Putting the Festive in Festival
By Jonathan Wemette
The revamped South Florida Theatre Festival has much more to offer
| Michael Peyton, founder of the South Florida Theatre Festival, with Meredith Lasher South Florida Theatre League president, at last year’s closing night party and Silver Palm Awards. Photo: Mary Damiano
The "South Florida Theatre Festival" was something of a misnomer for the event's first three years in existence. Yes, it took place in South Florida, and yes, there was a lot of theatre involved, but it was never much of a festival.
"It was three months long," says Andie Arthur, executive director of SouthFloridaTheatre.com, which sponsors the festival. "A producer quipped that that's a 'mini-season,' which it was. Plus, it was made up mostly of shows that the theatres would have been running anyway. That didn't seem like a festival."
This year, to address those problems, SouthFloridaTheatre.com is letting the South Florida Theatre Festival live up to its name, making a host of changes to turn it into a more cohesive, attention-grabbing, crowd-pleasing event.
The first change: that three-month time span. The whole festival has been condensed to a more wieldy two weeks, October 12-26. And to address the concern that the festival only consisted of shows that were already running, those two weeks are packed with unique events that you won't see at any other time of the year.
|John Manzelli, co-founder of Naked Stage, is part of the cast of this year’s 24 Hour Theatre Project.
The most pervasive of these events will be Free Night of Theater, a national program that was so successful in its first year in South Florida that the festival was specifically scheduled around it. Starting October 1, anyone can go to www.freenightoftheater.net and reserve a ticket to a participating theatre free of charge. The first available performance is on October 15, and there are performances to choose from all the way through October 29.
"It's just this beautiful way to check out a theatre that you've never been to before," says Arthur. "And for theatres, it's an audience-development opportunity. Last year, over 80 percent of the people who participated in it here had never been to the theatre that they went to before, and 41 percent of the people who participated in it went back and bought a ticket at that theatre."
The South Florida Theatre Festival's first night will feature two different events taking place simultaneously, presenting theatre lovers with a difficult choice. At the Miracle Theatre, in Coral Gables, the Naked Stage will hold their third annual 24 Hour Theatre Project, once again sponsored by Actors' Playhouse. In Manalapan, Florida Stage will take part in the global premiere of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (An Epilogue), a new companion piece to the groundbreaking play that has been seen by more than 50 million people.
|David Arisco and Barbara Stein of Actor’s Playhouse relax on the staircase of the Miracle Theatre, with Naked Stage co-founders Antonio and Katherine Amadeo, after last year’s 24 Hour Theatre Festival.
The 24 Hour Theatre Project is billed as "the entire creative theatrical process on speed." At 7 p.m. on October 11, nine playwrights will gather at the Miracle Theatre, select a theme, and write a short play on that theme by the next morning, at which point a director and cast will show up to memorize and rehearse the play for production that night. The event, which is a fundraiser for the Naked Stage, has quickly become one of the most anticipated nights of the year in the South Florida theatre community and draws top talent from almost every theatre in the region.
This is the event's first year as a part of the South Florida Theatre Festival. "We feel it's exciting to be able to connect the 24 Hour Theatre Project to the Theatre Festival, because it's a project that is very much about community," says Antonio Amadeo, executive artistic producer of The Naked Stage. "And it allows us to donate money to SouthFloridaTheatre.com, which in turn helps the entire theatre community."
|s Antonio and Katherine Amadeo, after last year’s 24 Hour Theatre Festival.
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (An Epilogue), by Tectonic Theater Project members Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber, brings audiences back to Laramie 10 years after Matthew Shepard was brutally killed there, looking at how the town has changed—and how it hasn't—since it was thrust into the national spotlight. The piece is being read simultaneously at more than 100 theatres across the globe that will all be connected via Internet. Florida Stage is presenting the evening as a benefit for the Human Right's Council, Compass and The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
The first day of the South Florida Theatre Festival also marks one more exciting debut: a brand new website for SouthFloridaTheatre.com, with a more user-friendly design and more content. This is one of the most important elements in the rebranding of SouthFloridaTheatre.com, which until recently was the Theatre League of South Florida.
"This past summer," says Arthur, "the board, listening to ideas from the producers, decided that they wanted their efforts to go toward promoting the website. With SouthFloridaTheatre.com, you know exactly where to go, and we have this one-stop place for information about all the theatres and all the things that are going on down here. And it looks beautiful."
|Todd Allen Durkin, part of the 24 Hour Theatre Project directing team, with Scott Genn, part of the cast.
As it did last year, the final night of the festival will feature a closing night party, this year held at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale. The event is open to the public, "so you can come and hobnob with theatre professionals and get to meet the artists," says Arthur.
One of the highlights of the evening will be the presentation of the Silver Palm Awards, a new award that is structured more like New York's Obie Awards than the Tonys, with no nominations, no winners or losers, and no set categories.
"As these are not competitive awards, I see them as a great excuse to bring the theatre community together in a warm and friendly environment, off stage," says Tony Finstrom, chair of the award's executive committee. "[And] it certainly makes for a good excuse to throw a kick-ass party at the end of the festivities, and honor some outstanding work."
|Meredith Lasher with Tony Finstrom, chair of the executive committee of the Silver Palm Awards, at last year’s Theatre Festival closing night party and awards presentation. Photo: Mary Damiano
These are some of the biggest events in the new and improved South Florida Theatre Festival, but they represent only a sampling of its offerings: MiamiARTzine.com's fourth anniversary party, held on October 19 at the MuseoVault in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, is a new addition to the festival; the South Florida Press Club Luncheon on October 24 is honoring leaders and luminaries from the theatre community; Mad Cat Theatre Company is presenting a reading of an original play on October 19; the Broward Center is offering backstage tours; Free Night of Theater will kick off with a party on October 15 at America's Backyard in Fort Lauderdale.
If you want to attend one or all of the South Florida Theatre Festival events, you'll be able to find more information on them at—where else?—SouthFloridaTheatre.com.
The South Florida Theatre Festival, sponsored by SouthFloridaTheatre.com, will take place October 12-26 in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. For more information, visit SouthFloridaTheatre.com.
South Florida Theatre Festival Schedule of Events
Monday, October 12
24 Hour Theatre Project and Theatre Fest Kick-off Party
Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (An Epilogue)
by Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Steven Belber
Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd, Manalapn
561-585-3433. www.floridastage.org, community.laramieproject.org
SouthFloridaTheatre.com launches new website.
|Avi Hoffman, who will appear in two Theatre Festival events: he is part of the cast of the 24 Hour Theatre Project as well as the Florida Stage production of Two Jews Walk Into a War…, which will be available during the Free Night of Theatre.
Monday, October 12 and Monday, October 19
Backstage Tours at Broward Center for the Performing Arts
201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale
954- 765-5831, www.browardcenter.org
Thursday, October 15
Opening Party for and Trade Show for Free Night of Theater
America's Backyard, 200 E Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
Thursday, October 15-29
Free Night of Theater
Actors' Playhouse (The Marvelous Wonderettes; October 16, 17, 18, 8 p.m.)
Florida Stage (Two Jews Walk Into a War...; October 20, 8 p.m.)
Ft. Lauderdale Children's Theatre (Pippin; October 17 and 23, 7:30 p.m. and October 18 and 24, 2 p.m.)
GableStage (reasons to be pretty; October 23 and 29; 8 p.m.)
Palm Beach Dramaworks (A Doll's House; October 25; 7 p.m.)
The Women's Theatre Project (Naked Women Fully Clothed; October 22 and 24 8 p.m., and October 25, 2 p.m.)
Monday, October 19
MiamiARTzine.com 4th Anniversary Party
Museo Vault, 346 NW 29th Street
Tickets: $20 ($15 for SouthFloridaTheatre.com members)
Mad Cat Theatre Reading
The Light Box Theatre, 3000 Biscayne Blvd #100, Miami
Saturday, October 24
25th Annual Imprint and Community Service Awards Luncheon
Miami Shores Country Club, 10000 Biscayne Blvd, Miami Shores
Tickets: $65 (reservation required)
Monday, October 26
Festival Closing Party/Presentation of Silver Palm Awards
Club Revolution Live, 200 W Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Tickets: $20 (free for SouthFloridaTheatre.com members)
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