Barry Joseph William Steinman was a theater professional and arts administrator whose influence in South Florida was vast yet unobtrusive.
After trading the snow-bound winters of his native Minnesota for the perpetual summer of South Florida, Steinman became a driving force in fostering a sense of community among the region’s theater professionals. During his long career, he managed the Coconut Grove Playhouse, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, and the Division of Arts and Culture within Miami-Dade County’s Parks and Recreation Department. He was founding chairman of the Theatre League of South Florida, directed shows at multiple theater companies, and spent six years producing and directing the annual Carbonell Awards.
He did all of that and more, becoming a reliable, much-admired leader who didn’t have to raise his melifluous, well-trained voice to get things done.
Steinman passed away at 69 on Dec. 16 after a long battle with cancer. He’ll be remembered during a celebration of his life at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at GableStage, where artistic director Joseph Adler recalls his friend as “somebody who forged ties among us.”
When Steinman arrived in South Florida to take a job as general manager at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1979, Adler says, “there wasn’t a sense of community. He attended every theater and got to know everyone....He was one of those all-around theater people. He directed and produced. He was always ready to share his ideas and expertise. He was a real mensch.”
Carbonell winner Michael McKeever was just beginning his prolific career as a playwright when Steinman directed three of his early plays: 37 Postcards and Sexy and Miggs at New Theatre, New Orleans Story at the Key West Theatre Festival. He’s the first to admit he was still finding his way as a writer when Steinman helped make New Orleans Story better.
“I was clueless. I had no idea how to stage it,” says McKeever, who appreciated Steinman’s skills at clarifying a script. “Barry sat down with a note pad, a jazz CD, a glass of Scotch and a cigarette. He knew how to marry the elements so that it was magic. It became the hit of the festival.”
Born Nov. 12, 1944, in Duluth, Minn., Steinman earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota in 1968, and by the following year was serving as producing artistic director for the State Theatre of West Virginia in Charleston. After a few years, he gave New York a try, working for producer Robert Stigwood, touring the country with Godspell and Ain’t Misbehavin’. But by 1979 he landed in South Florida, working at the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse first as general manager, then as managing director.
It was at the now-shuttered playhouse that Steinman forged many of his lasting friendships.
“I met him the day he came to the playhouse. We went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant and clicked over sauce so hot we had tears running down our faces,” says Terri Schermer, the theater’s former company manager. “He was a very intelligent, interesting, sweet, caring man. I hear he was a terrible actor, but he was a terrific director. He knew everything about the theater. He loved it. He lived it.”
For City Theatre co-founder and literary manager Susan Westfall, Steinman was a friend and trusted advisor for decades. She met him when he hired her to work in public relations at the playhouse, and he closed out his career as her company’s executive director after staging a number of plays for City’s annual Summer Shorts festival.
“Any playwright, actor, director or producer who worked with Barry worked with someone who was knowledgeable, professional, creative and had taste. He was a hugely dignified man,” says Westfall.
Steinman also directed several full-length plays at New Theatre, then based in Coral Gables. Founder and longtime artistic director Rafael de Acha, now a teacher and critic in Cincinnati, remembers Steinman as the Theatre League’s “fearless leader” and as a director who always delivered.
“I’d always hire him back,” de Acha says. “He was very easy to work with. He came in prepared and open. He was a producer’s dream.”
Jack Kardys, director of Miami-Dade’s Parks and Recreation department, was Steinman’s boss when he ran Miami-Dade County Auditorium, later promoting him to head of the department’s Division of Arts and Culture. He praises the maturity and business-savvy style Steinman brought to his leadership jobs, a style that earned him loyalty and love from those who worked for him.
“He just had a big heart. He thought highly of his workers and staff; they were all his peers. You could talk to him about anything. He should be admired by anyone who works as a supervisor. He was a gentle but firm man,” Kardys says.
Steinman once described himself this way: “I learned, through experience and the love of my family and friends, my place in this world: as a nurturer, a stable influence, an artist and a mensch.”
He is survived by his sister, Susan Johnson of Minneapolis, and brother, Duncan Steinman of Duluth, as well as several nieces and nephews. His friends and family ask that donations be made in his name to City Theatre (www.citytheatre.com) to support the Barry Steinman Memorial Theatre Management Internship or to GableStage (www.gablestage.org).