Key West Theatre Fest Dissolved, But Key West Playwrights Co. Sprouts Among Palm Trees

News   Key West Theatre Fest Dissolved, But Key West Playwrights Co. Sprouts Among Palm Trees
Following the 12th annual Key West Theatre Festival earlier this year, members of the board, as well as artistic director Joan McGillis, decided the Florida fest had played out its lifespan and the operation was shut down in July.

The battle to get $200,000 in funding for the festival of readings and full stagings was always uphill, those close to the festival told Playbill On-Line. In addition, key players had moved off the island (in the case of McGillis, to California), leaving the company without year-round residents to champion the mission of the company.

The end of the festival came as a surprise to Mare Contrare, who, in 2002, had been hired as the festival's executive director. "I believed that there was going to be a 2004 theatre festival, and was already planning the background for the fundraising campaign," she said, adding that the fest didn't fail — there was no debt — but simply ended because the people who people nurtured it moved on to other opportunities.

"It seemed to be the right time to end," Contrare, an eight-year island resident, said.

Now, Mare Contrare (whose name is pronounced like the nursery rhyme, Mary Contrary) is reinventing the festival in a new not-for-profit venture called The Key West Playwrights Company, which will offer staged readings but not full productions. The focus will be on content, process and giving voice to writers. After the first year, it's hoped the company will be self-sustaining, fueled by ticket sales and in-kind gifts. The lure for audiences will be marquee names — "well-known writers and well-known actors," Contrare said.

Already committed to be on the company's artistic board, separate from the financial board, are award-winning playwrights Israel Horovitz, Terrence McNally and Joe Pintauro, who have all had a presence in Key West in recent years. The artistic board will be in charge of selecting plays, casts and creative teams. The financial board, made up of people with marketing, promotions, fundraising and other expertise, will be in charge of getting the creatives to Key West and getting people in seats. Contrare, as executive director, is liaison between the funding and creative boards.

The Key West Playwrights Company plan calls for staged readings of three works in the 2003-04 season, beginning with a play in November read over two days. Readings in February 2004 (what they call "high season" in the southern Florida island chain) and April 2004 follow, with the last one possibly including a local college or high school to workshop material.

There will be room for new, unknown playwrights, as well: 10-minute play evenings will be part of the mix, and once a website is running there will be information about script submissions.

The budget, which was not disclosed, is modest compare to the festival, Contrare admits. Partnerships with businesses and others are being explored — getting airlines to donate tickets, for example, and finding hotel or guest houses on the island.

"We're excited and thrilled and delighted that Mare has been able to secure support to bring back a playwrights festival," said Monica Haskell of the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, which provides promotional, advocacy and networking support for organizations. "It will be a new opportunity to try out new work in Key West."

For further information about The Key West Playwrights Company, call (305) 304-9368 or e-mail

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