We all know that iconic Mickey down in Florida. You know, the cute mascot with the big, round ears and long tail who dispenses happiness and goodwill to the world, whose name is synonymous with an entertainment powerhouse. Yet, there is another Mickey in Florida who you likely do not know — but you should. This Mickey, last name McGuire, is currently working his own tail off dispensing happiness and goodwill, but to a much smaller community that he hopes to transform through the power of theater.
McGuire didn’t come from a theater background. If you had told the New Jersey native that one day he’d become executive director of The Seminole Theatre, a renovated cultural center in a small town at the gateway to the Florida Keys, McGuire probably would have said you were crazy. Turns out, he might be the crazy one. Then again, as Steve Jobs said:
The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
McGuire may not be trying to change the world, but he has a decent shot at making his mark on Homestead, FL as the top dog at a 420-seat, state-of-the-art performing arts center in that town. I recently had a chance to ask McGuire about the many (many) steps it took to get there and his hopes for his theater.
Robin Rothstein: What’s your background? Did you study theater?
Mickey McGuire: I actually come from a family of academics and scientists. While I always enjoyed theater, it had never really seemed like a potential career while I was a young adult. I attended Rutgers University and began with the most popular major: undecided. While in school I joined the student theater troupe that was responsible for producing and presenting four musicals a year. After my sophomore year, the student group voted me in as managing director. Rutgers also told me that I had to pick a major to stay in school. So, it seemed natural at that point that I should be a theater major, and I focused on arts administration. That eventually sent me to NYC for a series of internships and jobs that have shaped my career.
RR: What sorts of positions and experience did you acquire as your theater career evolved?
MM: I sometimes joke that there is no position in the theater world I have not done in some way. It has been frustrating to jump around so much. Yet, it also means now as a leader for the organization, I can understand and empathize with everyone’s role.
My first job in NYC was working for an agency called The Road Company that booked touring Broadway productions. It was a great job to cut my teeth in the professional theater world and learn how much actually happens behind a desk. As a young man, I had the itch to work hands on and travel and embarked on a journey through many years and careers.
I have worked the production side in roles such as director, stage manager, or house manager in theaters ranging from Off-Broadway to regional and summer stock, and even a fun and weird stint at Sleep No More. I spent time doing laundry and merchandise (that was one job position), handing out discount flyers on a commission basis or working the TKTS booth in Times Square, plus doing other promotional odd jobs and even working as a marketing intern at Lincoln Center.
I eventually found my way back into a management role as I worked my way up from Off-Broadway house manager to company manager to general manager. I think I was able to grow into that position because of my experience and contacts in the entertainment world.
RR: How did your current job come about, and what does your role entail?
MM: Part of me always yearned for the sense of community that I had discovered back in my college theater company. In NYC, the business is so cutthroat that you find yourself constantly competing with other artists or worrying about what the press will say. I think art should be about the artists and the people experiencing it. So, I had been looking for a way to get out of NYC and into a community where I can actually interact with the stakeholders and have a community built around the arts and the theater. It was hard to find the right fit, but this job came about and it just fell into place.
My job as executive director really boils down to two items. The first is to manage a staff and oversee the operations and programming of a 400-seat performing arts center. The second, just as important, is to work with the community in and outside the theater to foster the arts, culture and well-being.
RR: What skills helped you take on this role and what are some of the hardest things about your job?
MM: Honestly, I use every scrap of experience from all the jobs I have worked throughout the years, whether it was what I learned in the touring industry from booking the tour of Wicked or even what I learned barking Avenue Q discount flyers on a corner.
There’s no position in the theater I haven’t done.
The hardest thing is always time management. It’s fun to sit around in a theater and think about how much cool stuff we can do there. People always say that my job must be so much fun. What you don’t see is all the logistics that go into simply managing a venue and company. Many are the same any small business owner or entrepreneur has to deal with. After you manage payroll, accounts payable/receivable, conduct a tour for a potential renter, attend a Chamber of Commerce meeting, write a grant, and climb up to the roof to fix an air conditioning unit, there’s not a lot of time left to make great art and entertainment. However, I think it’s knowing what the end result is that makes it worth going.
RR: How did Hurricane Irma impact the theater and its operations?
MM: We were relatively lucky in the end. The last major hurricane to hit Homestead (Andrew) took the roof off the Seminole Theatre. This ended its prior life as a movie theater. Irma had looked like it would make Homestead ground zero again, but a last-minute change meant we avoided the worst of it. We had a fair amount of water, electrical, and cosmetic damage, but nothing like the devastation many others saw.
We were actually able to turn our season opener into a Hurricane Irma benefit for the Florida Keys, and partnered up with the Rotary Club to send all profits and sponsorships to those who were hurt even worse.
RR: What is the latest as far as Florida Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs funding support for your venue? How much do you count on this agency to keep the theater afloat?
MM: Based on the funding recommended in the state budget, it looks very bleak for all arts venues. We are still a young venue, so we had just become eligible for full funding from the general programming grant in year three, which is something we had planned on receiving, at least part of, in our five-year outlook. It would have made a fairly large portion of our operating budget. Of course, you can never put all eggs in one basket, but if you lose a basket of eggs you may still go hungry for a while. We are still trying to figure out how we make up the shortfall in income or cut spending.
RR: Describe the nature of the shows you typically program/present and who is the Homestead audience?
MM: We present what we call our “Showcase Series,” which is a season of national and international artists. We try to pick a wide variety of shows that are accessible to audiences across generations and cultures. I really do not like trying to decide who the audience is because I think everyone should be an audience member for something. I tell people in our community that, while I would love to have them as a subscriber, my goal is to find one show a year that they will attend and enjoy. If we can do that, I think we have done our job.
When our theater is busy, so are the restaurants and greater downtown.
RR: Besides presenting, the Seminole also houses a resident company that produces shows. The next production is In the Heights. What inspired you to select that show?
MM: The Seminole Theatre Players (STP) is a resident community theater group based at the Seminole Theatre. I am heavily involved and it’s somewhat of a passion project of mine due to my theater background. However, I cannot take credit in producing and picking shows directly as this is run by a nonprofit board and team of volunteer professionals.
We launched the STP last summer with the production of Hairspray, which we thought was a good choice because it was a well-known, fun show, but also had an important message and an inclusive cast and audience. Our board discussed this summer’s shows and decided on In The Heights and Annie for much of the same reason. In The Heights, even though it’s set in NYC, embraces a universal story line that you can see everywhere. However, it’s one that specifically resonates culturally in Miami for our audience and performers.
RR: What lies ahead for the Seminole? What are your hopes and dreams for the theater?
MM: We have a set of criteria for our five-year plan. However, if we’re just talking hopes and dreams, here is what it boils down to: We would like the Seminole Theatre to help put Homestead, FL, back on the map, so to speak. It should be an important tour stop for artists passing through Florida, and a premier performing destination for local artists. When the theater is busy and buzzing, so are the restaurants and the greater downtown. We believe in the plan we have set in place with the city of Homestead, even when it has been hard, and we are sticking to it.
RR: Any advice for people dreaming about running a theater, but too scared to take the leap?
MM: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It can look glamorous from the outside because that is what we try to project. The nitty-gritty, however, can really bog you down. I would recommend first running either a theater/presenting company or a theater venue separately first. Many will find that is more than enough work and plenty fulfilling. You can build a relationship with someone who does the flip side and work together for success. If you find you still have time to take on more, there are certainly benefits to running a full performing arts center and it can be extremely rewarding.