Since 2010, Zoetic Stage has been presenting daring, award-winning productions garnering them widespread respect in the Miami theatre community. Award-winning because they’ve been racking up the Carbonell Awards for several years now. Calling the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts their home base since its start is beyond thrilling for founders Stuart Meltzer and Michael McKeever. Meltzer spoke to Artburst about the Zoetic journey from their start in 2010 to now.
Artburst: How did Zoetic first get conceptualized and actually begin?
Meltzer: In 2009, I was looking to start a theater company to fill in what I thought was missing in the South Florida landscape. I wanted to create a company where new work could be created and nurtured and a place where we could explore classics in a daring, contemporary way. Along with my partner, playwright Michael McKeever, we approached our good friends, playwright Christopher Demos Brown and his wife Stephanie, and Kerry Shiller. The five of us believed that if you can dream it, you can do it. Originally we were going to call Zoetic Stage the Zeitgeist Theatre Company, but I was looking in the dictionary with Michael and we came across the word zoetic, which means pertaining to life. It was perfect!
How has the company evolved since the beginning?
Our first season had one show and now we produce four. I serve as artistic director, Nicholas Richberg serves as managing director and McKeever serves as marketing director, and we have an extraordinary Board of Directors. We also have an incredible team at the Arsht Center, where we have made our home since the beginning. Zoetic Stage also has a Young Artist Program, which gives college students an opportunity to work alongside theater professionals. Our Young Artists perform, understudy and work with our technical team. It is a fantastic opportunity for them to experience the professional environment and for us to make a connection with the next generation of theater artists. We partner with New World School of the Arts and University of Miami, and both schools have incredible students who are bright, talented and ready.
How did it feel to have the Arsht Center be your home base?
Early on, we looked all over South Florida for the right home. At that time, I didn’t think we'd be able to produce at the Arsht Center because we were such a young company. If it hadn't been for Scott Shiller, executive vice president of the Arsht Center at the time, taking a chance on us, who knows where we would have ended up. I love it at the Arsht Center and it has been a truly wonderful partnership.
Over the years, what productions were the most challenging to bring to the stage?
We have produced eight world premiere plays and they are always challenging. Not only do they present the demand of producing a play in a fairly limited time, but you also have the challenges of a developing piece that is evolving, sometimes right up to opening night. We've also produced three Stephen Sondheim musicals that were extremely challenging and highly complex. Our production of “Sunday in the Park with George” was particularly challenging. This show incorporated live animation that was used to enhance moments on stage and define time and place. That has been our largest production to date.
I know Zoetic has been awarded many Carbonell awards. How does that recognition feel?
Of course it is wonderful being recognized for your work. This community is so vast and creative, it is an honor to be a part of it. It may sound cliche, but our focus is always on the work and on bringing exciting theatrical experiences to South Florida.
"The Caretaker" presented by Zoetic Stage.
What are you most proud of with regards to Zoetic Stage?
I am proud of bringing people together and sparking conversations, ideas, laughter and thought. That is my job and I am very humbled to do it.
What is in the future for you and Zoetic Stage? How do the next few seasons look?
We are so excited for our 2017/18 season. We kick things off in the fall with the Pulitzer-winning play about brotherhood and survival “Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks. In January, we open the world premiere of Christopher Demos Brown's satirical comedy “Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts”about the crude ways capitalism values human life after a great tragedy. Chris' play is smart, visceral and really, really funny. In March we present the hilarious and heartwarming play “Dancing Lesson”by Mark St. Germain. This is a beautiful play about acceptance and needing other people that also shines a light on the struggles of an autistic adult learning to connect.
We close our season with the South Florida premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home” by Lisa Kron and Jeanie Tesori, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Arguably, “Fun Home” is one of the best new musicals of the decade. The musical tells the story of a young woman’s journey into adulthood, her relationship with her very complicated father, and the role self-acceptance plays in both their lives. It’s a wonderful story of seeing your parents through adult eyes. I think this is going to be one hell of a season and I look forward to bringing these stories to life.
How do you feel about the state of theater in Miami?
It is a very exciting time to be in Miami if you love the theater. You can go all over this town to see vibrant, engaging stories being told. I think Miami is ripe for even more companies, and more new voices. There is also amazing theater happening at New World School of the Arts and the University of Miami. I am on the faculty at New World School of the Arts. They are two incredible programs that put up terrific work, and it’s great to see the next generation in action. The best ways to ensure a future for theater in Miami is to subscribe to companies whose work you enjoy, take risks with unknown plays, and if you’re privileged to be able to, provide financial support beyond the cost of tickets. As Sondheim wrote, “Art isn’t easy,” and our supporters are an essential part of everything we do.