My parents visited Coconut Grove last week and asked why there were ribbons tied around the trees. I explained that it was a movement to get the derelict Playhouse back into local ownership and hopefully thrive again as a theatre. I then had to listen to my father’s rendition of Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree every time we ventured into town.
I will forever be grateful to my parents for instilling in me from a young age a joyful appreciation of the theatre. Live theatre is immensely enjoyable, much more magical and more astounding than going to a moving picture show. The audience are treated with more respect and courtesy than in the cinema. I can count on one hand the number of bad theatre experiences I’ve had but if I were to count the number of bad cinema experiences, it could take a while.
Cinema and theatre have the power to immerse you in new feelings and emotions. Nearly every time I visit the cinema I swear never again. There is always some inconsiderate imbecile who thinks it is acceptable to whisper down the phone, text or to go the toilet, come back, then go and get a drink and loud snacks, come back, then go to the toilet again. If you arrive late to the cinema, you are shown to your seat, if you arrive late to the theatre or leave mid act, you wait until intermission. That is the way it should be.
I apologize for the digression. A theatre may not be the heart of the community, it may not attract the numbers that a local church, public house, cinema or a park but a theatre is an essential part of a thriving community. Schools visit the playhouse to see a performance, people from outside the community come to catch a show and theatre lovers, like me and countless others, attend every new show and experience something difficult to describe. Oscar Wilde regarded theatre as: “the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
I come from a country which values its arts and its theaters. Belfast (population circa 250,000) alone has at least four theaters that I can think of from the top of my head. Dublin has many more, many of them older than Vizcaya. The theaters in Dublin are steeped in history and people will always remember their first visit to the likes of the Abbey or the Gate. I am sure there are hundreds, nay thousands, who remember visiting the Coconut Grove Play House to be inspired and motivated by the performances on stage. How can anyone witness Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot and not be awestruck?
Culture and the arts have never been a top priority for politicians or those who hold the purse strings, it has always been the community organizers, the grassroots folk on the ground who do not want to see their community become a clone town. Coconut Grove is unique to Miami and that’s why I love it. A theatre will contribute to the uniqueness of the Grove. Not more condominiums or high rise apartments. People visit, invest, buy and stay in an area because there are activities to experience. A theatre brings jobs, people, investment, prestige, culture and arts. It is not just a place for a group of people to play act. Actors and traveling arts are a community service.
I’ll be attending the Give it Back rally on April 2. I hope that at least 1000 people turn up. I hope no one bites their thumb but rather a clear, concise message is sent to the owners of the playhouse that it should be given back, renovated, fixed, repaired for the community and visitors to enjoy. A message has to be sent that cannot be misinterpreted or be misconstrued: “Get thee to a nunnery.”