Major League

After one year of operation, the Theatre League of South Florida can boast a profit of $407.60.

If that figure doesn't seem too impressive, especially when compared with other local projects such as Blockbuster Park, consider the following:

1. The organization runs on a purely volunteer basis, and started without a single dollar in the bank.

2. It has sponsored eight play readings, each of which drew more than 50 people, and has nurtured local playwrights through its Writers' Alliance, which meets regularly to critique dramatic works-in-progress.

3. For the first time, a spirit of cooperation has been forged among both small and large theaters in the area. Scenery and costumes are borrowed and lent according to need, publicity is shared, and tips about local talent are either discussed at meetings or printed in the monthly newsletter.

4. A theater guide-map of each operating theatrical company in Dade, Broward, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties -- with names, general locations, and phone numbers -- has been printed and is now distributed by various chambers of commerce. During the compilation of this guide, the League discovered that South Florida could lay claim to a total of 63 theaters and/or theater companies, more than most other regions in the nation (with the exception of some areas in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles).

5. The first-annual Stages of the Sun Theatre Festival, which offered summer discounts to various plays around South Florida and free admission to the eight play readings, encouraged theater attendance during the early summer season. In addition, the brochures filled out by festival attendees have formed the basis of a considerable mailing list, to be used for future promotional materials.

6. Local media have been regularly contacted by League spokespeople about major dramatic events and news items.

7. The Metro-Dade Cultural Affairs Council is now totally committed to this organization, and intends to bolster it through mailings, administrative help, and possible grant support.

According to League president Barry Steinman, the group is well on the way to reaching its five-year goal. "We would like to see, under the leadership of a paid executive director and a small support staff," says Steinman, "a resource facility similar to those found in Dallas, Boston, Chicago, and New York, which works full-time to make the South Florida theatrical community respected nationally."

Presently, Steinman is happy just to lead a thriving group after twelve months, remembering the three prior coalitions formed with similar goals in years past, "which by this time were meeting in the back seat of someone's car." While he warns against "leaping for the moon and not getting there," he does plan to oversee some fairly large projects for the League's second year, such as interacting with the local school boards to introduce theater to students, regardless of financial need, and increasing audience attendance and awareness through extensive promotion and advertising.

Of all the future projects described by Steinman, one of the most significant involves the League's participation in the April opening of the outstanding, award-winning Angels in America at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Both parts of the extraordinary work -- Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, winners of a combined seven Tony Awards and one Pulitzer Prize -- will be presented at the Gusman. This will mark one of the show's first regional stops in the country. The League intends to heavily promote this production, sponsor the opening-night parties, and hold a fundraiser on the first night of Perestroika.

Savannah Whaley, a League board member, emphasizes that this project means more to the theatrical community in South Florida than simply raising money for the League itself. "If the production is successful, we can correct the perception in major-theater capitals that South Florida isn't interested in serious work," Whaley says, explaining that New York and London producers might then regularly consider our area when scouting around for the first regional stops of their top-quality fare.

Rem Cabrera, called the "godfather" of the League, and a member of the Cultural Affairs Council, believes that events such as Angels in America and the spirit of cooperation in the theater community will eventually help place South Florida on the theatrical map. "Only through the strength of numbers can we achieve what we want to achieve," states Cabrera.

If you wish to contact, join, or in any other way support the Theatre League of South Florida, call Barry Steinman at 547-5414, ext. 251. If you wish to find out more about the Writers Alliance, contact Susan Westfall at 361-1585.

Stage Notes
While I find all televised awards shows to be ego-driven vehicles of self-congratulation, not to mention cash cows for the winners, I particularly disliked this year's Tonys. The most glaring omission was the lack of excerpts from any dramatic works: The only shows highlighted by staged, live presentations were grand-scale musicals. As for the musicals, I thought I had been thrown back in history. Guys and Dolls, Damn Yankees, Show Boat? I rest my case. In the category of new musical works, the choice pared down to Disney's saccharine extravaganza Beauty and the Beast and Stephen Sondheim's Passion, an interesting work but certainly not one of Sondheim's or his co-writer James Lapine's best. Passion won most of the awards in its category owing to the simple fact that the New York community hates the idea of Disney annexing Broadway far more than they enjoyed Sondheim's maudlin musical about obsessive love.

As for plays, Angels In America: Perestroika won everything, which came as no surprise with so little competition. Ana Deveare Smith, the brilliant actress and author of the one-person tour de force Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, was unfortunately overlooked, no one was allowed to give acceptance speeches consisting of more eloquent words than "thank you," and everything was neatly over in time for the eleven o'clock news. Forget the theater and let's get to the gory details of the day.

For me, the Tony Awards this year was about as entertaining as a revue you'd see (or rather not see) on a cruise ship. With theater so far down on the nation's priority list, I found the ceremony to be a particularly inauspicious omen.


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