The venues of the Key West Theatre Festival experienced a direct hit from Hurricane Georges, the lethal and increasingly powerful storm that has left 250 dead in the Caribbean.
Forecasters said Friday morning (Sept. 25) that winds may exceed 115 mph around Key West, FL., the popular vacation island in the chain of keys off the southwest tip of Florida. But it won't be known until later in the weekend, if phone service is available, what damage may have occured to the three venues hosting new works as part of the upcoming 7th Annual Key West Theatre Festival, Oct. 8-18.
An outgoing message on the answering service of the festival, whose works will be staged at Eaton Street Theatre, the Red Barn Theatre and the Waterfront Playhouse -- all on Key West -- reported that the staff had "evacuated" but expected to be back Sept. 28, pending access to the island.
Most threatened are the Red Barn Playhouse, a wooden structure, and the Waterfront Playhouse, a converted 19th-cenutry warehouse with a prosceium stage, which is less than 40 yards from the swollen water's edge.
Scott Gilmore, vice president of the Waterfront Playhouse, chose to remain in the Keys to watch over pets and his theatre. On Friday morning, following the first phase of the storm, he said the eye of the storm was expected around noon, which will give him and his partner a chance to walk the dog and assess damage before the next wall of the hurricane hits.
Power was out and phone service was expected to be cut "any minute," Gilmore said Friday morning. He suspected his colleagues from the theatre festival fled the island with 80,000 others who evacuated the necklace of keys earlier in the week.
"Sure, I'm nervous about it," he said Friday by crackling phone. "I have a cottage out back that's about to be crushed by a tree."
He said he was most concerned about his sea-level home and theatre being swamped by storm surge: "I'll be happy if I don't get flooded." But, he reminded, the theatre has been around since the late 1880s, withstanding previous storms.
The most ironic news of the about the storm is that the professional Waterfront Playhouse plans to stage Small Craft Warnings in March 1999. Hopefully the title won't be prophetic. Gilmore said the Tennessee Williams play (written in Key West) had already been scheduled for March 1999 before Georges began picking up steam this week.
"Tennessee Williams stayed for hurricanes, and he lived down the block," said Gilmore, who lives a half-mile from his theatre. Gilmore said the playhouse is situated 40 yards from the west shore of Key West.
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.
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. This season the festival will rent or use the 189-seat Waterfront Playhouse (itself a professional producing organization 59 seasons old), the cabaret space called the Eaton Street Theatre and the 80-seat Red Barn Theatre for productions.
The 1998-99 subscription season of plays begins there Dec. 10 with Santaland Diaries (through Jan. 2, 1999), followed by Angels in America: Millennium Approaches Feb. 4-21, 1999, Small Craft Warnings March 11-27, 1999, Dealer's Choice April 15-May 1, 1999, and Forever Plaid May 13-30, 1999.
For information, call (305) 294-5015.
The schedule for the upcoming 1998 Key West Theatre Festival 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