SouthFlorida.com
Make every weekend epic with our free Weekender newsletter. Sign up today!

Beyond 'Godspell': Church-based troupe attempts to save theater in Fort Lauderdale

New City Players, a theater company that grew out of CityChurch South Florida, just seemed to fall into place. That’s why producing artistic director Tim Davis knew it was right.

Although he was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Davis and his wife, Samantha, had moved to North Carolina right after graduating from Taylor University in Indiana. The idea was to work in a family business, save some money and eventually move to Los Angeles to do, he says, “the L.A. grind.” But then, along came their now 4-year-old daughter, Summer, and the couple moved back to South Florida right after Thanksgiving in 2013 for the support system of immediate family nearby. A few weeks later, the couple, by happenstance, attended services at CityChurch Pompano, where the congregation was thinking about staging a production of “Godspell.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Davis says from his home in east Pompano Beach. “Part of the reason why I’m a person of faith, it’s because of things like that that are so bizarre. I’d like to think that there is some sort of divine plan.

“I thought, the church is doing Godspell, whoop dee doo,” he adds. “But I was hungry. I hadn’t done any theater in a long time. And I thought at the time, ‘It’s not just that I like this church, but I like these people. So why not go for it?’ ”

Following that staging of “Godspell,” CityChurch turned over the nascent theater program to Davis. It has since mounted productions of “Rabbit Hole,” “Red,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “No Exit,” “Proof,” “Twelfth Night” and “True West” in a variety of locations in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The Rev. Rick Hunter, who is now director of the CityChurch Project at First Baptist, recalls, “This was nothing that was on our radar to begin with. But our mission is not just to seek the spiritual renewal of our city … but also to seek the artistic renewal and cultural renewal of our city.”

It was Davis’ helmsmanship of “Rabbit Hole” that made the CityChurch leadership consider formalizing their theater outreach.

“[It was] the summer of 2014,” Davis says. “I sat with a couple of the CityChurch pastors and that was when they were like, ‘We … just did this because people in our church were interested in it. Tim, if you’re to take this thing, we’ll support you and we’ll send you with a blessing.’ That was the story. It coalesced into something that fell into my lap. It was like, ‘I guess I’m running a theater company now,’ which was thrilling.”

But he knew he couldn’t do it alone. He needed a team.

“There was no one I trusted more that Ryan [Maloney] at the time,” Davis says. “So I called him up, and he moved down here … from Indiana. Then, we got John Contini [as development manager]. My brother [Andrew Paul Davis] was on the board at the time. Krystal Valdes [company manager] was in ‘Rabbit Hole,’ and she stage-managed ‘Red.’ I just gathered people who had been there and said, ‘Let’s start this thing.’ And that was September, October of 2015.”

“We didn’t want to hamstring him with the baggage,” the Rev. Hunter says of how theater fits in with CityChurch’s mission. “We wanted to come up alongside and help him do what he was supposed to be doing. But we don’t want to meddle.”

The company followed a polestar from the start, Davis insists. “Those of us in that core group were all actors, and we love acting. We all love great plays and that’s just the kind of work we do: critically successful, great characters and [that] are well written. We’re young, scrappy and hungry, and we want to do the best plays.”

The Rev. Hunter agrees: “This is a good thing that our community needs, staging classic and contemporary, thoughtful plays. There’s stuff like this in Dade County and stuff like this in Palm Beach County, but in Broward there was a big gap.”

New City Players has started a monthly open mike called City Speaks, which is held the last Thursday of every month at Switchbox Coffee Roasters in Oakland Park.

“It’s sort of anti-internet age,” Davis says. “No matter what is being said, everyone in that room has to listen to it, trying to practice empathy, being present and not just preparing a response. It’s designed to be an open and safe forum where we have to respect each other, whether it’s the most brazen right-wing nut job or someone from the far left who is the same thing, spouting crazy stuff. We have to listen in order to understand. I hope it grows and gets more traction, especially in these times where there is so much happening, so much disagreement, so much garbage that needs to be called out for what it is, which is toxic.”

That, he adds, fits in with what New City Players is all about. “Where there is hate, we want there to be love. And we think stories can do that,” he says. “Theater can bring people together.”

rhagwood@southflorida.com

Copyright © 2017, South Florida
82°