With an immersive theater experience set at the Gold Dust Hotel, formerly Motel Blu in the 7700 block of Biscayne Boulevard, playwright Juan C. Sanchez hopes to give life to the history of one area of Miami, without it becoming a history lesson.
Sanchez is the resident playwright for Miami’s Juggerknot Theatre Company, and with “Miami Motel Stories: MiMo,” set at the Gold Dust Hotel, his play highlights the Biscayne Corridor from the 1950s to the present.
From its tiki-themed grand opening in 1957 to its present transformation into the Gold Dust by Selina, Cuban-born and Miami-raised Sanchez, 46, envisions the inspired-by-real-life stories that unfolded over the decades between its walls. The pieces are directed by Mia Rovegno.
Thanks to a Knight Arts Challenge Grant, and research assistance from the HistoryMiami Museum, Sanchez worked in conjunction with the hotel's real estate developer, Avra Jain, to present the real and imagined history of Miami.
Sanchez researched the era, combing through back issues of the Miami Herald, and conducting first person interviews with residents.
He took highlights of Miami’s heyday and encapsulated them into a series of short sketches – a Playboy bunny (is it Barbara Walters?) who worked at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club in 1964, a street hustler in 1995, and a young couple on their first road trip to Miami in 1950.
Participants are encouraged to relate to characters, wander from room to room, sip coffee with a waitress, listen to a feminist protest the Bunny Club, play poker with a character known as “the accountant,” and learn about the history of the mob and gambling in Miami.
“The important thing,” he says “is to tell history of a building and its inhabitants that have made a contribution to Miami. It’s a way to glean the evolution of these changing neighborhoods.”
“We’re a lot more connected than we think,” Sanchez says. “We discover what connects us and that creates a greater sense of community.”
The second in a series of four, the first edition of Miami Motel Stories was set last year in Little Havana at the Tower Hotel. Two more theater experiences are planned – Miami Motel Stories: North Beach in the spring and Miami Motel Stories: Overtown next summer.
Sanchez is in full research mode searching for those nuggets that express the heart of Miami and its citizens.
Audience members will purchase a pink, blue or yellow key, unlocking doors to different decades, with costumes and sets sponsored by Goodwill Industries of South Florida, and even experience one of the vignettes set inside an authentic 1950s Miami Dade County bus. It’s no coincidence, that much of Sanchez’s writing took place aboard Miami Dade busses.
“This is a unique site-specific theatre experience where we partner with the real estate developers to tell the stories of a particular building and document the evolution of a neighborhood,” says Tanya Bravo, Juggerknot Theatre Company’s artistic director.
“It’s also an opportunity to change the conversation between artists and developers,” Bravo says; one she notes, referencing Wynwood, that has not always been so amenable.
“It’s a way to allow the residents of Miami to understand what got us here and to pay tribute to these people’s voices,” she says. “No matter what walk of life they came from, these voices are important and make us who we are today.”
“We hope people will come out with an open mind,” says Bravo. “The show is an amazing tribute to the City of Miami and all the stories that have unfolded here. It’s important that we archive them and keep these histories alive.”
Miami Motel Stories: MiMo, presented by Juggerknot Theatre Company, in association with Avra Jain, Nov. 30 – Dec. 23, Gold Dust by Selina, 7700 Biscayne Blvd.
For more information, visit MiamiMotelStories.com