A surprising departure in Miami’s theater community

Miami Theater Center founder and artistic director Stephanie Ansin will leave in June
Miami Theater Center founder and artistic director Stephanie Ansin will leave in June

Stephanie Ansin, founder and artistic director of the Miami Theater Center, an innovative and community-oriented Miami Shores theater troupe that became known for groundbreaking children’s theater, is leaving effective June 30. The company has offered little explanation for her departure; a press release quoted Ansin only as saying that “new creative adventures are calling.”

Ansin announced the move in a November meeting at MTC shortly before the election, according to Vivian Marthell, who attended as co-director of O Cinema, which programs films at MTC. Ansin did not say why she was leaving and told staff she would answer questions via email, Marthell said. Reached by phone on Friday, Ansin referred questions to a publicist.

New board president Giselle Kovac, who was introduced at the November meeting, will oversee the reorganization of MTC, according to the press release. “I am looking forward to seeing what we can create,” Kovac said in a statement, which did not offer details.

News of Ansin’s departure, largely lost in the focus on the post-election period, began to emerge last week with a story in Florida Theater Onstage. That article, published Jan. 20, said the release was not on MTC’s website, although on Friday it appeared there, dated Nov. 19.

Miami’s insular theater community seemed startled by the departure of one of its leading figures. “I was surprised, and it was a surprise to a lot of people I know,” Joseph Adler, producing artistic director of Coral Gables-based GableStage, said Friday. “As far as I know she didn’t give a reason — nobody that I know knows the reason [she’s leaving.]

“There’s no real explanation. Word didn’t get out for a while.”

Ansin founded MTC as the Playground Theater in 2004, staging imaginative, beautifully designed original children’s theater that attracted national attention. In 2006 she bought and renovated a dilapidated former movie theater in the Shores, The troupe ran a popular children’s summer camp and regularly bused in thousands of schoolchildren for performances that were often their first exposure to theater.

Later they opened the small Sandbox theater next door for original local theater and performance art. In 2012 Ansin rebranded the Playground as MTC, and began presenting adult shows, including classics such as “Hedda Gabler” and “Three Sisters.”

Ansin had many collaborators, notably resident artist and designer Fernando Calzadilla, whose visually daring stage sets were among the most striking elements of MTC productions. But she was the face, soul and creative force behind the company, writing and directing most of its shows.

Her visibility was heightened by the prominence of her mother, Toby Ansin. One of Miami’s most important and longtime arts patrons, Ansin co-founded Miami City Ballet with founding artistic director Edward Villella. And Kovac, the new board president, is the mother of Sarah Arison, who has largely taken over the patronage role held by her grandmother Lin Arison, co-founder of the New World Symphony and the National YoungArts Foundation.

Adler said the South Florida theater community wished Ansin the best.

“It’s sad to see her go,” he said. “The hope would be that she moves on to other things and that the theater continues.”