Part of the world a stage with Miami poignant pandemic performance

·4-min read
People watch actors perform the play '7 Deadly Sins' behind the window of a vacant store at Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Florida on December 26, 2020.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, theater director Michel Hausmann sought to devise a safe and effective way of performing.

Nine months later, he and his theater company have done it by making the world a stage -- at least part of it -- providing catharsis to performers and the public alike.

The play "7 Deadly Sins" has opened in Miami Beach, outdoors and with empty storefronts as a stage.

It consists of seven 10-minute acts, each about a cardinal sin: pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy and sloth.

The year 2020 is reflected in both the play's theme and execution. It is staged in shops closed by the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic.

The audience is seated in the street, as the Miami climate is still pleasant in December, in groups of 12. People watch the acts through the store windows and listen with headphones.

"The world of theater is experiencing a very important disruption this year," Hausmann told AFP. "Doing theater the conventional way is a death sentence."

He was seated at an outdoor cafe, sipping an espresso in front of the Colony Theatre, a 1930s building emblematic of Miami's Art Deco architecture.

Hausmann, 39, is the artistic director and co-founder of Miami New Drama, a non-profit theater company housed in the Colony, on the pedestrian boulevard Lincoln Road.

"The question for us was: what do we do, what is our business? Is it the business of filling buildings with people? Or the business of telling live stories?" he asked.

Storytelling is the obvious answer. "So," he said, "that paradigm shift is what helps us imagine solutions."

- Home is exile -

The play's acts tell diverse stories: the statue of a slave-owning politician come to life, an African-American teacher accused of cultural appropriation, a couple trapped by the virus, an ex-president who "gluttonously" seeks to return to power, a person who delivers a monologue about the pandemic in a fit of rage.

"Is no longer home. It no longer feels like home. Is a place of exile," reads a line in the last act, written by playwright Dael Orlandersmith.

"Place of confinement. Prison. No matter whether it is big/small/medium-sized. It is a prison."

The act is performed by Carmen Pelaez, who also wrote the act on pride. She told AFP that the public reacts emotionally to the return of live art, because it is what "keeps us connected to our humanity, in communion with each other."

And the pandemic "has reminded us all how fragile we are and how much we need each other," said the 49-year-old actress and playwright.

As if to prove her point, a young man in the audience approached the window where she had just recited her furious monologue. He pressed a piece of paper to the glass for Pelaez to read, with the message, "Thank you."

- How to resurrect Lincoln Road -

Since the start of the pandemic in March, Lincoln Road has become increasingly grim as store after store closed down. Nearly a quarter of its 250 storefronts are shut.

"It broke my heart," Hausmann said. "Lincoln Road is our tropical version of the Champs-Elysees."

He devised the concept of "7 Deadly Sins" and commissioned seven playwrights to write the acts, for one or two actors each.

One is Moises Kaufman, Miami New Drama co-founder, Tony-nominated and also Venezuelan, like Hausmann. The others are Cubans Pelaez, Rogelio Martinez and Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz, as well as Orlandersmith, Hilary Bettis and Aurin Squire.

"But I told them that they were going to compete with the ambulance blaring, the person passing by on a skateboard, the dog barking," Hausmann joked.

The play, which premiered November 27, faced unprecedented challenges in terms of lighting and sound -- not to mention Covid-19 safety protocols.

The actors rehearse over Zoom, take weekly Covid-19 tests and enter onstage without coming into contact with anyone.

Those who act together in a piece live together, Hausmann explained.

Slowly, thanks to this and other artistic endeavors, Lincoln Road once more began to fill with people -- though at a distance -- in December.

Hausmann's work "bolsters the crucial economic recovery of our city after months of devastation and loss," Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber told AFP.

"Never have the seven deadly sins been more welcome."