Miami Made, the annual festival of works-in-progress by South Florida artists, kicks off this week with a faux reality TV experience at the Rivera South Beach Hotel. Three very different plays — a dark one about a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, a comedy about the truths served up at elegant dinner parties, and a darkly comic play about brothers diagnosed with terminal cancer — will get staged readings featuring some of the region’s finest actors. And a dance piece incorporating visual art (dozens of carved canaries), singing, text and a marching band’s drum line is also among the week’s free-to-all offerings.
Eclectic? For sure. But so are the talents of the artists involved.
Created in 2005 as a commissioning program by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami Made became a week-long showcase of homegrown performing arts in 2009.
“It’s our hope that the works in progress will come back as full-length works in the future. This is another step on the path to full production,” says Scott Shiller, the Arsht’s executive vice president. “The simple act of booking a public workshop or reading encourages the artists. They have a deadline. This gets them to a place where their work can be presented.”
This year’s performers, presenters and playwrights have all had their work presented at the Arsht before. Miami Made begins with the off-site Extended Stay, a piece by The Project [Theatre], creators of last year’s Beer & Cigarettes. Taking place at 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Riviera South Beach, Extended Stay has a loose script, a large cast and plenty of improvisation. Actors play the hotel staff, guests and a reality show camera crew, and the anything-can-happen feeling is exactly what artistic director David Hemphill and his collaborators are shooting for.
“We’re always in workshop mode during performances. The piece gets to evolve in front of an audience,” Hemphill says. “When you get to the property, the experience begins. You won’t know who’s an actor and who isn’t. It should feel like you’re coming to a hot set.”
Christopher Demos-Brown, one of the founders of the Arsht-based Zoetic Stage, gets the first play reading at this year’s Miami Made. Fear Up Harsh, which will be read in the Arsht’s Carnival Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, features Todd Allen Durkin, Karen Stephens, Arielle Hoffman and Stephen G. Anthony, with direction by Stuart Meltzer, Zoetic artistic director. The play focuses on two soldiers who served together in Iraq, one winning the Medal of Honor. The play has been brewing for six years or so, and Demos-Brown is interested in seeing how its unusual structure works for the cast and audience.
“There are two threads going on at the same time. One soldier visits the other, and that’s interspersed with the story of the first one winning the Medal of Honor. One story runs backwards and the other runs forward,” he says.
Meltzer is also the author of Dinner Parties (Ironic and Themed), which will get a reading at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Carnival. Margaret M. Ledford is directing Nicholas Richberg, Amy McKenna, Chaz Mena, Gregg Weiner, Michael McKeever and Lindsey Forgey in the piece, and since Meltzer will be busy with Demos-Brown’s play, he’s planning to let Ledford and the cast put the reading together.
“I had hoped to really work on the script when I was directing in Key West, but I got so busy that the play moved to the back burner. Well, really, it wasn’t even on the stove,” Meltzer says, laughing. “The play happens around a table, with three couples, over the course of a year. You see how the relationships change or don’t. ...You see them eating a different course at each meal, and the meals are French, German and Spanish.”
The last was inspired by one disastrous dish Meltzer fixed for a dinner he hosted with his partner and fellow playwright, McKeever: “It was a smoked rabbit paella, and it was a fiasco.”
The most elaborate piece in this year’s Miami Made comes from choreographer Letty Bassart, whose Good, God, Go was done in a 20-minute sample version at the 2010 festival. Getting a pair of performances at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Carnival, the piece involves artists in multiple disciplines: dancers Lydia Bittner-Baird, Joanne Barrett, Ivy Bennett, Liony Garcia and Ilana Reynolds; Spanish dancers Cristina Masdueno and Leandra la Greca; animator-illustrator Carmen Cothern; actor Achim Nowak; musical advisor Gema Corredera; sculptor Laura Luna, and the drum line from the Hialeah Senior High marching band.
“I was interested in exploring choreographically how to create shared energy in a space with an audience,” says Bassart, who has also won a Knight Arts Challenge grant. “When you have a drum line, it’s almost impossible not to move.”
Bassart, like her fellow Miami Made artists, appreciates the opportunity and meaning of an Arsht showcase for her work.
“It shows faith in the work itself, and also support for local artists. It’s so important that we are being supported alongside the artists who are being brought in. That pairing creates a robust situation,” she says.
The final Miami Made event is a staged reading of the play Two-Merz, a collaborative script by Mark Della Ventura, Gabriel Hammad and David Michael Sirois. All three actor-playwrights will appear in the Alliance Theatre Lab-Arsht Center prodution of Sirois’ Brothers Beckett at the Carnival March 7-24, but first they’ll get a reading of their new dark comedy at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Carnival. They’re all in the reading cast, along with Laura Turnbull, Arielle Hoffman and Julie Daniels.
How do three guys write a play together?
“We’re still figuring that out ourselves,” Della Ventura says. “We’ve always workshopped each other’s plays. We sit in a room and brainstorm. We throw out ideas and laugh.”
Though the play’s subject — terminal cancer — doesn’t sound like a laugh riot, Sirois points out that he has written comedies involving codependency, racism and abortion, among other serious subjects.
“Mark and I use funny people to get into serious subjects. It’s second nature for us to draw out the humor. And once you get the audience on your side, you can do almost anything you want,” he says.
You can see for yourself what these South Florida artists have cooked up without spending a penny. Everything at Miami Made is free. For Extended Stay, just show up; for the others, line up at the Arsht box office the day of each performance to pick up a free ticket.
The come-one-come-all invitation to see what Miami artists are making underscores what Demos-Brown says about Shiller: “He wants to make the Arsht more than a hotel for touring art.”