It can feel like hardly anyone really lives in Miami. There are people here for six or eight months at a time, people coming from other countries with aspirations to start the next Uber or Facebook, promoters and DJs and restaurateurs flitting in and out. They all contribute to the lack of a central "Miami-ness." But then you look at a place like the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
"It's of Miami, by Miami," says Liz Wallace, vice president of programming at the Arsht Center. "We try to get big things that people can get excited about coming to Miami and then things they should know about."
This Miami institution, now in its 12th season, offers a diverse range of productions through a tried-and-true division of six programming categories. In a way, the categories describe Miami itself: The Knights Masterworks Season speaks to old Miami, once a destination of the American South where Yankee debutantes spent their winters. Then there's Jazz Roots, which harks back to the time when the Magic City was a locus of African-American music. Theater Up-Close and Live at Knight speak to Miami's cutting edge, which circulates billions of dollars through hypercontemporary arts and media. And then there's Miami the national hub, where Broadway productions, theaters, and other touring bodies with timely themes make their rounds.
In terms of what there is to get excited about, these programs bring a year of debuts, such as On Your Feet!, Gloria and Emilio Estefan's musical autobiography; and the Florida premiere of Fun House, a Tony Award-winning musical tale of a graphic novelist's childhood and relationship with her father. Prog-rock titan Yes will play with Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, and Trevor Rabin shortly before master cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs with the New World Symphony. But as the home of the local theater Zoetic Stage, the Arsht Center is also rife with fresh work from Miami-based actors and playwrights.
"The first performances of these local playwrights are here, but these works do live on beyond Miami," Wallace notes, citing the work of Christopher Demos Brown, whose newest piece, Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts, will see its world premiere at the Arsht this season. "We're lucky because we see them first. They get their premieres here, and then they go elsewhere."
Crowd favorites such as The Legend of Zelda, The Book of Mormon, and a symphony-accompanied screening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets will all make comebacks this season, but we can still expect the Arsht to evolve. For the first time, the center will introduce Winter Shorts, a program much like its summertime run of microplays, but with a holiday theme. The Arsht is also one of four U.S. destinations for the Breakin' Convention, a two-day festival of hip-hop, dance, and b-boy culture. It seems to go without saying that as the city evolves, the Arsht Center adapts at the same pace.
"A piece of the quilt of Miami is the Arsht Center," Wallace says. "We're part of the fabric of the community."
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Part of this fabric includes free programming such as Family Fest, the Spooky Symphony for Halloween, and Free Gospel Sundays. Aside from providing means for locals to get acquainted with the Arsht Center outside of ticketed events, these offerings also foster a sense of community. Wallace saw this fellowship most recently at the Free Gospel Sundays concert following Hurricane Irma.
"I have to tell you, post-Irma, there was a need for a spiritual release," she says. Far from drawing a full house for obvious reasons, the concert nevertheless heartened the Arsht Center veteran. "For the people who came, they loved it. We had thousands of people in the audience for the amount of appreciation they showed."
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org.