Micro Theater Taking Root in Miami

In the heart of Downtown Miami lie seven shipping containers. They typically carry things like canned goods and washing machines. But inside these graffiti decorated containers is something very different: theater.

Ileanna Simaneas and Indira Leal in “Clara Violeta 1920s.” Photo credit: Ilana Berman.

Two and half years ago, Jorge Monje brought an innovative theater concept from Spain to Miami. He envisioned short plays being performed within shipping containers for small audiences. Today, his vision has become Micro Theater Miami.

Hosted at the Centro Cultural Español, Micro Theater Miami features seven Spanish-language plays a night, each performed simultaneously. Since shows are fifteen-minutes long and are repeated, audience members can rotate through performances. On Fridays and Saturdays, audiences can even stay late and check out seven more plays. The number of distinct performances and their overwhelming diversity make for a delightful feast of theater.

“It gives a great platform for the theater community,” says Director of the Centro Cultural Español Francisco Tardío, “for many artists, it is it their first opportunity to produce plays for an audience.”

So how are plays chosen? Monje and his team make an open call for works related to a chosen theme. Anyone in the community is free to submit their texts. Works originate from local writers, but also from artists abroad. Plays from Argentina, Spain, and Mexico have all been showcased.

After plays are submitted, Monje and his committee select the best of the best. Tardío explains that one of MTM’s biggest challenges is accepting production proposals with only texts for reference. Monje has to trust the directors, writers and actors to make the texts come alive.

This week was Indira Leal’s first foray into writing and directing for the stage. She created the piece Clara Violeta 1920s, a mixed-media performance in the style of silent movies. MTM gave her the opportunity to innovate. “It’s something different,” says Leal, “you can play a lot. I love to be so close to the people, to repeat the play six times.”

Plaza at the Centro Cultural Español. Photo credit: Ilana Berman.

Nearly fifty theater professionals are employed each season, acting as a valuable income supplement to artists like Leal. The Knight Foundation’s support has made MTM an ongoing project. But MTM also sustains itself through ticket, beverage, and food sales, proving that public-private partnerships are a powering Miami’s redefinition.

One special ingredient to MTM’s success is its cultivation of an entirely new theater-going audience. The plaza where the containers lie is easily accessible from the street, giving any passerby a view of art in progress. Additionally, each performance only costs $5 for regular audience members and $4 for CCE members, allowing for interested folks to get a taste of MTM without buying a $50 ticket.

The Spanish-language nature of performances attracts and reflects Miami’s diverse population. “It’s a mirror image of what Miami is” says Tardío, “you’re hearing Spanish from other countries…It’s a beautiful thing.” The cultural blend that makes Miami unique is reflected in every performance.

“Miami is in a great position. It is a place where creative people share ideas, start projects. We have new theaters, products, artists, businesses.”

MTM is soon to expand its repertoire to include English-language plays. Monje sees the importance of bridging Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking worlds, and has led MTM with an eye for social impact. Identifying English works that fit MTM’s format has been a challenge for Monje. That’s why he recently invited young local talent to the CCE for a brainstorming session on the English-language initiative.

Micro Theater Miami will soon be inviting playwrights like Sanchis Sinisterra to hold workshops for aspiring writers. Educating the next generation of arts entrepreneurs is critical to Monje and Tardío. Especially since new ventures are springing from MTM’s colorfully lit plaza where arts thinkers now gather.

Tardío explains: “Miami is in a great position. It is a place where creative people share ideas, start projects. We have new theaters, products, artists, businesses.” MTM truly captures Miami’s burgeoning ethos of creation and innovation.

As arts entrepreneurs, Jorge Monje and Francisco Tardío have collaborated to make Micro Theater Miami a center for arts exploration. From shipping containers to the world stage—Micro Theater is making a mark.

OCT’s Takeaways:

  • The DNA of theater in Miami is changing.
  • Public-Private partnerships are facilitating the emergence and maintenance of arts ventures in Miami.
  • Micro Theater Miami is cultivating a new theater-going audience who will soon be demanding more innovative arts programming.
  • This audience is attracted to the bilingual, the multicultural, and the genre bending.
  • To learn more about Micro Theater Miami, visit their website at www.microtheatermiami.com. “Primetime” performances take place from 8pm-10pm Thursday-Saturday. 7pm-10pm on Sunday. “Golfa” performances take place from 11pm-1:30am Friday-Saturday. English-language plays will be introduced this coming June.

Words & Photography: Ilana Berman