How This Florida Theatre Breaks New Ground With Sunday in the Park

Special Features   How This Florida Theatre Breaks New Ground With Sunday in the Park
The winter production of the Sondheim musical puts Zoetic Stage on the map.
Zoetic Stage Florida_Sunday in the Park 2017
Justin Namon

In 2010 Stuart Meltzer, along with Christopher Demos Brown, Stephanie Demos Brown, Michael McKeever, and Kerry C. Shiller, founded Zoetic Stage in South Florida. Zoetic was founded “to develop new work and explore material that wasn’t being presented often in the region,” says Meltzer, the artistic director of the fledgling theatre. “Developing new work, inventive storytelling, and providing a fresh perspective on relevant plays and musicals that speak to our diverse community continues to be our mission.”

Zoetic also enjoys a partnership with the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and hosts a Young Artist Program to foster young talent. Their production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George, running through February 12, is a firsthand example of the innovative work from the theatre. Here, Meltzer tells Playbill about the production and what’s next for the Floridian theatre.

Your production of Sunday in the Park was planned before Broadway announced transferring the City Center concert. What made Sunday in the Park the right choice for Zoetic?
Sondheim is so thrilling to me personally, and I have always had a deep, personal connection to this piece. This is our sixth full season and third musical—our third Sondheim musical. After producing Assassins and Passion, it seemed like a natural progression to do Sunday. We also had to be ready to take it on financially and logistically as a company, so we could do it justice. We’ve developed a reputation as a producer of Sondheim’s work in South Florida, and Passion and Sunday had never been seen here before, so the pressure was on.

No easy task. Do you every worry—with a piece like this—about finding actors who can take on George and Dot?
Absolutely. These characters are complex, iconic, and challenging, so finding the right actors is paramount. South Florida has a wide range of excellent talent, and most of our casting is with local actors. In the case of Sunday in the Park with George, there were a few casting possibilities locally, but we ultimately cast the roles of George and Dot out of New York. Cooper Grodin and Kimberly Doreen Burns are forces of nature that could be playing these roles on any stage in the country. And should.

Your production uses a projection of the Seurat painting as a mirror to the onstage action, similar to the City Center version. Did you know that was their staging?
I had no idea, actually. I would love to have seen it. I’m sure the new production will be beautiful. We’ve been working on our production close to a year. When I saw the the Broadway revival in 2008, I was blown away with the level of ingenuity, and I thought that there could never be another production of Sunday again. In that sense, we are all indebted to the creative team of that production, who were the first to use projection to create Seurat’s world. However, it was important to me that we create our own version of the piece and not replicate other people’s work. That would be no fun.

Is this a benefit of reviving the original production that was mounted in the ’80s when this technology wasn’t possible?
Indeed. But the musical stands on its own merit regardless of technology. I’d like to think George of 2017 would be creating art using computer animation and projections to “paint with colored light.”

In the Vimeo clip, your art director mentions animating the painting in the background. Can you describe what audiences will see?
The entire piece was story-boarded by hand, frame by frame, and then animated and timed to the music. It allows Georges to take the audience with him on on his journey of creation. For example, our production starts all in white—set, projections, and all costumes—in “Finishing the Hat” we fly into the world of the hat, surrounded by his brush strokes and color. The next time we see the hat on Dot, it is “finished." By the end of Act 1 all the costumes and projections have come into full color to create the finished painting. It’s pretty magical.

This is a show that celebrates all disciplines of artistry. Still, there have been other shows that have musicalized the stories of visual artists to lesser success. What is it about Sunday in the Park that just works?
As artists we all struggle to connect. To make sense of why we do what we do. Sondheim and Lapine absolutely get it, and the score touches the soul so deeply.

You have a partnership with the Arsht Center. What does that partnership allow you to do and, in return, what do you provide to the Center that they weren’t previously doing?
Our partnership with the Adrienne Arsht Center has been instrumental in the rapid growth of Zoetic Stage. We are blessed to work with an amazing multi-disciplinary team that provides the kind of support most companies take decades to develop. Located under the same roof as a 2,500-seat ballet/opera house, home to Broadway Across America, what we hope to bring to the table is a home for non-commercial work, reflective of the community, created by local artists, employing local artists, that speaks with the relevance and immediacy that nonprofit theatre does at its best.

Tell me more about the apprenticeship program through Zoetic.
Our Young Artist program was spearheaded by my partner in crime, our Managing Director, Nicholas Richberg, and we are very proud of it. We give BFA juniors and seniors the opportunity to work alongside professionals as actors, assistant stage managers, and production assistants. Through the excellent relationships we have with New World School of the Arts and University of Miami Department of Theatre Arts, we have been blessed to work with and nurture some truly talented young people. In Sunday we have five Young Artists from UM: two swings, a soldier, and both Celestes. They all appear nightly onstage and two of them additionally understudy the leads. We know it’s only a matter of time before we will be watching one of our Young Artists on a Broadway stage.

You’ve already expanded so much in just a few seasons. What’s next for Zoetic?
[We’re] always growing and definitely always learning. Next season we have been honored with the rights to the South Florida premiere of a very exciting musical that we cannot wait to share with our audience. Our intent is to still develop new work. We would like to commission and develop a new musical as well as foster new playwrights. That is central to our mission. Our goal always is to produce the stories that resonate with people and spark conversation.

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(Video produced and directed by Aaron Glickman.)

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