South Florida may be in the midst of a cultural explosion, but, for some, the vision of Miami as an arts center comes as no surprise. Before the Arsht Center drew internationally acclaimed acts, before the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center brought a state-of-the-art center to the south end of the county and even before Wynwood drew artists from around the world to its walls, there was The PlayGround Theater.
Founded in 2005 by Miami native (and Ransom alum) Stephanie Ansin, the theater focused on creating new shows for young audiences. In 2012, Ansin rebranded the company as Miami Theater Center and has steadily expanded their offerings to include mature works as well as multi-generational offerings. Last month MTC was honored with a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for their project “Indigenous Allies,” a two-part collaboration between MTC and Indigenous Celebration, The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and Florida International University’s Program in the Study of Spirituality Arts (part one); and with Native American theater artists Larissa FastHorse of Sicangu Lakota Nation, Ty Defoe of the Oneida/Ojibwe tribes, and Houston Cypress of the Miccosukee Tribe (part two.)
“In Part one of Indigenous Allies, eight members of the Yawanawá tribe will visit Miami Theater Center to present ‘Journey To Mutum,’ 75 minutes of sacred music and dance never before seen in the United States,” says Ansin. “Part two of Indigenous Allies begins with Larissa and Ty spending a week in South Florida helping MTC create relationships with local Indigenous communities. About a month later, they will return to Miami to lead playwriting workshops for Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. We plan to mentor at least one of those plays to full production.”
Creating exciting and innovative programming is at the heart of what Ansin has created within MTC, having launched 15 new theater, dance, and cross-disciplinary productions over the past four years within their “SandBox series,” many of which have gone on to subsequent performances across the country. “The Knight Foundation provided generous funding for the past three seasons of The SandBox Series, and they also supported one of our favorite MainStage shows, ‘The Red Thread,’ a gorgeous production based on Chinese folktales and mysticism,” says Ansin. Also always at top of mind for the founder and artistic director is community outreach and inspiring young artists via MTC’s InSchool program, which brings teaching artists into schools to lead workshops for students.
Looking forward Ansin says she encourages community members to take part in MTC’s offerings, which (in addition to ongoing programs) includes camps, memberships and educational offerings. “Our mission is to entertain and educate audiences and artists of all ages and abilities,” says Ansin. “We strive to create a larger community of theater lovers and theater makers in South Florida.”