Miami-Dade County

Mother-daughter duo the Ansins, behind Miami City Ballet and Miami Theater Center, elevate S. Fla. arts

Toby Lerner Ansin, co-founder of Miami City Ballet and preparing for its 30th anniversary season, is on daughter Stephanie Lerner Ansin’s turf inside the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.

Stephanie, founder and artistic director of the all-ages theater, is in her 10th season opener, Everybody Drinks the Same Water, a medieval murder mystery set in 13th century Spain that she is directing and co-wrote with Fernando Calzadilla.

To suggest this mother-daughter duo has filled their smartphones’ appointment apps to capacity would not be an understatement.

Openings. Closings. Meetings. Fund-raising. Rehearsals. Mom is on the advisory board of daughter’s theater, and daughter laughs when she reveals her biggest challenge:

“I can’t schedule an opening when there’s a ballet opening,” Stephanie says.

“She’s very good about that,” Toby nods.

Toby recognized Stephanie’s artistic leanings at an early age, she says. “It really started with my mother, who was a theater person. My mother would come home from all the shows that opened in Boston, and my brother and I would put on the records and act out all the parts. Then, when Stephanie came along, she went to a camp and she was studying piano but they put her in a show called Big River and she played the father …”

“The alcoholic father,” Stephanie, 42, interjects.

“What was so amazing is that she stayed in character,” said Toby, 73, still enchanted by the memory. “So I suggested when she went back to Ransom, she was in middle school, that she should go out for the acting club, and she promptly ended up getting leading roles. It was not a huge surprise that when she went to college she majored in acting.”

Stephanie, born to Toby and her ex-husband, Edmund Ansin, owner of WSVN-7, would follow her mother around town and tape fliers onto telephone poles for the fine arts events Toby ran in a pre-Internet world.

“I was here as she created Miami City Ballet, so I spent a lot of time in rehearsals and performances, and that affected me a lot,” Stephanie says. The ballet dancers’ expressive stage movements shaped the Columbia University grad’s vision as an actress-writer who directs. “It’s really important to me that the action is expressed physically and not just through the words.”

There’s a lesson to be learned from this pair, says a family friend, South Florida press agent Charlie Cinnamon. “Sensitivity is the key to their remarkable relationship.”

Mom, too, has learned from her daughter.

“I’m in awe of what Stephanie does,” Toby says. “What I do is more administrative. My talent was instinctively knowing what people could do that I could not do. It has been fascinating for me to learn the myriad details that go into a theatrical production. Ultimately, what I learned was that I have a very talented daughter and I feel very fortunate.”

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