An open letter to Chris Dolen

Re: Playhouse drafts comeback plan (Miami Herald)

Hello Chris! As usual you are out there fighting the good fight. I salute you and thank you. I find, however, some deeply wrong-headed concepts at work (or failing to work) in the would-be proposal, as described by you.It would be interesting to see what AMS Planning really plans to plan and, ultimately, who it is that’s going to go out there and raise the dollars to make all the planning a reality.I don’t see many arts school in South Florida bringing in for the arts the big bucks that only football brings. As a community our track record is impeachable on all counts. While city-counties a fraction the size of Miami Dade have superb regional theatres that have survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (Cincinnati and Boston and Hartford to name but one, no, three, in fact) we in Miami Dade have to be content with 4-character play after 4-character play on our fewer and fewer small stages in theatres with 100 to 150 seats. Or, as an alternative, you can take in some of the dumbest musical theatre and tired businessman comedy fare to come down the pike in quite sometime. Right here, in Miami-Dade.GableStage arguably the finest and most successful of our Miami Dade playhouses continues to operate after a dozen plus years in what is essentially a hotel banquet room. The fact that Joe Adler continues to do outstanding work on his stage is nothing short of miraculous. Our finest musical organization is not the financially under-endowed Concert Association or the Florida Grand Opera that still has to import and recycle sets and costumes (just talk to your music critic) but the well-endowed, brilliantly led administratively and artistically New World Symphony. In their case they did not hire some consulting company from out of town but its Musical Director Michael Tilson Thomas had a soul to soul with Ted Arison and, out of that conversation, and after the infusion of several million dollars, the NWSO was born. Today it is a model of its kind worldwide. But does anybody remember the Florida Philharmonic. Oh, well, too bad…I seem to hear.I hope that the gentlemen and ladies of AMS Planning will sit down and talk to some of the people who built some of the outstanding arts organizations in this community. Out of that dialogue something good will surely come out. But someone please ask them not to put the cart before the horse.  Speculating that they will be able to run a 600 seat LORT theatre with an additional 150-seat “blackbox” with an annual budget of 6.5 million is pie-in-the-sky thinking if I ever heard.If the folks who built our performing arts center had ever listened to some of the audience members or some of the arts administrators of the very companies that now occupy it they would have known that they needed a real parking facility and not two but one hall, and bigger lobbies and no. Barbara Cook or the Miami debut of a major World Music artist would not pack the hall(s) But they all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round…Talking about the Court in Chicago or the Yale Rep is unrealistic at best. Both Yale and U of C have huge support for the arts in highly-populated hub cities that have centuries-old traditions of supporting the arts. We all moved here from somewhere else and fifty years ago, no thirty, this was sarcastically known in theatre circles as Death Valley South.In the years I’ve been here I have rarely seen neither corporate nor private support move up to the plate the way Adrienne Arsht did a few days ago.  But speak to Judy Drucker or to Dahlia Morgan, either or both having been miracle workers in this crazy community for years and you’ll hear a different tune that they can whistle by memory.There is a sort of halfway ground between the obscenely inflated salaries of a Michael Hardy or many others whom I can think of but won’t name and the human sweat and tears and blood capital that continues to prop up the existence of many of our small and mid-size organizations. You know…”Can’t pay the rent or make payroll…Oh well, I’ll hold off on my check…” Been there, did that.

None of this seems to matter much to very many. For those for whom it does, here’s my piece.

I won’t close, even though I have already overstayed my welcome, by thanking Michael Spring and his staff at the Department of Cultural Affairs for dreaming the dream and continuing to think outside the box, something I find out of town consultants are not used to doing. They mostly work off formulas. Artists and arts administrators reivent the wheel all the time.

I have serious doubts the Herald would ever print even a small portion of this and, no, I’m not looking for an invitation to the “public sessions” that you mention.  I went to scores of those during my years at the helm of an arts organization. Now I think I’ll just stay home and read a good book. Or I’ll go to the next play of Joe Adler’s.

Rafael de Acha, concerned Dade County resident for over thirty five years.


One Comment

  1. Posted February 16, 2008 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I’m posting this late because I’ve only just discovered your blog. I wish I had found it earlier.

    I echo your sentiments; I handled budgets for the remaining Playhouse, and a 600 seat theater for locally produced works is a huge undertaking. I was shocked when the last administration at the Grove signed with IATSE; nothing against the union, but I just couldn’t believe their numbers could support it. And it seems I was right.

    Reviving the Coconut Grove Playhouse needs more than under-researched plans. It needs real leadership and vision, and we haven’t seen that over there in a very, very, long time.

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