Michel Hausmann believed so deeply in the potential for live theater on Miami Beach, he put almost all of the money from the sale of his New York apartment into an original play and reserved the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road for six weeks in January 2016. Everyone told him he was crazy but he saw the potential. After the closing of the Coconut Grove Playhouse he said, “Miami was the only metropolis without a major theater.”
Hausmann also understands “the role of theater in conversations we are having as a society” and he had a hunch Miami Beach was ready for what he calls “works that reflect the city we live in”. Written and directed by Hausmann, that first play – The Golem of Havana – continuously sold out. “There were scalpers outside selling tickets at a profit for theater,” he said. “It was a beautiful experience to have done that.”
“It’s the story of a Jewish farmer in Cuba just before the Revolution. I can’t imagine a more Miami story than that.” Hausmann told his own story of how he co-founded and became the Artistic Director for Miami New Drama to the Thursday Morning Breakfast Group this week. (Photo above)
Following his initial success, he said, “I recognized I had political capital in my hands that was not going to last for long.” He contacted Miami Beach Commissioner Micky Steinberg and said, “Give me the Colony Theater to manage. I expected her to laugh but she said ‘I was thinking the same thing.’”
Steinberg said when she saw The Golem of Havana, “I knew there was something special there … [my] vision – and I think Michel shares this vision – was to transform the Colony from an underused venue into a world class cultural center.”
Steinberg's colleagues on the Commission agreed and they voted to give Miami New Drama a small subsidy to manage the Colony for a two-year pilot. In the first year, the theater company has received rave reviews for Terror and its production of Our Town which reflected Miami’s diverse culture.
Miami New Drama will feature new works and original adaptations of works in the coming few months. “I am not interested in doing what was popular in New York last year,” he said. “I want New York to do what Miami was doing last year.”
His goal is to “tell stories that include everyone” and “represent what America might look like in 20-30 years.”
“I believe the theater is about having a conversation with the community … this is a fantastic moment to create something magical.”
In January, Miami New Drama will stage The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a satire about race, class, and cultural stereotypes written ten years ago. Hausmann said, “If you had to write a play about what was going on in America right now, this is it.” The play takes place in a wrestling ring and, to bring the audience in, Hausmann says the stage will be extended to create the ring. “I don’t want quiet audiences,” he said. “I want participatory audiences.”
In February, Queen of Basel, will premiere. A modern adaptation of Miss Julie, the play’s action takes place during Art Basel. Hausmann commissioned Hilary Bettis of the FX hit The Americans to put a unique Miami Beach spin on a work he describes as “originally extremely misogynistic”. He told her to write an adaptation “that will have [author August] Strindberg rolling in his grave”.
Hausmann learned this week that Miami New Drama is the recipient of a second Knight Foundation Challenge Grant for $150,000 to create a stage adaptation of Cocaine Cowboys.
Steinberg says Miami New Drama has become “one of those things that just adds that extra level of vibrancy to our city.”
She says people can now visit Lincoln Road, have a bite to eat, and then go to the theater. “I’m sure our businesses are happy to have the area activated. It brings more people to the area.”
Terror, which let the audience decide the verdict of a trial onstage, was one display of Hausmann’s brand of interactive theater. Steinberg said, “Everybody was talking about it for weeks after.” Using Our Town as an example, she said, “He makes it current. He adds a layer of what’s happening today, of the cultural climate of today.”
“[The Colony] is a beautiful theater and that theater should not be underutilized,” she said. “With all we do with Art Basel, to add that additional cultural component, I think that further legitimizes us as a city.”
When it’s time to discuss a longer-term arrangement as the pilot program nears its end, Steinberg said, “I’m looking forward to seeing what they bring back to us.”
For more information on The Colony Theater, Miami New Drama, and the upcoming schedule, click here.
Miami New Drama's Michel Hausmann:
taking a risk on live theater in miami beach