The smell of greasepaint hovers over Liberty City’s new Audrey Edmonson Transit Village — and the crowds are already gathering in anticipation of the Sandrell Rivers Theater’s official grand opening November 19.
Two of Florida’s top professional theater companies are nearly finished moving into the space — infusing a formerly overlooked and underserved Miami community with a bright burst of creative arts. The Fantasy Theater Factory (FTF), Florida’s premier touring children’s theatre, and M Ensemble, Florida’s longest-established African-American theater company, are in permanent residence at the new theater. This is a first for FTF, and it came together thanks to outreach from Miami-Dade County.
“One of the most exciting aspects to all of us involved is that it’s a state-of-the-art, brand-new theater serving Liberty City and surrounding area with topnotch professional theater,” FTF director Larry Fields says. “And we think it’s about time.”
The theater’s soft-opening success indicates that locals agree with Fields: With only word-of-mouth promotion, 100 people showed up to one Saturday matinee, many of them arriving on foot, to check out this new professional theater that isn’t hard to reach or high-priced like so many of Miami’s cultural offerings.
FTF will run a field-trip program for local schools, as well as a Saturday matinee series. After the grand opening, the plan is to “hit the ground running immediately,” Fields says, with Saturday programs that will be open to the community.
M Ensemble will present an entire season of shows, beginning with Kings of Harlem, opening in January.
Though having two professional theater companies in the neighborhood will certainly be a resource for local schools and a haven for creative youth, organizers have greater ambitions for the theater’s impact on the community.
“We’re looking at really providing opportunity to people in this area and being an engine not only of arts and culture but also an economic engine of opportunity,” Fields says.
Both M Ensemble and Fantasy Theatre Factory pay all their actors, crew, and staff. Not only that, but FTF also has a long-running college internship program with the University of Miami, specifically for students on financial aid. It’s a paid work-study, so those in the program get professional theater experience, and they get paid for it. This is a situation half a million wannabe Hollywood actors would love to have, and it could become a realistic goal for talented Liberty City residents, with support from Sandrell Rivers directors and Miami-Dade County.
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“As we establish ourselves here, we’re seeing such a wonderfully diverse group of local talent coming through the door,” Fields says. “Fantasy Theater practices nontraditional casting. The best person for the job gets the job regardless of race, gender, etc.”
Factor in M Ensemble’s renowned program of works from the best African-American playwrights in the United States, and it seems this community is about to become a hub of contemporary urban theater, as well as educational theater, circus, dance, magic, and possibility.
Sandrell Rivers Theater Grand Opening
Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, November 19, at 6101 NW Seventh Ave., Miami. The grand opening will feature entertainment by Fantasy Theatre Factory and M Ensemble, as well as face painting and free concessions. Call 305-284-8800.