South Florida’s Best-kept Theater Secret Revealed

When the announcement about a brand-new theater company called Zoetic Stage landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, I was taken aback. Here was a company boasting a cast of some of South Florida’s finest actors, founded by two of its brightest behind-the-curtain luminaries and already bruiting a complete 2010-2011 lineup of plays.

That’s not usually the way things work around here. Normally, a public announcement is made that a couple of enterprising people are planning to launch a theater company. From this inchoate stage, and over the next several months (or years), a repertory is formed, a board is compiled, funds are raised and a venue is established, so that by the time the debut season is finally announced, the theater has already created a brand for itself and built up considerable buzz.

Though Zoetic won’t have a permanent home base in its debut season, the theater did follow most of these standards and practices. Only they did it in relative secrecy: no press releases, no word of mouth whisper campaigns, nothing until it was completely set in stone.

“We were the best-kept secret in South Florida,” says playwright Michael McKeever, who cofounded Zoetic with City Theatre artistic director Stuart Meltzer. “When you’re dealing with a community like this, I won’t say that everyone knows everything, but certainly a lot know a lot. We tried to keep it under wraps. We wanted to make sure before we announced it that we had all our ducks in a row and that the venues were on board. Some theater companies have really great intentions but just because of whatever — everything from the financial climate to people leaving – so many of them fall through before they have a chance.”

The folks behind Zoetic, which comes from a Greek word for “life,” are confident they can prevent this familiar kind of internal combustion. The theatre has been flourishing behind closed doors for about eight months, and Meltzer and McKeever formed a board early on mainly as a fundraising organ. Though it will be primarily be a Miami-Dade theater, Zoetic will have its first fundraiser at 7 p.m. tonight (Monday) at the Caldwell Theatre at Boca Raton, where seven of McKeever’s favorite short works will be read by actors such as Elena Maria Garcia, Tom Wahl, Irene Adjan and Margery Lowe. A donation of $15 is suggested.

Meltzer and McKeever hope to use Zoetic, like Florida Stage up north, as a place where new, local unrecognized plays can enjoy their premieres, as opposed to regional productions of already established works. As for not having a permanent home, that’s just fine with McKeever. Zoetic has a number of professional theater houses lined up for its first season.

“We’ve been doing this for like 15 years, so we’ve seen the pitfalls that will happen,” McKeever says. “We didn’t want to go under because of the overhead, so we figured we’ll be gypsies for the first couple of seasons until we find a home that will suit us. We’ll make enough mistakes in the first few years anywhere. I’m fairly confident we’ve got the tenacity to fight any hurdles we’ll come across.”

For more information on Zoetic Stage and its first season, which begins in December with McKeever’s latest play “South Beach Babylon,” visit its Web siteor call 954/235-6208.