Since cofounding Zoetic Stage in 2010, working in theater has been somewhat of a balancing act for artistic director Stuart Meltzer. He’s spent the greater part of the company’s existence as a full-time educator (his day job) and a full-time director, leading the charge for the dozens of productions Zoetic has put on over the last 11 seasons—“give or take a pandemic,” he jokes.
Besides the “balance of life and the balance of finances,” there’s the matter of curating the season. “We think about what’s going to excite the community but also what’s going to fit in our space and with our style of storytelling,” Meltzer explains. “Zoetic Stage is particularly good at redefining what was once a traditional way of telling a story.”
It’s within this purview that Meltzer has selected Mlima’s Tale to open Zoetic Stage’s powerful 2022/23 theater season. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage scripted the moving, highly theatrical piece inspired by the illegal ivory trade. The show first opened in New York City in the spring of April 2018 and makes its Florida premiere with Zoetic Stage, where it’ll mark the company’s 35th production.
We talked with Meltzer ahead of this year’s season opener about the importance of regional theater, hiring locally and what audiences can expect from Zoetic’s rendition of Mlima’s Tale.
Why is a company like Zoetic Stage so important to arts and culture in South Florida?
We’re a small cog in a much larger ecosystem, bringing meaningful stories to the community. We tell inventive, engaging, thoughtful, brave and emotional stories in our own way. I think we push the envelope and I think we challenge our audiences in many different ways. Miami doesn’t have the theatre-going experience of other cities and it isn't as common as it used to be. There are so many diversions for us here, so we think about how a show is going to be an event—and I know that Mlima’s Tale is going to be an event.
What can audiences expect from Zoetic Stage’s production of Mlima’s Tale?
We’ve had a track record of a unique way of telling stories and a kind of promise to utilize the majority of South Florida artists, artisans and theater leaders. We’re bringing a lot of wonderful people together sort of creatively and, with the written permission of [Lynn Nottage] and her book, you’re free to do what you want, giving us carte blanche and the freedom to do it. It’s not every day you see a Lynn Nottage play—and it’s not every day you have the opportunity to perform a Lynn Nottage play!
Did you see Mlima’s Tale in New York? What was your impression of the show?
I did not see it in New York City, but I think Lynn Nottage is, hands down, one of the most important and vital playwrights of our time right now. She’s the only woman playwright to have received two Pulitzers [for drama], and that's something that's truly magical in itself. In this particular journey with Mlima, she presents the good and the ugly of elephant poaching, and the desperate measures that people take—whether it’s for a small amount of money to feed their families or the greed for ivory, which is important to many cultures.
Tell us about Zoetic’s production in Miami.
It's roughly a 90-minute journey with choreographed movement and film. Our movement director is the remarkable dancer/choreographer for the Miami City Ballet, Herman Payne, who’s going to be exquisite. We also have a film by Delavega that’s going to be part of the show. Our group of artists is all from South Florida—and it brings me great joy. The show is four actors playing seven, or eight characters, so the complexity and the ability to go ahead and create new roles really quickly is going to be part of that magic in Miami. It’s going to be a really unique experience and we’re going to transform the Carnival Studio Theater at the Arsht Center in a way that we haven't done before. It’s very of-the-moment, informative and an emotionally and psychologically charged production.