Operations director envisions Gusman as 'church of art'
By April M. Havens
Transforming the 81-year-old Gusman Center for the Performing Arts Olympia Theatre into the "diamond of the city it once was" and a "church of art" while producing original programming is among Margaret Lake's goals as the center's new director of theater operations, she said.
"I want to make it into a place not only where we bring shows but also use it to create community," Ms. Lake said. "I haven't made any grand changes yet, but I plan on it. The Gusman speaks for itself, so I think it's my job to simply be its caretaker."
Renovations are under way to restore the upper balcony with replications of original seating and carpeting and improvements to concessions and windows, said Ms. Lake, who came to the Gusman after stints running several film festivals, including work for the Miami International Film Festival.
The city agreed June 14 to match funds for renovations, she said. Art Noriega, executive director of the Miami Parking Authority, which manages the center, said the city allocated $824,000 to go toward the renovations, the biggest chunk of which is for historic seating. Renovations are slated for completion in August. The Gusman has already undergone more than $6 million in renovations that restored the ground level of the theater, stabilized the structure of the building and restored decorative details.
Ms. Lake said she wants to incorporate more original programming into the center's season. "I want to start thinking of how we can not only be a rental hall but also solicit entertainment," she said. "Small, city-funded theaters take a huge risk in programming and may lose money if they accidentally pick a show that isn't well-received, but we can think of some creative ways to have programming."
Up-and-coming artists who do not have a place to perform and who don't have enough money to rent a hall could play into the new programming, she said. Talent nights could help fill the theater, with each artist paying his own way to cover the costs of the event.
"Then we could invite record labels and others to come out," Ms. Lake said. "It's a creative way to utilize the space, and eventually that entails doing our own programming and being able to bid on having artists come."
Theaters in Miami are mainly rental halls, she said. "My dream is to become more than that."
Art exhibits and receptions and more accessibility to children through outreach programs should also help attract traffic, Ms. Lake said. The Gusman is currently the home of the Miami International Film Festival and Ballet Gamonet.
Ms. Lake, who began her new post May 7, has previously served as an operations manager for the Sundance Film Festival and Provincetown International Film Festival.
She first encountered the former movie palace while working as an operations manager with the Miami International Film Festival in 2006. "I just fell in love with the building instantly," she said. "I think it's a place that once someone walks in there, there is an immediate sense of awe and magic. It has been so well historically preserved."
The Gusman opened in 1926 as the Olympia Theatre, a silent movie palace, but was renamed after benefactor Maurice Gusman bought the theater in 1970.
Even though she says the Gusman has been well-preserved and has much to offer patrons, Ms. Lake attributes the theater's decline to a lack of exposure. "Even when talking to people from here about my job, I've heard them ask "Where's the Gusman?' and it just breaks my heart," she said. "They walk right by it and don't even know it's there."
After her predecessor, Michael Wharton, was named program and events manager for ArtsPark at Young Circle in Hollywood, Ms. Lake said she knew leaving her radio job with KRCL-FM in Salt Lake City for the Gusman position would be a good move. Ms. Lake was the host of a weekly radio broadcast, an underwriter and a fundraiser at KRCL.
"There's something about Miami that's sort of raw," Ms. Lake said. "It seems like Miami is stretching to become the city it wants to be, and for me, it's really exciting to think about being a part of that."
Ms. Lake said she chose to live downtown to be part of its growth. "I think downtown Miami has a lot of potential," she said. "I realize that if I want change, I have to be change. I knew exactly what I was getting into as far as a living situation and working situation. I want to encourage people to move downtown and take a chance."