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What the Actors' Playhouse Fundraiser Means for the Coconut Grove Playhouse

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Last night, at its annual Reach for the Stars Gala Auction, Actors' Playhouse raised over $150,000 to fund its operating costs for the upcoming 2012-13 season.

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood next door, the Coconut Grove Playhouse sits empty, mired in debt that nobody wants to shoulder.

The Coconut Grove community's Give It Back efforts have been admirable in drawing attention to the regrettable decline of the historic building. But as mediation falters between the many parties with stakes in the property, it's clear that peaceful protests aren't enough.

If Coconut Grove wants its playhouse back, it might have to help pay for it.

The South Florida theater scene is not exactly booming in comparison with cities like New York and L.A., and as a result, it enjoys far less financial support. It's easy to assume that the people of Miami don't care enough to donate generously to theatrical causes -- and because the economy's still struggling, it's also easy to assume that those who want to contribute simply can't.

But Actors' Playhouse's success disproves that theory. In one night, it collected $150,000 from 600 guests at its gala. And that generosity extends even further into Miami's business world, which donated $300,000 worth of goods and services to its live and silent auctions. Among the items up for grabs: luxury vacations from Seabourn Cruises and Atlantis, celebrity dinners at area restaurants, and a 2012 Lexus RX 350 one-year lease. That's some serious generosity.

So why can't Coconut Grove do the same? Granted, Coral Gables is the sophisticated, European cousin to Coconut Grove's tomboyish, hippie persona. But the support is out there; organizers just need to capitalize on it.

The bigger problem, of course, is that the people of Coconut Grove shouldn't have to shoulder the responsibility of bailing out the playhouse. In a perfect world, we'd all know exactly what happened to create such massive debt, and the perpetrators would be charged accordingly.

But it's been nearly six years since the playhouse last opened its doors, and progress has been stagnant -- hung up, primarily, on assigning costs to invested parties. If reclaiming the playhouse is the ultimate goal, a community fund to soften the blow of those costs can only speed up the process.

Actors' Playhouse showed it can be done. And the problem is clearly past the point of being handled fairly. If Coconut Grove really wants its playhouse back, raising awareness is only the first step. Raising funds comes next.

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