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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Decisions, decisions, about the Grove Playhouse

I've been reading different articles about the Coconut Grove Playhouse and the different reasoning for having 300 and/or 700 seat theaters as part of the plan. Some make sense, some don't. My feeling is that if you have more seats, you will draw larger productions, but people who are in the business claim it's hard to fill those seats, no matter what the production is.

Others are concerned about traffic, the more seats, the more traffic. Here are the current plans and ideas.

In the early days of the Arscht Center, I ordered 15 tickets for "Wicked." I have a big family and in one fell swoop, I got all my Christmas shopping done.  I had seen the play twice in New York and once at the Broward Performing Arts Center and thought the tickets would make excellent Christmas gifts. At that period, around 2005-2008, I think, I was giving play and musical tickets as gifts often, and "Wicked" seemed to be the cream of the crop. I was obsessed with "Wicked." For a few years I was Elphaba for Halloween.

The problem with "Wicked" in the Arscht Center though, was that even though I spared no expense, the seats were terrible. They were the last row before the top back row. The row behind us had built-in binoculars! I was mortified. But what I realized that the theater was not meant for plays. Having seen the play before, I knew what was missing - the top of the proscenium blocked so much of the scenery. Not good. And when Elphaba flies, we were unable to enjoy that effect because our seats were so high that it didn't appear as if she was lifting.

Since 2003, The Gershwin Theater in New York, has been the home of "Wicked." It has 1933 seats. 

So I do know that seating is crucial. Maybe less is more, although 700 seats is nothing in comparison with the Gershwin Theater and the Arsht Center seats, which I looked up on their website.

There are three main venues at the Arsht Center:

Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House which seats 2,400

John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall
The concert hall seats 2,200. Its stage extends into the audience and there is seating behind the stage for 200 additional spectators or for a chorus. The orchestra level can be transformed into a "Grand Ballroom" with a festival floor configuration for dining and dancing for up to 850 people. The floor is installed over the seats.

Carnival Studio Theater
A flexible black-box space designed for up to 300 seats.

In addition, there are two smaller multi-purpose venues:
Peacock Rehearsal Studio holds 270 people.

Parker and Vann Thomson Plaza for the Arts, an outdoor social and performance space linking the two main houses across Biscayne Blvd.

I'm not sure which theater we were in for "Wicked," I'm guessing the 2200 seat Knight Concert Hall. I looked at the seating charts and that looks like the theater. I don't think a concert hall is the proper place for a play or musical. Perhaps a smaller theater would have made the experience better since so many were crammed into a theater not made for plays. And to this day, I have never been back to the Arsht due to that bad experience.

I've been to many plays in New York. I recently saw "Fully Committed" with Jesse Tyler Ferguson at the Lyceum Theatre which is oldest continually operating legitimate theater, built in 1903. The interior is incredible. It has 922 seats total. Perfect. I Instagrammed this picture of the stage before the performance. It felt intimate and yet held many. Jesse sort of interacted with people in the front rows and when a guy's phone rang who was seated in the audience, he heard it and sort of "interacted" with that guy. What I'm trying to say is that it was intimate, even though there were over 900 seats.

Oddly enough, I get premonitions sometimes, and before the play started, I told my cousin who was seated next to me, that the guy next to her would have his phone ring during the performance. I just felt that for some reason. And I also told her that people in the front rows would get spat on by Jesse. We were in the third row, I think. For some reason, I saw him (in my head) spitting as he talked. And later, during the performance, both things happened! He made a joke of both - the phone ringing and the spitting - when they happened.

At that same period, maybe a week later, on July 3, I saw Melissa Etheridge in a one woman show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, which reminded me so much of the Grove Playhouse, at it was a small, local theater in the center of the village on Main Street in this small Long Island, NY town. In 1996, local residents saved the theater from being demolished. They raised the money to buy the old movie house, built in 1932, and then, raised the money to renovate it. The venue has 425 seats and was intimate, yet did not feel cramped. The concert was sold out and I dare say that if it was a larger venue, they would have filled that up. I think it's the quality of the performance that brings people in. Melissa could easily fill a 700 seat Coconut Grove Playhouse.

A bunch of us shopped and ate on Main Street, hung out at local bars, and then walked down the block and watched fireworks, which brings out most of the Hamptons communities and then on the same street, went to see Melissa at the Performing Arts Center. So much of what the Grove could be. We spent all this time (and money) there in the village, because we had tickets for Melissa that night, and I can easily see people doing that here in the Grove.

By the way, I didn't really want to go to the Melissa Etheridge concert. I wasn't not a fan, but I wasn't a big fan either. I was given a ticket as a gift and there were a bunch of us including some cousins and also friends, so I was sort of forced into going. But I am so glad I went. The fact that it was a one-woman show was incredible. She interacted with the audience the whole time, she played about 10 different guitars along with other instruments and the 425 seats felt like 50 seats, like it was just a performance for a few of us. So I think the feeling of intimacy is what you make it to be.  Her voice was on fleek (I always wanted to say that) and I stalked her at the backstage door after the performance because I was so impressed, but didn't get to see her. I did get a picture with Jesse though after "Fully Committed." 

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Blogger Mark Weiser said...

Jimmy Buffet's "Don't Stop The Carnival" was the Coconut Grove Playhouse's last production (I think).
I heard a lot of back-of-house complaining then, that the house was way too small for what they were trying to do,
and that applied to many more shows that were never able to be produced there. I thought they needed a Bigger theatre.

December 18, 2016 8:07 PM  
Blogger Marcelo Salup said...

As a Coral Gables resident, I really don’t care what happens with the Playhouse. However, as a Miami-Dade resident, I really cringe to see public tax support for a venture that has failed time and again and which is only attractive to a few.

“Culture” has changed. Live theater is no longer relevant to 99.9% of Miami Dade. $20 million are going to be wasted when, mismanagement, unrealistic productions and lack of support make the playhouse fail again a year after it re-opens.

Rather than waste $20 million why not use the money to build a completely different cultural center with flexible spaces so that it can hold musical events, plays, art exhibits and other broader appealing events?

Build a four story structure and you would have an ideal mix:

• A ground floor for events and a café that can serve as a community magnet
• A second floor with a tech incubator
• A third story with shared office space
• A fourth floor with artist galleries and exhibitor space

Stop clinging to a past that never existed –the playhouse was a failure time after time—and embrace new concepts

December 20, 2016 8:44 AM  
Blogger Mark Weiser said...

When I'm going past 3500 Main Highway I want to see "The Coconut Grove Playhouse: (Original Facade).
After that, a community cultural center utilizing as much of the original architectural details,
possibly in new ways & employing major historical references could be a great asset to Miami & The Grove.

December 20, 2016 1:28 PM  
Blogger Marcelo Salup said...

When thinking about a community, you need to think beyond "I want to see". What we want as individuals is secondary.

Old structures, especially old, beat up, neglected structures like the playhouse are not only way more expensive to rebuild and maintain, they also have problems continually (leaks, electrical...)

Modern doesn't have to mean ugly and there are tons of architectural styles that would fit the Grove perfectly.

Personally, I think that the playhouse is "classic" only in a place like Miami, which has no history to speak of. It's a fairly boring piece of architecture if you look at it objectively. If given a choice, I would hire Ken Treister (Mayfair) or someone like him to have a truly unique building in that corner.

December 20, 2016 4:15 PM  
Blogger reid prevatt said...

Miami does have history just a young town. A very one sided statement there. Some great pioneers put up with the misquotes no ice and bad roads, and long travel. My favorite may be Carl fisher. He was neat. Also Ocean drive they kind of kept, thank god for that move.

December 22, 2016 2:55 PM  

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