FL's Key West Theatre Festival Goes On After Hurricane; Sked Trimmed to Oct. 15-18

News   FL's Key West Theatre Festival Goes On After Hurricane; Sked Trimmed to Oct. 15-18
As a result of the recent direct hit of Hurricane Georges, the Key West Theatre Festival will offer an "abbreviated" schedule Oct. 15-18, cutting the 10-day, two-weekend annual event to four days.

As a result of the recent direct hit of Hurricane Georges, the Key West Theatre Festival will offer an "abbreviated" schedule Oct. 15-18, cutting the 10-day, two-weekend annual event to four days.

One full staging in the new-plays festival (Duel Pardoning ) has been reduced to a staged reading because of lost time and manpower due to the hurricane, which hit the island Sept. 25-26.

Economic impact of the hurricane-induced schedule changes is not immediately known, event coordinator Katie Tierney told Playbill On-Line Oct. 6. Tierney joked that the nonprofit series of world premiere plays, which has a budget of $187,000 this year, will be truly nonprofit this year, as many cancellations (and no rebookings to the remaining week) are expected.

Ironically, for the first time in its seven-season history, the festival had doubled its "out-of-county" advertising budget, aggressively targeting a market beyond the keys. Pre-storm ticket inquiries from as far away as Chicago were received, according to Tierney. She estimated that half of the festival's audience was made up of non-island residents, but could not supply a number. In 1997, 3,500 tickets were sold.

All three venues hosting plays or smaller readings survived the lethal storm, but power outages, evacuated personnel and ongoing cleanup prevented construction of sets and scuttled some on-site rehearsals. The spaces to be used include the Waterfront Playhouse, just yards from the water, which took in sea-surge surf that drained out. The 19th-century former warehouse had survived larger storms in the past, said vice president of production Scott Gilmore. The Red Barn Theatre (a wooden structure) and the Eaton Street Theatre (considered one of the island's most stable structures) are also undamaged.

In the wake of the storm, which left hundreds dead in the Caribbean, a ban on non-resident inbound traffic to the islands off the southwest tip of Florida further threatened the Oct. 8-18 festival's first weekend. The traffic ban, which was to last through Oct. 9, was lifted Oct. 5, but by then festival organizers had already cut the schedule more than in half.

Brenda Edwards' Duel Pardoning , has been reduced to a reading because the resident cast was too preoccupied with the aftermath of the hurricane, said Tierney.

Jumping for Joy , which has a full Actors' Equity New York cast, arrived in Key West Sept. 20 and was evacuated to Miami Sept. 22, where rehearsals continued. The cast of Sky Watching also rehearsed in Miami.

The "home team" Key West company of Birthday Pie was the most challenged, said Tierney, as residents were naturally focused on cleanup, return to the island or repairs. Because of lost time, production values will be scaled back, according to Tierney, who added the company will inquire if relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be available to help the organizers make up for losses and plan for a financially cloudless 1999 season.

The festival will stage a special benefit preview of all three shows Oct. 14, with proceeds going to the local Red Cross hurricane relief fund.

Tierney did not know of any inns or bed and breakfasts closed because of the storm, and didn't think housing would be an issue for tourists.


The revised Key West Theatre Festival schedule is:

*Birthday Pie by Arthur Wooten, directed by Joan McGillis, 8PM Oct. 15-17 (Waterfront Playhouse)

*Sky Watching by John Lordan, directed by Barry Steinman, 8PM Oct. 15-17 & 3PM Oct. 18 (Red Barn Theatre)

*Jumping for Joy by Jack Heifner, directed by Tom Caruso, 8 PM Oct. 15-18 (Eaton Street Theatre)

Readings -- three instead of a planned five -- are free and take place 3PM at the Waterfront Playhouse. They are:

*Erdemovic by Kitty Felde Oct. 15.

*Comma, a Single Woman by Mariann M. O'Connor Oct. 16.

*Duel Pardoning by Brenda Edwards Oct. 17.

For information about the festival, call (305) 292-3725.

The Key West Theatre Festival is the main project of Theatre Key West, a service organization and information clearinghouse for island theatres. It is run by Keys Communications, Inc. The festival is devoted to workshops, play readings and seminars with nationally-known dramaturgs, actors and writers, presenting world premiere plays in professional productions in an arrangement with Actors' Equity.


As the storm drew near, the Waterfront's Gilmore and his partner stayed on the island to watch their pets, their home and the playhouse. As day broke on Sept. 26, 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. 25, making life. Gilmore said, "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 before breaking up.


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.

-- By Kenneth Jones

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