BWW Interview: City Theatre's Artistic Director, Margaret Ledford, Talks SUMMER SHORTS at the Adrienne Arsht Center
City Theatre and the Adrienne Arsht Center present SUMMER SHORTS 2019, May 30 - June 23, at Carnival Studio Theater. The summer theater season starts with a fresh batch of City Theatre's SHORTS at the Arsht Center!
America's Short Play Festival is here with an all-new SUMMER SHORTS lineup for 2019. Featuring exciting, funny, provocative and always original 10-minute comedies, dramas, and mini-musicals, SUMMER SHORTS is Miami's favorite fun-filled summer theatrical experience!
City Theatre's Artistic Director, Margaret Ledford, was a joy to interview - as intelligent as she was funny. We talk all things SUMMER SHORTS.
City Theatre has emerged itself as a professional company who is committed to championing short plays as an art form. Why short plays?
Margaret Ledford: City Theatre began twenty-four years ago when the short play format was relatively a new concept in mainstage theatre. Miami, being the seasonal theatre community it was at the time, had nothing happening in the summer. So you had all these artists, actors, designers, and technicians who didn't work in the summer. City Theatre decided that with its commitment to playwrights they can do a lot of plays in an evening, program A and program B. So there were almost 15 or 16 short plays that were put on and two programs. And people got to work! Now twenty-four years later, Miami [theatre] is nonstop all year round.
Twenty-four years later, what do you feel like your theater is now that maybe it wasn't before? How has it changed and grown?
Margaret Ledford: I think how we have changed and grown... first off, we started musicals, the ten-minute musical a couple of years ago. Something that we find is that we have a lot of relationships with playwrights not only through our own national contest but through our relationship with Samuel French, the Off-Off Broadway Festival and National New Play Network. So we get to hear the voices of a lot of emerging playwrights, who may not be mainstream yet or who may not have full lengths out there. We are able to give Miami audiences the taste of new and emerging people.
On top of being a writer, I am a theatre teacher in Miami. Some of my students have been a part of the NextGen program for a few years so I was introduced to City Theatre through that program. However, honestly, I wasn't aware of how many programs your theatre has started and expanded until I began my research for your interview: WINTER SHORTS, SHORTS GONE WILD, CITY SHORTS, etc. Can you talk to us a little bit about all of the amazing programs?
Margaret Ledford: We don't necessarily run them every year like NextGen is taking a year off. But yes, we are actually launching a program this summer in partnership with Thinking Cap Theatre in Ft. Lauderdale with SHE SHORTS. We are no longer doing SHORTS GONE WILD but its keeping in the same vein LGBTQ+ programming but with an emphasis on female identifying storytellers and stories.
Your highest profile project is the City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting Contest. Can you talk about this part of your programming?
Margaret Ledford: It is how we gather the majority of our short plays that are inconsideration for our programming. It opens in late July/early August and we receive probably somewhere between 500 to 700 submissions through that portal. Then we also ask friends and family, as it were, and other agents that we know to send along work as well. So if you are in the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway where they select thirty plays at the beginning of their festival- we get sent all thirty of them. Sound Bites is another partner we have in New York now. They send us all their musicals; their ten minute musicals they curate for their festivals- 10 I believe. So we end up getting 750 to 900 submissions for the contest. And we get those down to about 25 finalists.
If you had to define the type of theatre that excites you- theatre your company wants to produce- what would that be?
M: The thing about short plays... it's kinda like DJing... Taking the audience on a journey through different artists and how you want them to feel through an hour; how one song flows into the next. The pieces that I gravitate to are things that make you laugh for seven and a half minutes and then make you really think for the last minute. You can't do that 8 times over in one night. You emotionally can't do that. So there are pieces that are "HAHAHA" all the way through or there are pieces that are more serious. Artistically, I try to find pieces that you can identify yourself, you as an audience member, in at least one of the pieces. That you can see a path you may not have taken or a path you wish you'd taken.
Having actors that can play the full range of plays City Theatre produces, where in one performance they can play a heart trenching drama and then a laugh out loud comedy must be a challenging. How are you mindful and how purposeful is that in the way that you cast and who you work with?
M: I believe that since it's an ensemble (This year it six actors), the diversity of our casting should be as diverse as Miami itself. It is about the relationships you create on stage PERIOD. I remember one review said something about a racially mixed marriage or something like that, and I was like these are archetypes of man, wife and child for me. It doesn't matter the packaging but it does matter because I want to make sure that it is diverse. That it isn't just the theatre of the 1950's.
City Theatre has garnered the respect of the playwrights it has worked with. Playwrights have been quoted saying they have a voice and that they feel supported. What have all of you done to contribute to that culture?
M: First off, we employ lots of playwrights. There is a lot of varied voice. We work with playwrights in many different ways. When we get new plays...when we choose our National Finalist... we get grants to do readings in Coral Gables and all around and I try to get all those National Finalists read in a public setting so that we could give feedback back to the playwrights. We are doing a piece now, 'This is How Ghost Speak', and I spoke to the playwright saying we are having the greatest time and I want to ask your thoughts on this. And that's the greatest thing about dealing with living playwrights. They are right there. They want to be asked. They want to be a part of the process.
The Arsht Center is marketing SUMMER SHORTS by describing it as celebrating the diversity in Miami. How do you believe SUMMER SHORTS is celebrating and showcasing Miami's diversity?
M: I believe it's in the diversity of the different types of shows we are seeing... the storytelling of what we are seeing. There is one play that is hysterical but is such a great social commentary. It's a women giving a sexual harassment training to Vikings. One of the lines she says, "No, you can't rape them". He says, "This is all very difficult to understand." She says, "You can't rape or assault women. It's pretty simple." Later one of The Vikings says, "I don't understand. We have lived this way for hundreds of years. How do we change?" One of them just says, "We listen."... It isn't until the people that have the power begin to give it up do we become equal.
There is another piece called Schrödinger's Gun. It is a black police captain with a rookie. The whole premise is maybe the man has a gun in his briefcase or maybe he doesn't ... pushes the rookie so far that... the rookie has his own weapon... he is terrified that the black man has a gun that he pulls the trigger. SUMMER SHORTS is a fun evening but there are SHORTS that I feel very strongly about. A ten minute play can say something so efficiently and so quickly and it doesn't belabor a point long enough for you to go "Oh, my god! We are talking about this again!!" That you just say, "HAHA...Vikings...yeah you can't rape or assault women..."
What would you consider your target audience? Who would you love to have in the seats of the Carnival Studio?
M: I would love a bunch of "thirty somethings"- "thirty/forty somethings".
M: Because they are out for a good time. They are out to have an evening of fun. They tend to be the ones that tend to tell their friends about those things... and encourage their friends to go. I was very lucky as a person to have worked on 'Amparo' and then see how word of mouth catches fire. City has been around so long that we are a given. SUMMER SHORTS has been around so long that people say, "Oh, I missed it this year." Well you know...If people miss it, maybe we aren't guaranteed to be around if you keep missing us. We have a nice tried and true audience that has been following for twenty-four years. I would like the next generations to get excited by it. And its short attention span theatre... come on!!
If we could tell these "thirty somethings" why they should come, what can they expect to see? Why should they come? If you could one get one word out to them, what would you say?
M: That it is an experience. It is not passive. It is a good time. It will give you something to talk about on Monday morning.
Let's say we get everyone to the theatre. All the "thirty somethings" are there. Everyone is taking about it. What do you envision the next twenty-four years look like? How do you hope your theatre is thriving? What is your dream?
M: I would love to trampoline off the short play format, working with our partners at Samuel French and National Play Network and start doing full lengths as well...giving the opportunities to playwrights we have worked with in the short play format to have a full length. In fact, we are going to have a full length this year. Its Bekah Brunstetter, The Cake. We are going to do that in place of WINTER SHORTS this year. Bekah Brunstetter is one of the writers from 'This Is Us'. The Cake is about a baker in North Carolina whose goddaughter comes home and wants her to bake her wedding cake. But the baker refuses upon learning it's for a gay wedding.
I love that all of the plays you have discussed have to do with what is happening now. That is how I feel theatre is going to transform now. Using what is happening right now; what affects us.
SUMMER SHORTS 2019
Celebrating its 24th anniversary!
America's Short Play Festival returns this summer with a lively and original production of the best brand new, ten-minute plays and musicals in the country
SUMMER SHORTS 2019 will feature 8 productions which include
4 world premieres and 3 southeastern premieres
May 30-31, 2019 - Previews
Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. - Opening Night
through Sunday, June 23, 2019
Carnival Studio Theater
Penned by the country's leading playwrights, composers and lyricists, and performed by a company of South Florida theater all-stars, SUMMER SHORTS offers theatergoers a fun-filled 90-minute program of new comedies, dramas, and mini-musicals.
SUMMER SHORTS 2019 features the following:
Big Fat Cow by Hillary Rollins (book & lyrics) and William Johnson (music)
Where is she now? A moooving tail-all moosical about the celebrated Cultured Dairy Icon who rose like cream, and then...spoiled.
Franklin Pierce: Dragon Slayer, The Untold Story of America's Debatably Least Effective President by Preston Max Allen (book & lyrics) and Will Buck (music)
When eighth-grader Jennifer is assigned Franklin Pierce for her class's President's Day project, she's bummed to have gotten one of history's most forgettable presidents. However, a visit from Franklin himself challenges everything Jennifer thought she knew about his presidency, dragons, and even herself.
Frozen Foods by Ian August
Linda finds Carol in the middle of the frozen foods aisle of the Superfood Market having an existential crisis. Can she snap her friend out of it or will she be sucked into the never-ending cycle of despair?
Schrödinger's Gun by Greg A. Smith
A white police trainee faces two black officers. A briefcase between them might or might not hold a loaded gun. The officers claim to be teaching a lesson about truth, trust, and discipline, but are all three playing a dangerous game?
Telephones and Bad Weather by Steve Yockey
Brenda is at the end of her rope. Her husband won't stop building in their backyard, the neighbors won't stop complaining, the phone won't stop ringing, and it may never stop raining. It's almost too much for her. And then things get really strange.
The Forgotten Place by Jeff Locker
All Eric ever wanted was a friend. He just never knew how to find one.
The Presentation by Lia Romeo
Samantha has to give a presentation on sexual harassment in the workplace... to a very unusual audience.
This Is How Ghosts Speak by Jen Diamond
It's nearly show time at Theatre 33 when the power goes out. Three theatre workers caught in the darkness tell a ghost story as they stumble into literal magic.
SUMMER SHORTS 2019 Creative Team is listed below.
City Theatre Artistic Director
Margaret M. Ledford
Margaret M. Ledford, Andy Quiroga, Gladys Ramirez, Michael Yawney
The Acting Ensemble
The Playwrights, Composers and Lyricists
Musical Director: Caryl Fantel
Production Stage Manager: Naomi Zapata*
Production Manager: Amy Rauchwerger
Choreography: Sandra Portal-Andreu
Lighting Design: Eric Nelson
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Scenic Design: Jodi Dellaventura
Sound Design: Steve Shapiro
Assistant Stage Manager/Deck Manager: Oriana Urdaneta
Properties Design: Natalie Taveras
Photography: George Schiavone/Justin Namon