But when Joseph Adler took over the Biltmore Hotel's intimate venue 15 years ago, he helped the city's performing arts landscape inch its way toward creative evolution. So long, old stereotypes. Hello, controversy and cultural relevance.
Under Adler's direction, the 150-seat GableStage has explored the ins and outs of some of the most taboo topics. Though he believes there's a place for "feel-good" art, his theater isn't it.
"The exciting thing about theater is that it reflects what's going on in the real world. That's not true about so many other disciplines," he says. "Opera or ballet is not reflecting how life is lived in the streets. It doesn't seed controversy."
Adler is no stranger to the C-word. Last season's runs included the wildly contentious Blasted by Sarah Kane. Wartime violence, rape, and defecation might not seem like standard fare for the AARP set, but Adler's followers are unique. The theater's regular patrons, though older, are carefully cultivated, willing to follow where Adler and his troupe lead.
"We're not afraid to take it to the limit, and we've got an audience that fortunately will go along for the ride," he says.
Two of the plays that GableStage has performed boast titles considered too obscene to print in the New York Times — namely, Cock and Motherfucker With a Hat.
"Theater can incite, it can provoke — it can do a lot more than just entertain, and that's the aspect of theater that excites me," he says. "It's the idea of being able to introduce an audience to something that is unusual."
Adler believes artistic exposure needs to expand to younger generations as well, hence GableStage's partnership with local public schools. For the kiddos, Adler and company stick with less scandalous material, such as this season's 90-minute Hamlet adaptation by Miami's Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Whatever the topic du jour, Adler is all about eliciting conversation. He recounts a story about an audience member who once stopped him upon exiting a show. The theatergoer turned to the tenured director and gasped, "My God, how can you do that? Why would you put that onstage? What are you going to do next, show people having sex and defecating?"
Adler's reply: "We did that last year."
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