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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

More Theatres On the Move

See John's article on more Theatres on the Move

GableStage at the Biltmore has announced plans to move to Miami's historic Coconut Grove Playhouse, which closed over three years ago. The remaining Playhouse board has been focused on maintaining the 82-year-old theater building and has been faced with the daunting task of digging the company out of more than four million dollars of debt. They chose Joseph Adler and GableStage after a yearlong search to find the right company for the newly envisioned Playhouse. Using $20 million in designated Miami-Dade County capital-improvement funds from a 2004 bond measure, the plan is to replace the 1,100-seat Coconut Grove Playhouse with a 300-seat theater and a "footprint" for a larger 600-seat theater. Both theaters' boards have entered into a memorandum of understanding, with a long-term agreement still to be negotiated. The building's facade would be preserved but might be incorporated into whatever the Aries Development Group (with which the Playhouse board has an agreement) decides to build on the property. Condos, a parking garage, shops and restaurants have all been discussed as potential elements for the property at Main Highway and Charles Avenue. For the Coral Gables based GableStage, the move will necessarily lead to a name change, but it will double the company's current 150-seat space at the Biltmore Hotel, and link its future to a theater with a national reputation.

Michael Spring, director of Miami-Dade County's Department of Cultural Affairs, has been working with the Coconut Grove Playhouse board to try to bring the theater back since it closed in spring 2006. Vincent Post, the current Playhouse board's treasurer, says the debt still stands at "about $4 million." According to Playhouse board chairwoman, Shelly Spivack, the GableStage's proposal was one of four the board received. Spivack says the current board retains responsibility for paying off the debt, and is still determining how to do so before the GableStage board assumes responsibility for the theater. Of the many options for operating the theater, Spring calls GableStage the "smartest" choice and says "What makes the most sense is to invest in a company that is successful and ready to grow." "GableStage does quality work. It has demonstrated a commitment to arts education and cultivating talent, and it has already become a kind of 'big brother' to many smaller theater companies."

It is estimated that GableStage could move into the new Coconut Grove theater between 2012 and 2014. GableStage's board chairman, Attorney Steven Weinger, says that, although the GableStage has no written assurances that it can remain at the Biltmore until the new Playhouse is ready, the hotel's management remains supportive. With Adler, he'll work to enlarge the theater's board, staff and donor base to meet the challenges of running a larger theater operation. Given the economic struggles of Coconut Grove merchants and restaurants without the Playhouse to help attract business, Adler and GableStage plan to present events—plays, family theater, music and comedy—on an outdoor stage in the existing theater's parking lot later this season. Adler says the Coconut Grove events won't be regular GableStage productions but rather things that might appeal to different segments of the audience.

Joseph Adler, whose GableStage company has won the regional Carbonell Awards for best play or best musical every year since 2004, is elated at the prospect of a larger theater with separate rehearsal and shop space. Though he notes GableStage was chosen as the Playhouse's theater operator because of the cutting-edge theater it currently does, he envisions producing more musicals and larger cast plays in the bigger space. "We'll have time to put everything in place and do it right," Adler said. "The Coconut Grove Playhouse is the most recognizable theater name in the Southeast. This can truly be a phoenix rising from the ashes." Adler, who moved with his family from Brooklyn to South Florida when he was in the fifth grade, was an independent theater director, filmmaker and ad man before becoming GableStage's Artistic Director in 1998. "For me, this really is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream," said Adler, who won the second of nine directing Carbonell Awards for staging The Shadow Box at the Coconut Grove Playhouse thirty years ago. "This should be a flagship theater, and one of the leading regional theaters in the United States. We deserve that, and we'll support the actors, directors and playwrights who want to create work in South Florida."

The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local a nd non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs. The GableStage is currently located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $42.50 Friday-Saturday and Sunday matinee, $37.50. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or on line at Their scheduled new residence will be at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, located at 3500 Main Highway in the heart of Coconut Grove, Florida.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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