I left Miami without knowing exactly how my hometown had affected me. I began to get an inkling with a realization about colors. Where I was in Colorado, the flowers could be paler and more delicate; the sky could be a spacey, airy blue, but nothing was quite as vibrant as it was in Miami. Plants were green in the summertime, sure, but not that deeply saturated green you find in a tangle of tropical vines tumbling from Banyan trees. Not that green.
Six or so years later, I found myself back in Miami at an early screening of Moonlight. This was before the Oscar nod, when it was still feasible for the film's writer, Tarell McCraney, to give a Q&A to a theater of maybe a dozen people. Someone in the audience commented that the film felt almost surreal. McCraney replied that growing up in Liberty City could often be a surreal experience — the dichotomy of going home and not finding any food to eat, but then going outside to find a cornucopia of tropical fruits hanging from the trees.
There it was again — that color. That thing that made Miami itself. It's this vision of the city that made Moonlight so powerful. It's also one of the forces behind McCraney's latest Miami-based project, the 305/One Festival, which consists of more than a half dozen performances by Miami artists.
"Traveling all over, it’s rare to find a place like Miami where producing ‘conventional’ theatre can be a struggle and yet there is no shortage of performers, especially solo performers," McCraney says. "But that’s Miami — unconventional, so we need to welcome that. We need to make sure our community acknowledges and shares that beautiful unconventionality."
What anyone from Miami will tell you is that unconventionality comes with some trade-offs. For performers, these come in the form of limited real estate for the presentation of their work.
“In Miami, there are really big performing arts spaces, and really small spaces. They swing between those two pendulums,” McCraney says. “However, we have no small artists."
"It’s almost like we force them to be small," adds Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, who only recently hopped on board to help bring the 305/One Festival to fruition. "We have the creativity in spades. We have the stories in spades. We have the talent in spades. Every performer in Miami has a solo show in their back pocket and it’s purely out of necessity because so often that’s all that so many venues here can afford."
Jeffers has seen this firsthand as a writer, filmmaker, and one of the founders of the Third Horizon film collective. He mentions that he's seen some of the performers slated to appear at 305/One — Aja Monet and Hattie Mae Williams, for example — perform on larger stages outside of Miami. That this upcoming Sunday's festival will be
Something of a microcosm of this dynamic can be found in Third Trinity, the film scheduled for a work-in-progress screening at 305/One. The film itself is an adaptation of a one-man show conceived by Teo Castellanos, who grew up in Miami and has been creating work here for 20 years. More specifically, it was a 120-page screenplay that was adapted into a theater piece with the help of McCraney, who has worked with Castellanos since 1995. Miami-born choreographer and filmmaker Yara Travieso is directing the film, and Jeffers is one of the film's producers along with Moonlight's co-producer, Andrew Hevia.
Taken in a bad light, this can all seem a little incestuous. Miami can feel like a small town, especially once you begin to dive into the arts community. But more than nepotism, the 305/One Festival is looking to foster relationships between artists that broaden the creative landscape, rather than narrow it.
"We want the artists not only to represent the community but become one; a group of artists who can connect and use their know-how to help and mentor one another," McCraney explains of the curatorial decisions for 305/One. "We wanted
YALS, or the Youth Artist Leadership Summer Program, is another brainchild of McCraney's and what Jeffers identifies as the heart of the festival. Last summer, thirteen young women of color were given instruction and mentorship from artists such as Rudi Goblen (another 305/One performer) and Rosie Herrera over the course of three months. Their performances will kick off the festival at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, July 29. Centering these budding voices is how McCraney returns to a city that he notes was "less than hospitable" to artists when he was coming up.
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"He could have gotten his Oscar and said, 'I’m out!' But he didn’t," Jeffers says of McCraney. "So much of the core of who this guy is is giving back."
Of course, if we want to continue to see stories about our home in all of its unique, messy, unconventional beauty, we need to show up and support them right here. Luckily for us, much like the mangoes in the grass or the green in the leaves, we have them in abundance.
"There is no short supply of storytellers in Miami," says McCraney. "We are just getting started."
305/One Festival. 3:05 to 10:05 p.m. Sunday, July 29, at the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater, 819 NW Second Ave., Miami. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.