Still, McCraney’s thoughts – and, as often as possible, McCraney himself – are drawn to Miami.
“I really wanted to produce a theater festival here, with Shakespeare being the center point,” says the 32-year-old. “We have growing and budding film festivals, Art Basel, a jazz festival, but Miami hasn’t been able to galvanize the same momentum around theater.
“Once the Knight Foundation started giving out its Arts Challenge grants, I tried on my own to get one, but the feedback I got was, ‘No one’s ever heard of you, you’re a kid, you don’t have the structure around you to raise money.’ That taught me how to make this a better package.”
Leveraging his relationships with the RSC, the Public and GableStage, McCraney got his infrastructure, and the project got a $125,000 Knight Foundation grant.
“You need an outside stamp of approval to get Miami people to sit up and pay attention,” McCraney says, laughing. “So I got the RSC and the most well-known Shakespeare producer in the United States. The question now is, who’s gonna be the heavy hitters [with financial support] on the Miami side?”
Dennis Scholl, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for arts, says the new Antony and Cleopatra is exactly the kind of project the foundation wants to back.
“When people like Tarell become internationally known, you want to bring them home and keep them here. You want to give your most talented people a reason to stay,” Scholl says.
“We’re focused on community engagement and artistic excellence, and this project has both. Joe [Adler] never settles and never quits. He’s always aiming for greater heights. And Tarell has a gift for looking at the world around him and interpreting that world in a way that makes you understand somebody else’s existence better.”
The Public’s Eustis explains why a McCraney Antony and Cleopatra set in Haiti is so appealing to him.
“This isn’t an idea you’d lay on top of the play. It’s not a contemporary, lively, anachronistic setting,” he says. “This is something that will allow people to hear this play differently. This brings it closer and makes us understand colonialism.”
He adds that the Public’s ongoing relationship with McCraney is at least as important as collaborating on Antony and Cleopatra.
“Tarell has a deep sense that his work is in service of something much bigger than himself. He’s trying to answer to an artistic imperative. It makes you want to throw your weight behind him,” Eustis says.
“His life will get more complicated, but one still feels the purity of that vision. Not just for his sake, you want to hold him out as an example that you don’t have to sell out to be a success.”