Two Saturdays ago, at the packed Colony Theater in Miami Beach, something beautiful happened.
Before the actors took the stage for the dramatic opening of the 20th anniversary edition of the play “Anna in the Tropics” (Anna in the Tropics), widely praised and internationally produced, Miami New Drama director Michel Hausmann shared some good news.
Miami-Dade students — who had been banned from seeing Nilo Cruz’s landmark Pulitzer Prize-winning play after it was wrongly deemed too sexual and violent even for 18-year-olds — will be able to attend special matinee performances .
Applause resounded throughout the restored 1935-era Art Deco theater, and the premiere continued. It was an exquisite interpretation, directed by the Cuban-American Cruz himself, of a work that captures a part of the culture of the Cuba and Florida of yesteryear.
A controversy that never should have existed, except for the divisive state of politics in Florida, was resolved during talks between Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent José L. Dotres, educators and staff, the company theater and cross.
“I’m very happy that the students are going to see it,” Cruz told me.
READ MORE: Superintendent regrets that the work of a Cuban author is prohibited, so he must reverse the decision | Opinion
a powerful work
I wasn’t expecting the announcement at such a special time, and seeing the reaction from people was shocking on so many levels.
Dotres, also a Cuban-American, did the right thing with the students. Working with his performing arts programming team, he reversed a previous recommendation to bar students from special performances of this play about Tampa cigar makers who are inspired to ask for more from life by reader reading of “ Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy.
Dotres doesn’t want credit for his leadership in the negotiations, but he deserves it: Bravo, Superintendent.
Now, public school seniors and those in visual performing arts programs will attend three matinees. Parents will have to sign a release letter specifying the content of the work, to comply with the recently passed Parental Rights Act, Dotres told me.
“Well done, it benefits the students,” he said. All involved, she added, are “very pleased to be able to offer this cultural opportunity to our students.”
It is the right decision.
As I said in three columns on the controversy, there is far more easily accessible sexual and violent content on students’ phones and televisions than in all the scenes in this play combined.
Still, the sex scenes will be toned down for introductions to students, a mutual agreement necessary to gain approval from parents and educators, something Cruz was willing to do. Not that he thinks it’s necessary after seeing her again. More than ever, I stand by what has been said: what raises the level of this work is Cruz’s poetic language and his masterful narration.
What the language offers—a unique story of love and betrayal in a family steeped in tradition and living in a time of change—is magical, moving, and never vulgar.
Students who see it will be enriched by it.
Exposure to art in education
An education that was delivered only in the classroom, where, in today’s Florida, curricula are designed by politicians more concerned with their careers than the future of our children in a complex world, would hurt students.
When educators are forced to ignore students’ desire to learn more of the world, they will look elsewhere for what they lack. Blessed are those who find it in a theater, in a work of art, in a book… and not on the street.
This decision is also an important victory for public education.
Any parent with means can afford to buy tickets and bring their book-loving teens.
But the lifting of censorship allows accessibility to those who simply cannot afford it. This is an immigrant community where, too often, parents are so caught up in family survival and adjustment that the last thing on their minds is the value of an education supplemented by excursions that open doors to other worlds.
I was one of those students—and my parents, Cuban refugees, were so afraid of anything new that a Spanish teacher had to call them to explain the value of going to see “Fiddler on the Roof.”
And that there was no danger in letting me go by bus to Fort Myers to see Thomas Edison’s house and the Keys, where I first heard about Key West’s Cuban heritage, including the famous speech given at the San Carlos by the hero. Cuban of the War of Independence, José Martí.
There will be students among the audience of Cruz’s work who will be inspired to become playwrights, poets, actors, directors, set designers. Or maybe not. Inspiration doesn’t cage you in a race. That is the beauty of art. Perhaps they will become CEOs, financial wizards, or governors of Florida, and will continue to be touched by the way grand theater illuminates the human condition.
Sitting in the Colony among many well-known Miamians, with the actors waiting in the wings ready to go, the news of the repeal of an act of censorship unworthy of our community felt like one of those moments of accomplishment.
How nice it is to confirm that despite the viral madness taking over Florida, cosmopolitan Miami can continue to be an oasis of intelligence, thanks to the transformative power of art.
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