Antonio says. "The audience is paying the same amount of money for your show as they are for anything else. So if I'm not going to have the resources to do a standard play the way Joe Adler is going to do it [at GableStage], why would I do that?"
Of course, another reason the Naked Stage puts on so few shows is funding. But the Amadeos' solution for at least part of their theater's financial structure has become one of the year's most anticipated theatrical events. The company's annual 24-Hour Theatre Project raises funds while bringing together some four dozen writers, directors, and actors from South Florida. On a Sunday evening, the writers are given a title and a randomly selected cast; a short play is then written, handed over to a director for rehearsals, and acted in front of an audience less than one day later.