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Laughter was the order of the evening when more than 150 theatre lovers gathered at the Count de Hoernle Theatre in Boca Raton last month to watch a performance of seven short, previously produced comedies by Michael McKeever, South Florida’s internationally known playwright.  The event, titled “Brief Encounters” and sponsored by the Caldwell Theatre Company, was the first fundraiser for Zoetic Stage, a new theatre company founded by director Stuart Meltzer, along with McKeever.  The two men, who reside in Davie, have been partners in life as well for six years.  

The idea to form a new theatre company came about after Meltzer left his job as artistic director at City Theatre in Miami last year.   He was thinking about what direction he wanted his career to go.  He sent his resume out across the country, but neither he nor McKeever wanted to conduct their life together in two different cities. The solution, it seemed, was to start a theatre company here, so Meltzer could still live and work in South Florida.  Zoetic Stage was born.

“We spoke with another couple, playwright Chris Demos-Brown and Stephanie Demos-Brown, and they were excited about it. They wanted to jump on board,” Meltzer says.  “So, together, the four of us became kind of this love boat of people putting together this company, with me being Captain Stubing, although I’m probably more Gopher.”

For Zoetic Stage, McKeever and Meltzer have gathered some of the best talent the region has to offer, performers whose names are familiar to anyone who frequents South Florida theatre: Irene Adjan, Stephen G. Anthony, Jeffrey Bruce, Christopher Demos-Brown, Nick Duckart, Lela Elam, John Felix, Elena Maria Garcia, Maribeth Graham, Amy London, Margery Lowe, Amy McKenna, David Perez-Ribada, Jerry Seeger, Kim St. Leon, Barry J. Tarallo, Laura Turnbull and Tom Wahl.  These are names that regularly appear on the nomination and winners’ list of the Carbonell Awards, which honor South Florida theatre.  McKeever says they even tallied it up—there are more than 75 nominations, 40 actual awards, and 17 Broadway credits between the members of Zoetic Stage.   

For Jeffrey Bruce, an actor with many New York credits and national tours under his belt who has been based in Boca Raton for 20 years, becoming a part of Zoetic was serendipitous.  

Bruce did a reading of a play under Meltzer’s direction, and afterward, Bruce told Meltzer about a proposal he had of being a part of a reparatory company.  Meltzer laughed, and told Bruce the plans for Zoetic.  Bruce was interested, and he, Meltzer and McKeever discussed Zoetic over lunch.  Bruce was invited to join the company.

“This is something that I’ve wanted to be a part of longer than I can remember,” Bruce says.  “Artistically, everyone wants to do the same thing: They want to do good work and new work.  They want to bring in an audience that appreciates new work.”  

“It’s an opportunity to work in South Florida for a change instead of schlepping around the country,” Bruce says. “The opportunity to be in such a new thrilling creative environment with people whom I have admired over the years as an audience member I believe will be very fulfilling.”

The inaugural Zoetic season has already been announced, and includes the Florida premiere of  Stunning by David Adjmi, the world premiere of Wrongful Death by Christopher Demos Brown,  and the southeastern premiere of Diagram of a Paper Airplane by Carlos Murillo. The company’s first full-length production will be the world premiere of McKeever’s South Beach Babylon, a comedy that explores the lives of several artists in the weeks leading up to Art Basel.  The negotiations for the venue are still underway, although it will be in Miami, during Art Basel this December.

The next Zoetic fundraiser will be a reprise of last month’s event, this time around titled “Michael McKeever’s Briefs,” and will be held Monday. August 30, at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables.  Admission is a $20 suggested donation.  In September, Zoetic is planning a third fundraiser, a staged reading of the popular McKeever play 37 Postcards, on Monday September 20 at Caldwell’s Count de Hoernle Theatre in Boca Raton.

Although Zoetic is featuring McKeever’s work in its fundraisers and producing a world premiere by the playwright, they are determined that Zoetic will not become the Michael McKeever Show.

“I have no intention of not working at any of the other theatres,” says McKeever.  “I will work with Zoetic as a company member, and I’m very proud to be a part of it, but I have no intention of being exclusive to Zoetic Stage.  I’m a trophy wife here, that’s all.”

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