Theater Profile: Meet Miami Theater Center
The inspiration to become involved in theater came early for Stephanie Ansin, founder and artistic director of Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores. As a graduate student at Columbia University working toward her MFA in Theater Directing, one of her assignments was to design a theater company
The class was taught by Barry Grove, executive producer of the Manhattan Theatre Club and for the assignment she was paired with a theater management student. They were tasked with creating the theater’s history, devising a five-year plan, creating a board of directors, write a mock grant for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and design special events
“We created The PlayGround Theatre for Young Audiences in Miami, a professional company that creates world-premiere adaptations of children’s literature from around the world,” said Ansin. “I didn’t intend to make the company a reality, but several years later, when I was pregnant with my daughter, we decided to move to Miami to be near my parents and siblings as well as open The PlayGround Theatre.”
The first show at PlayGround Theatre, a well-loved Brazilian play for young audiences, “Pluft, The Little Ghost” by Maria Clara Machado, premiered in April 2005. They continued to focus on creating original shows for young audiences for the first few years.
In 2012, they rebranded the company Miami Theater Center to expand the family of artists and audiences they served. They continue offering robust programming and educational opportunities for young people, but now also produce and present work for mature audiences.
Stephanie Ansin in front of the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.
South Florida’s diverse community allows for similarly diverse programming, resulting in partnerships with O Cinema and their resident theater company Mad Cat Theatre. They bring new audiences to the venue and in turn, MTC shares their resources like state-of-the-art equipment, marketing and PR initiatives and highly-skilled technical staff. The most recent addition is a partnership with Comic Cure: Comedy for a Cause, which began in the summer.
Their children’s programming includes winter and spring break plus summer camps. In all three, the students work with teaching artists to create and perform original musicals. Additionally, MTC staff train the teaching artists to develop lesson plans they then take into schools as pre- and post-showworkshops that enhance students’ experience of the performances they see at MTC.
Ansin has a talented staff in resident artist Fernando Calzadilla and Executive Director and Producer Elaiza Irizarry. She collaborates with Calzadilla to create shows; she writes the dialogue and he designs the sets, costumes and lighting. She also directs the actors and makes sure all aspects of a production support their work. They both contribute ideas about every element.
“Fernando is a true genius and a Renaissance man. He’s a scholar, an artist and an educator. I feel truly blessed to know him and collaborate with him,” Ansin said. “Elaiza is incredibly gifted at making sure we have everything we need to turn our creative visions into reality.”
One of Ansin and Calzadilla’s latest creations is “Everybody Drinks the Same Water,” a show for multigenerational audiences that takes place in 13th century Córdoba, Spain when Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together in relative harmony.
“Luciano Stazzone wrote gorgeous original music for the show, and Isabel Palacios, a specialist in music from that time and place, also contributed to the score,” Ansin said.
They are producing three brand new shows by Hispanic women in their black box studio, The SandBox, as well as engaging two Native American theater artists, Larissa FastHorse and Ty Defoe,to help them develop relationships with indigenous people living in South Florida.
“Larissa & Ty will return in January to lead a one-day playwriting workshop for indigenous people and a one-week workshop for both indigenous and non-indigenous people,” said Ansin. The work with the Yawanawá and with Larissa & Ty are both part of Indigenous Allies, a project receiving support from a National Endowment for the Arts ArtWorks grant.
All this tireless work in the arts and inspiration needed for running a successful theatrical venue comes from Ansin’s mother, Toby Ansin, founder of the Miami City Ballet. She encouraged her daughter to “listen to my heart, trust my instincts, and follow my passion. She has always believed in me. That has given me a lot of strength.”
She exposed Stephanie to dance, music, theater and visual art her entire life – providing her opportunities to be a participant as well as an audience member and observer.
“She educated me in the arts and fed my interest. Plus, having watched her work tirelessly to create miracle after miracle, I also feel driven to make seemingly impossible ideas come true,” she said.