This afternoon, Florida Stage announced that it was filling for chapter 7 bankruptcy and closing its doors forever.
Florida Stage was the largest theatre company producing only new work in the United States. They were also the largest theatre company in the South Florida Theatre Region. Unfortunately, they had 1.5 million dollars in debt and could not sustain operations.
The South Florida Theatre Community is grieving right now. All day I’ve been having phone calls where with clipped conversations and long periods of silence, reminding me of the awkward conversations at a funeral. After any major arts organization fails, you need to have difficult conversations – but right now we need to grieve.
And a part of grieving is celebration – and there is so much to celebrate in the twenty four year history of Florida Stage.
I first worked at Florida Stage in 2006. I had just moved from Chicago, and I went very quickly to feeling at home at the theatre near the beach in Manalapan. I went from being a box office employee to being a box office employee/dramaturg/lighting technician.
From the beginning, I was welcomed into a larger family. Family was always at the heart of Florida Stage; they opened up their hearts right away. If you didn’t have a place for Thanksgiving, you were always welcome to the Florida Stage Thanksgiving at Nan’s house. Birthdays were a big deal, even for part time box office employees. While there were the normal politics that can happen in any workplace, employees were treated like family. On facebook, it feels like most status updates are about mourning that loss that sense of community.
But Florida Stage was also very mission driven. They only produced new work, and instead of allowing plays to live in development hell; they were focused on production. Florida Stage was a founding member of the National New Play Network, and dedicated to not only first, but second and third productions of work that had not been seen in New York. They developed an audience that thirsted for unknown plays by unknown playwrights. South Florida still has some theatres dedicated to new work, but will no longer have any theatres solely dedicated to that purpose.
And what I will miss the most about Florida Stage is their 1st Stage New Play Festival. I’ve dramaturged all five of the Festivals, and it was one of the two things I looked forward to the most every year. It was always a liminal experience – Florida Stage brought down six playwrights each year to workshop and read a new piece. The first 1st Stage was a bacchanalia of new ideas and excitement about the field of new play development. I met some wonderful playwrights from that Festival, and some wonderful work first was read there. The exchange of ideas at the constant flow of parties caused Steven Dietz to quip, “Florida Stage, more parties than plays” – but it was the equivalent what 2amt has become for me off the internet. A bunch of smart, dedicated people in a room, talking about what’s next for new plays, over wine and delicious food. It pains me that there won’t be another 1st Stage.
This loss is really weighing heavily on me and my community. I know that we need to band together and work to ensure that the rest of the community won’t suffer. As the executive director of the South Florida Theatre League, I’m going to do what I can to maintain that sense of family in this community. But for now we need to grieve and share our stories and love for this theatre company that has played such a large role in the South Florida Theatre community.