Miami Dade College Live Arts Takes On Controversial Topics

By Matt Plaus

Kathryn Garcia, executive director of Miami Dade College Live ArtsKathryn Garcia, executive director of Miami Dade College Live Arts
In working with live theater, executive director of Miami Dade College Live Arts Kathryn Garcia isn't afraid to touch on controversial topics, such as gun violence and war. In fact, in heading Miami's most eclectic performing arts series, these topics -- the ones that push boundaries -- have become her specialty.

"We are not your typical presenter," says Garcia. "We don't do Broadway, ballet, or pop music. We like to go a bit deeper. We are interested in people's experiences, deep exploration, and cultural barriers."

MDC Live Arts promotes, nurtures, and presents local and global artists that examine tough social issues and push audiences outside of their comfort zones. The Combat Hippies, for example, is an ensemble of MDC Live Arts performers that incorporates team members' Puerto Rican backgrounds and military combat experiences to push audiences to gain a deeper understanding of trauma.

"We ultimately feel growth happens when you are outside of your comfort zone.," says Garcia. "We look for artists willing to take audiences to uncomfortable places.".

The Combat Hippies, for example, started their relationship with MDC Live Arts in 2015 as a writing workshop for local Miami veterans. The group met weekly with award winning theater actor, writer, and director Teo Castellanos, who noticed an overall story arc in the ideas of the veterans and suggested they together turn it into a performance.

"I was so scared. I barely had the courage to read my poetry much less perform it," said Anthony Torres, a former mental health specialist at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq and current member of The Combat Hippies. "But Teo said if we were willing to do the work, he was willing to work with us. Eventually, for me, it became empowering,"

Contact Hippies AMAL
The group has matured rapidly ever since and is today a fully funded theater company. They have received a $100,000 grant from the Knight foundation to create a full-length performance. They have earned a commission and continuing support from MDC Live Arts through their Live Arts Lab (LALA) program, a cohort of artists in residence that work together for the creation, feedback, and showcasing of new work. Their upcoming show AMAL, meaning "hope" in Arabic, is opening on March 29. The show depicts the impact of trauma in war, beyond soldiers, it shows the suffering of women fleeing from the war in Syria. "We want to look at the parallels and humanize all of us," says Torres. "For myself, people either place veterans on a pedestal or pity them. All of us are individuals."

MDC Live Arts is largely responsible for the growth. The program, in providing more than just publicity and a venue to perform, takes the time to develop artists to their potential, paying them a fee so they can concentrate on their craft, as well as providing marketing and production services and technical services. The artists meet and work together, supporting each other with suggestions.

"The idea is to take the best artists from around the world, as well as promote local Miami artists," said Garcia. "The unifying factor is risk. We look for artists trying to take on the conversation in a different way."

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