Theater in 15 minutes? Sí, please.

Arts / Article

Courtesy of CCE.

In the age of Twitter and flash fiction, the notion of theater offering 15-minute plays was perhaps inevitable. But add to it fresh writing, well-known actors intrigued by short-form theater, the intimacy of a small room and a cheap ticket price and you got yourself Micro Teatro Miami — and a South Florida hit.

It´s a brilliant concept set in motion because a whorehouse in Madrid went out of business.

Spanish producer Jorge Monje, a charter member of the group that started Micro Teatro in  2009, recalled recently that the initial project began when a developer trying to rehab a particularly bad Madrid neighborhood offered a group of theater people a building that had been a whorehouse. The group turned every room into a mini-theater, each presenting a different 15-minute play. As a sort of an in-joke, and a sly nod to the building’s previous incarnation, the project was called Micro Teatro por Dinero (Micro Theater for Money.) RELATED LINKS

“And of course it was exactly the opposite,” says Monje. With a one Euro ticket price, “we didn’t make any money.” The crowds loved it.

Micro Teatro has since expanded to 12 cities in Spain and the Americas.  Adapted to Miami, Micro Teatro was launched by the Centro Cultural Español (Spanish Cultural Center) in April 2012 with the support of a Knight Foundation grant. As an alternative to using rooms in a building, Monje, who loved the open loading dock/parking space in the back of the Centro’s building, had the inspired idea of using containers as ready-made mini-theaters.

What was initially supposed to be a one-time, three-month project, became a year-round activity and one of the most intriguing cultural offerings in South Florida. As it celebrates its third anniversary, Micro Teatro has offered 360 original plays to approximately 200,000 visitors, said Francisco Tardío, director of the cultural center.

While publicity remains mostly word-of-mouth, the participation of many actors, writers and directors working in South Florida’s  Spanish-language TV industry, became a boon for the project as they, in turn, promoted Micro Teatro to their fans.

 “It’s a spectacular experience,” says Argentine actor David Chocarro, a Spanish-language TV star. He has participated in Micro Teatro Miami as both, actor and director, collaborating with his wife, actress and playwright Carolina Laursen. “It’s an incredible experience to have the audience so close, to feel even their breathing. And I believe for the audience is a similar experience. They are right on the play.”

Courtesy of CCE.

As you walk into what is a closed parking lot in the back of an office building, the seven shipping containers sit diagonally side by side to your right, against a wall. Covered, graffiti style, with cartoon like portraits of popular culture icons, including Celia Cruz, Charlie Chaplin, Carlos Gardel and John Lennon, each container is actually a mini-theater for 15 spectators. The plays, are 15 minute long. There are performances, some in English, mostly in Spanish, from Wednesday through Sunday. Every five-week season has a theme. A recent one was themed “The Seven Deadly Sins,” another one was “Why Is Miami Different?.” The current season — a celebration of poetry month in collaboration with the O, Miami poetry festival — is called Verso a Verso or Plays on Words. Tickets are inexpensive, $5 per play, and each work is presented six times a night, with a break, in continuous session. 

While there were attempts to reach the English-only audience since the opening season, which included English language plays, Micro Teatro has embarked on expanding its offerings and audiences.

Besides collaborating with established South Florida theaters such as the Trail, Teatro 8 and Bellas Artes (there will be a three-week season, beginning June 3, in which they will take over the containers) Micro Teatro, says Tardío, is “seeking to work with other organizations, such as O, Miami and City Theater, to reach a different audience.”

In the recently expanded schedule, the featured plays on Wednesdays and Thursdays are in English. Friday through Sunday the offerings are in Spanish. There is also a late night addition on Fridays and Saturdays, slyly called Sesión Golfa, the Rogue Session, which offers plays in Spanish.

Meanwhile, the casual set up of Micro Teatro suggests as much a social happening as a cultural event. At the far end of the courtyard, some strategically placed plants mark a separate space, partly under strings of lights, creating an outdoor bar-café where audiences members hang out and wait for the next round of plays. There is a simple stand, offering beer, wine, soft drinks and pizza; a space with a few tables and seats and nightclub style ropes set up leading to the containers. The milling around, the how-do-you-do’s, the repeated scene of people running into friends that happens regarding the audiences has had its counterpart regarding actors and directors and, with that, once improbable partnerships, says Tardío.

 “One of the great things that have happened at Micro Teatro is that people from the theater world who didn’t know each other or, if they did, had never before worked or had thought of working together, have met here,” he says.  “In Miami you had eminently Cuban theaters featuring Cuban actors for Cuban audiences. And there have been similar situations with Venezuelans, Argentines, Colombians, what have you. Micro Teatro has brought them together and this has resulted in all kinds of collaborations. For a linguist, Micro Teatro would be such a treat because he would hear in one place all kinds of Spanish accents.”

Fernando González is a Miami-based arts and culture writer.