With Adler at its helm, GableStage supplied a city overrun with tourist traps its fix of challenging, honest, and affordable theater. He spoke to audiences of high school and college students, inspired countless Miami artists, and gave us all something intellectually stimulating to do in the evening.
Taking over for a visionary like Adler is an undertaking. There's the burden of appeasing, or at least not disappointing, his former colleagues. It's a tightrope walk, especially here in Miami, where no matter how transient the population seems, hometown pride reigns supreme. So when California-born, Connecticut-raised Bari Newport was offered the chance to take over for Joe Adler as producing artistic director of GableStage, she was understandably hesitant.
"I don't think people have any idea how much pressure there is, especially in this particular situation," Newport tells New Times. "Before I decided to come here, I hired a medium, and through that medium, I asked Joe, like any good Jew would, 'Why me?' He said, 'It's because you have balls.' Every time I start spiraling, I try to center myself and allow myself to believe that I'm doing the right thing, and I'm doing what Joe would want me to do."
On November 12, GableStage, led by Newport, will stage its production of Arthur Miller's The Price, a humble, two-act play that deals with family dynamics and financial strife. The production would have been the final piece directed by Adler had it not been for the pandemic. Newport is picking up where Adler left off, giving Miami a chance to witness his swan song.
"It's been sitting there onstage since March 2020," Newport says. "I'm directing Joe's vision of The Price to the best of my ability. It has the same cast and design team. I even have the stage manager's notes from Joe's script."
Newport is also using this season to raise money through GableStage for the Joe Adler Legacy campaign. The goal, she says, is to raise a million dollars in Joe's name.
Before the season officially opens with The Price, Newport has put together a one-night-only, outdoor synchronized-swimming extravaganza called Splash! at the Biltmore pool on Thursday, October 28. Splash! is a tribute to swimmer and actress Esther Williams, who is said to have swum at the very same historic pool.
"It was a vision I had when I came down here back in February with my husband to make sure he was cool with moving here. As we were walking by the Biltmore pool, one of the board members told me, 'You know, Esther Williams swam here,'" Newport recounts. "It was the height of the pandemic; I didn't know what we were going to do. The theater only seats 138 people; there would have been no space. I figured an Esther Williams pool play — what the fuck is that? It turned into a kickoff to the season and an introduction to me."
From the time she was a child, Newport had been drawn to these sorts of cozy, community-driven spaces.
"When I was 12, my mother started dropping me off at this small professional theater called Stanford Theatre Works in Stanford, Connecticut," she says. "She said that if I wanted to work in theater, I should become an expert at every element of it. I would file headshots three times a week, and that gave me access to being in the belly of the beast, the theatrical brain.
"Then, when I was 16 and had just gotten my driver's license, I went to work at a historic summer stock theater in Connecticut called the Westport Country Playhouse. It was an old barn. I fell in love with the smell of it, working overnight and putting on really magical plays."
The goal of regional, nonprofit theater companies like GableStage are to bring theatrical productions to local communities at a fraction of the cost of the productions put on by big touring companies. Sure, seeing Hamilton or Wicked at the Adrienne Arsht Center has its appeal, but a small show at a historic playhouse offers a far more intimate experience. Here, audiences can watch performances that won't overwhelm with rapid-fire show tunes. These experiences challenge the viewer, allow them to see the sweat on an actor's brow instead of squinting to make out what they're wearing.
"The general ticket buyer isn't thinking about why their ticket costs what it costs. Like, why would a ticket to a Broadway show cost $800? Why would a ticket at the GableStage cost $45? Does it mean that the Broadway show is better? Comparing them is like comparing apples and lightbulbs," Newport says. "A nonprofit theater company has 65 percent of the total coming from grants, foundations, individual donations, and contributed income so that the ticket price can remain low so that people from the community can be served, and so that the company can serve its own mission. GableStage is not a building nor a place. It's a group of artists who come together to tell stories. Local theater is a handcrafted art form."
Bari Newport is not a Miami native, nor even a Floridian, but her aim is true. Replacing the South Florida theater GOAT Joseph Adler is impossible. Yet the show must go on. This new season at GableStage will give theatergoers a chance not only to see what would have been Adler's final production but also help welcome this new, seasoned leader to the quaint but legendary theater company.
"I don't know how I would feel if my best friend died and then someone totally random came along, said they spoke to a medium, and decided to take his job," Newport says. "I'll never be him. I'm me, but I'm also honored. I take this new responsibility to Joe, to the local community, and to the Florida theatrical ecosystem very seriously. My new colleagues here have been so supportive, and it really does take a village, especially in a situation like this. It's a total restart."
Splash! 7 p.m. Thursday, October 28, at the Biltmore, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926; biltmorehotel.com. Tickets cost $300 to $500 via gablestage.com.
The Price. 8 p.m. Friday, November 12, through Sunday, December 12, at GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., #230, Coral Gables; 305-445-1119; gablestage.org. Tickets cost $45 to $70.