After 15 months of uncertainty about the future of live entertainment in South Florida, several organizations are leading the return with a tidal wave of LGBT programming, thanks to an initiative started by the Our Fund Foundation.
The region’s only LGBT community foundation dispersed 18 grants totaling $226,500, part of a bigger mission to “stabilize South Florida’s LGBTQ arts and cultural community; promote virtual presentations; engage with allies who could help support these struggling arts and cultural organizations; and create a springboard for the non-profits to restART and flourish post-pandemic,” according to a statement.
Thinking Cap Theatre Producing Artistic Director Dr. Nicole Stodard said the organization has “been a lifeline,” and provided much-needed support throughout the pandemic, which has had a particularly devastating effect on South Florida’s theater community.
“They've helped us in a way that no other organization has in the last year and a half, and I don't know how we would have been able to just maintain our monthly operating costs, if it weren't for their support,” Stodard said.
Stodard said the 11-year-old theater company will put the grant money towards helping “gay audiences and street audiences find a common ground in a much more intentional way” through the production of two in-person plays by lesbian and gay playwrights: Fefu and Her Friends, by Latina lesbian playwright María Irene Fornés, and a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales.
To keep audiences from sitting still in an enclosed space for too long, Fefu will give audiences a taste of New York-style experimentation for the times.
“It's actually a movement piece where there's something happening in different spaces simultaneously, and the audience is broken up into groups,” Stodard said.
At Island City Stage, Artistic Director Andy Rogow and Managing Director Martin Childers are using the grant to help mitigate COVID concerns with a new outdoor lobby where future theater-goers can have “a beautiful spot to hang out, have a drink, or talk with friends outside and be in a less-enclosed space,” according to Childers.
The lobby will help the theater make money back in concessions, a revenue stream that was lost due to the pandemic. Childers hopes space will make audiences feel safe by providing an open-air courtyard to gather before the show and during intermission.
Island City Stage holds a unique place in South Florida as the region’s only theater company dedicated to producing stories by and for the LGBT community, a trait Rogow said has made their organization successful.
“A normal regional theater might do one ‘gay play’ in a season, which isn't a lot,” said Rogow. “The LGBT community sees us as theirs. They feel a part of it, it really, in that sense, it's a community theater.”
Just down the street from the theater, the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida is using its portion of the money to show full-length concerts, presented both online and at drive-in theater events.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Executive Director Mark Kent had to figure out how to keep their performers safe while still producing the joyful noise the chorus has become known for in its 11 years as an organization.
“All of the guys in our chorus each have to be videotaped and recorded individually, because they can't sing together in one space,” Kent said. “It's very labor-intensive, and the final editing takes days upon days.”
Kent said through the pandemic, Our Fund helped LGBT arts leaders bulk contract with vendors to reduce overall expenses for the community’s organizations. The latest grant will help them afford the production company that directs, films, and edits the concerts, as well as cover the costs for security and parking for the drive-in concerts.
“None of our LGBT arts nonprofits have gone out of business, and we easily could have,” Kent said.
At the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center in Fort Lauderdale, Executive Director Dr. Réquel Lopes said she saw the grant as an opportunity to show the world how the museum is “positioned to be able to tell the unique story that no one else is around the history of HIV.”
Prior to the pandemic, museum programming was all in-person, from the exhibits detailing the chronology of HIV research to the community dialogues held by the educational center. Lopes said the launch of the virtual “WAM Conversation Series” allowed the organization to bring the community into a discussion about HIV history with top leaders and researchers in the field.
The grant will allow them to digitize collections and museum exhibits, portions of which will be housed on the website, and keep hybrid options for future programming.
“I don’t think that virtual platforms are going to go away because everything opens,” Lopes said. “People are going to want to have that opportunity that was afforded to them in the past year.”
Our Fund Foundation will hold a socially distanced grant reception in early June.