| Stage |

White Rose Miami Brings "Soul Searching" Performance to PAX

If one of your resolutions for 2013 was to sit your ass in more theater seats and on fewer bar stools, PAX Miami is about to launch an event that will make your transition into "cultured-ness" a lot less jarring. Starting this Friday and repeating every third weekend of the month, the venue, also known as the Performing Arts Exchange, will host a theater collective by the name of White Rose Miami. The group will bring live story-telling -- via dance, music, and acting -- to a stage that's surrounded by cozy table seating and yes, a good number of bar stools to boot.

Melissa Almaguer and Ivan Lopez are the two born-and-bred Miami natives and thespians who created the "theater company," though they resort to using that moniker only for lack of a better term. "We tell stories in whatever form fits best," explained Almaguer.

Both just a hair past thirty years old, the two met as undergraduates in the theater program at Florida International University. Post-graduation, they went their separate ways; Almaguer was hired by the PlayGround Theatre in Miami Shores (now the Miami Theater Center) and later worked with The JQ Studio, while Lopez moved to Denver, Colorado, where he earned an MFA in theater from the National Theatre Conservatory before pursuing acting work in New York City. But Lopez, who, prior to his post-graduate studies had never lived outside of Miami, decided two years ago to return to the motherland where he and Almaguer wasted no time in joining creative forces again. (No, they're not dating. And yes, we were rude enough to ask. "We're more like brother and sister, actually," Lopez said.)

"What drives me is creating my own work, and the time I'd had the most fun was when we were creating work together," said Almaguer of her creative reunion with Lopez.

Lopez echoed her sentiments. "I was interested in telling stories that I wanted to tell, and when that became apparent, I remembered doing our own shows at FIU. And I started feeling like it would be nice to come back home and tell stories down here," he said.

They named their theater company "White Rose" after a poem named Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca by Cuban poet Jose Marti, which in essence is about giving generously to both friends and foes. "Like the poem, we're about bringing unity to everyone, regardless of where they're coming from. We're about celebrating the human spirit," said Almaguer.

Resistant to being fenced in by a designated space and the geographical and financial trappings that come with one, they are happy to bring to diverse and sometimes improvised stages performances that are as eclectic as their settings, says Almaguer. In February 2011, for example, they put on a performance of David Auburn's Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof, building a houseless porch in the lot behind the JQ Studio in Miami Shores to function as their open-air stage. (The play is set on a porch in Chicago.)

Willow is the name of the original work the group will be putting on for its inaugural performance at PAX. The piece is the result of the collaboration of 17 actors, composers, dancers, and musicians. It's set in a sort of "soul laboratory," which will incorporate a host of lights and sounds, and it centers on a character called "the experimentor" (played by Lopez) whose primary occupations are "soul research" and time travel. His mission is to save the love of his life, whom he encounters during his research, from lifetimes of loneliness.

"This project comes from the gut and the heart," said Lopez. "You can expect some craziness. It's a very collaborative process and we're really trusting everyone to bring their creativity," he said.

The seed for the project was planted when Almaguer's friend, a playwriting student at Northwestern University in Chicago, sent a monologue she had been working on. "I loved it," said Almaguer. "And Ivan had just written a monologue, and we began trying to connect them. And then I created a monologue with a different character, and somehow they all came together and meshed. Also, we have always wanted to do a little bit of improv. So this idea was borne out of four separate ideas that we pushed together into one," she said.

Next month, the group will present Miami Time, a series of original shorts (each two to 10 minutes in length) on the themes of "Miami" and "time," which will be submitted by local playwrights. In March, they will perform a three-week run of Martin McDonagh's Pillow Man. They also have some short films in the works, including a Miami-based flick called "Low Tide."

Doors for Friday's show open at 6:30 p.m. and the event starts at 7. Tickets cost $15 with a two-drink minimum and can be purchased at the PAX website.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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