The Key West Theatre Festival will go on, despite the debris-strewn landscape and debilitating power outages following the Sept. 25 direct hit of Hurricane Georges on the southern Florida island.
Katie Tierney, event coordinator for the 7th Annual Key West Theatre Festival, told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 28) the Oct. 8-18 new-works festival will happen, but perhaps in a leaner version. More would be known later this week, after damage is assessed, power restored and staff returned from the mainland.
Rehearsals were scuttled as cast members and directors fled north. Continuing power outages have brought set construction -- to say nothing of island-wide rebuilding -- to a halt. "The production (values) may be scaled back," Tierney said by crackling phone Monday. "Without electricity we can't build sets."
She confirmed that the three venues for the festival -- Eaton Street Theatre, the wooden, 80-seat Red Barn Theatre and the Waterfront Playhouse -- all survived the storm, which claimed 500 lives as it roiled through the Caribbean the week of Sept. 21. No deaths were immediately reported in the Florida Keys.
Tierney did not know how many people attended the festival last year, but said she expected many more this year because publicity had been building every year. It is unclear if tourists will change their plans for this season's festival, or how ready the island will be to accommodate playgoers interested in soaking up "Drama in Paradise," as the season flyer describes the festival. "Paradise" is an especially ironic term for Scott Gilmore, vice president of production for the Waterfront Playhouse, who said probably 6-10 inches of seawater came into -- and receded out of -- the theatre, which sits 40 yards from the shore. He said there was no serious damage to equipment or to the structure, a 19th-century warehouse converted to a theatre. He said the water was mostly gone Monday and the theatre would be ready in time for the festival.
Gilmore and his partner stayed on the island to watch their pets, their home and the playhouse. As day broke on Saturday, Gilmore said, the power of the storm became clear. "It's a lot like being in a Third World country," with debris everywhere, he said. A 70-foot tree crashed into his home's adjacent cottage. Power has been out since Sept. 25, making life indoors miserable. "It's so bloody hot," Gilmore said, adding, "We were very lucky, it could have been a lot worse."
The storm moved north into the Gulf and pummeled the Mississippi coast near Biloxi. Mary Boothe, development director of the New Stage Theatre in Jackson, 180 miles north of the Gulf coast, said that the only worry for her theatre might be residual storms or tornadoes spun off from the idled Georges.
"We're not blown away yet," said Boothe from her Jackson office in Mississippi's only Equity theatre. She reported only "a heavy, busy wind."
Besides being a venue for the festival, the Waterfront offers a professional subscription season, occasionally with an Equity guest artist, during the December to May busy season. Others events are scheduled there beginning in October. It is in its 59th season.
The Key West Theatre Festival is devoted to workshops, play readings and seminars with nationally-known dramaturgs, actors and writers, presenting world premiere plays in full professional productions.
The schedule for the upcoming 1998 Key West Theatre Festival, pending changes in the wake of the storm, includes:
Birthday Pie by Arthur Wooten, directed by Joan McGillis Oct. 8-17. Waterfront Playhouse.
Duel Pardoning by Brenda Edwards directed by Kathleen Balsemo Oct. 9-17. Waterfront Playhouse.
Skywatching by John Lordan directed by Barry Steinman. Red Barn Theatre.
Jumping for Joy by Jack Heifner directed by Tom Caruso Oct. 9-18. Eaton Street Theatre.
For information about the festival, call (305) 292-3725.
-- By Kenneth Jones