Key West Theatres Brace for Hurricane; Festival Staff Flees

News   Key West Theatres Brace for Hurricane; Festival Staff Flees
 
The most ironic theatre news this season may be that the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West, FL., has on its schedule Small Craft Warnings. Hopefully the title won't be prophetic, as Key West is currently bracing for the winds of Hurricane Georges.

The most ironic theatre news this season may be that the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West, FL., has on its schedule Small Craft Warnings. Hopefully the title won't be prophetic, as Key West is currently bracing for the winds of Hurricane Georges.

Waterfront Playhouse vice president of production Scott Gilmore, one of only a handful of 80,000 residents of the Florida Keys who has not fled to the mainland, told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 24) the Tennessee Williams play (written in Key West) had already been scheduled for March 1999 before Georges began picking up steam this week. The storm is expected to hit the southern Florida islands the early morning of Sept. 25, with winds exceeding 75 mph.

"Tennessee Williams stayed for hurricanes, and he lived down the block," said Gilmore by phone from the home he shares with a partner a half-mile from his theatre. Gilmore said the playhouse -- situated 40 yards from the west shore of Key West -- needed to be supervised, and so did his pets.

"We're gonna stay," said Gilmore, 36, despite the "mandatory evacuation" edict from the authorities. "We've got five cats, a dog and a theater to look after."

It won't be known until the weekend what effect the killer storm, which claimed more than 110 lives in the Caribbean earlier in the week, will have on Gilmore and the few holdouts in the keys -- or how the 7th Annual Key West Theatre Festival will be impacted. An outgoing message on the answering service of the new-works festival, to be held Oct. 8-18 in various Key West venues, reported that the staff had evacuated but expected to be back Sept. 28, pending access to the island.

The Waterfront's Gilmore, meanwhile, seemed concerned but resolute about his decision to ride out the expected maelstrom. He reported partly sunny skies noon Thursday. He expects phone service to be out by Friday night.

Gilmore said his theatre, a converted 19th-century warehouse, withstood the devastating hurricane in 1935; Georges is not yet expected to be among the strongest, according to forecasters.

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.

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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.

"If anyone is in danger of being blown away, it would be the barn, which is literally an old red barn," said Gilmore, adding that his colleagues in the theatre community have mostly fled the island, which measures two-by three miles.

Windows in the Waterfront Playhouse lobby were boarded up, Gilmore reported, adding that he expects water in the building either from rain or storm surge, but the proscenium stage is five feet from the main floor and all the theatre's equipment has been moved above a probable water level.

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.

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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

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