Theater is in their blood, that’s how husband and wife John and Maria Rodaz would describe their road to starting Area Stage Company in 1989, making it one of Miami’s longest running theater groups.
Their award-winning professional theater company has staged provocative, world-class productions for nearly three decades. Area Stage originated in a 50-seat theater on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach in 1989, as one of the pioneers of the Miami arts community that surged in the 1980s on Lincoln Road, when the once high-end shopping area had become a dilapidated strip of empty storefronts. We caught up with Maria to ask her about this history.
Artburst: Tell us how you came to be at your current location; and the history of how your productions and programs have developed?
Maria Rodaz: After 10 years of success on Lincoln Road as one of the key players in the resurgence of the area, ASC faced skyrocketing expenses and was forced to give up the Miami Beach home. In November 2008, [we] moved into the Riviera Theatre in Coral Gables, which was a dream come true and an opportunity for the company to reinvent itself once again. In this venue, ASC, with a reimagined mission and vision, established a professional-level conservatory program in addition to maintaining a full season of professional productions, concerts, and community events.
The Conservatory Program offers professional training for young actors, singers, and dancers, ages five and up, developing the next generation of theater artists and preparing them for higher education performing arts programs, or a professional career. ASC Conservatory participants have performed at The World, the only private residential community-at-sea where residents travel the globe without ever leaving home.
In 2015, a collaboration with Miami Music Project resulted in the world premiere of “The Rise of the Titans,” written by Associate Artistic Director Giancarlo Rodaz, which was presented for free to students at the Arsht Center. In March 2016, ASC students performed at the TedTx Youth at the Arsht Center. That same year, “The Ballad of Janis Mathews” and “The Dodo Scouts” which world-premiered at the Area Stage Company, was nominated by Broadwayworld.com as The Best New Work in New Jersey, for the Hoboken Children's Theatre production.
Artburst: What about community partnerships and accolades for your company?
Maria Rodaz: ASC has established strategic partnerships that allow for the continued growth of the organization. They include the International Studies Preparatory Academy, Pride Academy, and Inclusion Theater Project (ITP) in the South Florida community to promote understanding and appreciation of the artistic abilities of individuals with special needs. Classes and opportunities expand further to include outreach performances and individualized coaching.
ASC productions have earned more than 30 Carbonell Award nominations, numerous recognitions as the New Times "Best Of," among many others enjoying national recognition on WLRN, CNN, CNN International, Univision, Telemundo and most notably being the only theater company ever on ABC’s “Nightline with Ted Koppel.” In 2014, the program earned the REMY AWARD for Outstanding Contributions to Children's Theatre.
Artburst: How did you arrive at starting Area Stage? What were your beginnings in theater up until this point?
Maria Rodaz: John and I developed an interest in theater since a very early age. I grew up in Ecuador and he grew up in Miami, and we went to New York around the same time, 1980, where we attended college. He graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and I attended Columbia University and Kean University until 1983, when I had to go back to Ecuador.
Artburst: When did you first know you wanted to work in theater?
Maria Rodaz: Both of us knew this is what we wanted to do when we grew up.
Scene from "Octoroon" which premieres Sept. 24. (Photo courtesy of Area Stage
Artburst: What are the most memorable productions you've done?
Maria Rodaz: Throughout its history, Area Stage has produced numerous world-premieres. The most memorable have been “Passages: Stories of the Cuban Balseros” by Loretta Greco; “Sleepwalkers” by Jorge I. Cortinas; and “Arrivals and Departures” by Rogelio Martinez, both starring Miami’s own Oscar Isaac, the Oscar-nominated actor. Others include “Agua Ardiente” by Michael Garces; the Southeastern premiere of “Rum and Coke,” written and performed by Carmen Pelaez; the bilingual U.S. premieres of “Kvetch” by Stephen Berkoff and “Three Goodmen”by Andrea Bauab. Most recently, we are particularly proud of “The Nether” by Jennifer Haley and “Circle MirrorTransformation” by Annie Baker.
We are currently producing the award-winning play by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins “An Octoroon,” which is probably one of the most challenging plays we’ve done in our production history.
Artburst: Any funny stories of your years in theater? Crazy backstage antics or last-minute frantic moments?
Maria Rodaz: The opening week of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” after the set was finished, a fire sprinkler busted inside the theater for 45 minutes. The pressure was so strong that it reached half of the house and the whole set. Because it was broken the firefighters could not shut it off and it was really sad to see. Thankfully we rallied and were able to open the play the following week, we laugh about it now as we remember how futile our efforts to control the water were.
Artburst: What is in the future for Area Stage in the next few years?
Maria Rodaz: To continue to provide our community with quality programming and meaningful theater and performing arts experiences. We strive to continue offering world-class theater that encompasses the dynamic and diverse South Florida community through professional productions, a vibrant conservatory program and new outreach and engagement programming, keeping inclusion at the forefront of the mission.
Area Stage Co. opens “An Octoroon” on Sept. 24 and the play runs through Oct. 8., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m.