Zoetic Stage, the regional theater company in residence at Miami’s Arsht Center, is honoring local gay playwright and theater patron Tony Finstrom with the first annual Finstrom Festival of New Works, debuting online next week with streamed readings of five new plays.

“Tony Finstrom was a beloved staple of the South Florida theatre community,” said friend and fellow playwright Michael McKeever, a co-founder of Zoetic 10 years ago. “His love of theater and theater artists manifested itself in his constant and unwavering support of the theaters throughout the region.” 

After moving to South Florida in 1989, Finstrom quickly became a familiar face at opening night premieres at theaters both large and small. He was a Carbonell Awards judge and co-founded the Silver Palm Awards presented under the auspices of the South Florida Theatre League. In recent years, he was associate producer of the Jan McArt New Play Reading Series at Lynn University, an incubator for works that would be performed regionally, Off Broadway and beyond.

McKeever and his husband, Zoetic Stage artistic director Stuart Meltzer, along with co-founder Christopher Demos-Brown, had considered a new play festival for several years, but the pandemic provided the impetus in 2021.

“Our festival hopes to remember a man who was not only so generous to this community but also so open with his love of playwriting,” said Meltzer. “Tony was a journalist and playwright who enjoyed the development of new work and the rehearsal room. He got a tremendous kick out of helping new plays grow.”

More than 100 entries were received after Meltzer and McKeever put out a call for unproduced plays. Nearly 40% came from South Florida.

“My hope is to build bridges to playwrights in Florida … as well as nationally. I was thrilled at the level of the plays we received — they were incredibly strong. That is why we added five runners up, in addition to the five plays having readings,” Meltzer said.

The Finstrom Festival will open on Wednesday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. with “The Equivalent of Sensation'' by Arianna Rose. The other finalists are “The Guilt Mongers or Los Traficantes de Culpa (for those not willing to submit to the Anglicization of our people)” by C. Julian Jiménez, June 24; “Baby Camp'' by Nandita Shenoy, June 25; “Finding Neil Patrick Harris” by Donna Hoke, June 26; and “One-Shot” by Andrew Rosendorf, June 27.

While the plays will be workshopped this year via Facebook Live, both Meltzer and McKeever hope the festival will continue to grow. 

“My hope is to eventually be able to run the festival with the finalist plays being produced fully on the same stage with a family of directors, actors and writers working in rep[ertory],” Meltzer said.

McKeever is confident Finstrom would approve of their efforts: “Stuart and I both feel that he would be thrilled with a festival like this being named after him.”

Zoetic Stage’s Finstrom Festival of New Works will be presented June 23 – 27 at Facebook.com/ZoeticStage

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